Born in the Alsace region of France, near the German border, Roger’s family lived above his father’s butcher shop, which served the small community of Brumath. After Hitler came to power in Germany, his mother was quick to recognize the increasing danger for Jews in Europe and encouraged her son to leave for safety in the US, where she had a niece in Birmingham. Jeanette and Jimmie Hirsh were 20 or so years older than Roger, had no children, and welcomed Roger into their Alabama home. His sister, Felicie, chose to stay with her parents.
Roger arrived in the US in June 1939 with an English vocabulary of two words: “yes” and “no.” He attended night school to learn English and worked days as a butcher in downtown Birmingham. While the Hirsh’s were very gracious, they were also unexpectedly strict, something Roger had not anticipated. So, when the US declared war in December 1941, Roger was anxious to sign up and regain his independence. In the first of many lucky breaks, Roger’s enlistment was delayed until September 1942 because his papers were not in order. He was sent to France as a medic and cook rather than to the front lines in the South Pacific.
With the fall of France in June 1940, Alsace was annexed by Germany. Shortly after, Roger’s parents, sister Felicie, Simon Weil (a foster child living with his parents), and his cousin Elsa Mandel were arrested and sent to a newly established work camp in Schirmeck, near Strasbourg. In another lucky break, a German soldier who had taken a liking to Roger’s father warned the family that their fate was in danger, and he arranged for the family’s escape, driving them to the border of the occupied and unoccupied zones, near Lyons.The Blum family made their way to Nyons in the south of France, and for the next five years, they were hidden by multiple families ─ occasionally having to hide in the nearby mountains or caves when the Nazis came searching for Jewish refugees.
While serving in France, Roger worked with the American Red Cross and was able to locate his family. During a furlough in late 1944, he traveled to Nyons and was lucky again. Shortly after arriving in town, he looked up at a random window and saw his father. Even years later, when Roger re-told his story to students, recalling this moment always made him speechless.
After about four days, Roger had to return to his unit, but he made sure to regularly send his family food and money until the end of the war. Before shipping home to the US, Roger checked on his family’s home in Brumath While everything was intact, all of their belongings had been stolen. Roger was determined to get them back.
Through courthouse records, Roger located the thief in Ulm, Germany, and knew what he had to do. He bribed a local policeman to accompany him. “We knocked on this man’s door, and I recognized my family’s things the minute we walked in.” Roger said, “I’m here, and I’m taking my family’s belongings — this, and this, and this.” And the man said, “Wait a minute, I bought all this.” Roger responded, “That’s between you and Hitler. I’ll be back with a truck, and I am picking up everything that doesn’t belong to you.”
Oscar Caen provided the truck from his furniture store, but Roger needed approval to drive across the American zone to get to Ulm to retrieve the family’s belongings. It was the Hirsh’s in Birmingham who contacted Alabama Senator Lister Hill in Washington, DC, who got the approval. Mission accomplished.
After the war, Roger worked in a Birmingham meat market, and in 1947, he married “the most beautiful women I had ever set eyes on.” Evelyn Sellers was a nice, Methodist, country girl from Coosa County. They were married for nearly 60 years without ever having an argument – Lucky.
Roger later worked as a credit manager for King Kredit and Model Sales until he retired in 1978 and moved to Alexander City. He never forgot the good fortune that had shined on him his entire life. Roger passed away just short of his 60th wedding anniversary. His wife, Evelyn, passed away six weeks later.