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The Boots

By: Mitzi J. Levin
Survivor: Herzel, Max

“Max, come into the office. You’re leaving immediately to see your sick grandmother.”

Max Herzel became uneasy when he heard those words.

“My grandmother wasn’t alive, but I had the feeling I shouldn’t dispute what was being said,” he recalls. “The next day, I left the fourth orphanage I had lived in since I was separated from my family. On my way to the bus terminal, I accepted a bike ride from a Frenchman. As I rode on the crossbar, we talked, and all was well until I glanced down and saw his boots – boots similar to those worn by German soldiers.”

Max was panic stricken.

“Questions ran through my mind: What was this young man doing here and not fighting in the war? Could he be my enemy? Was I a captive, my freedom over? All I could do was sit and wait as the boots pedaled us to a destination unknown.”

After a brief ride, Max was dropped off at the bus terminal. “I was so relieved when I was met by a social worker who worked for an underground organization.”

During World War II, Jewish and non-Jewish organizations hid 10,000-12,000 children, at first in groups, then individually. Approximately 50,000 other children were hidden alone or with their parents.

“The social worker took me to the French Alps and introduced me to a farmer. My true identity was concealed and I posed as a Catholic orphan, working on his farm until the end of the war.”