Faith, Courage, and Survival in a time of Trouble

France Juliard Pruitt

Thursday, May 8, 2003


A Presentation sponsored by the Friends Meeting of Washington and

The Washington Office of the American Friends Service Committee



I appreciate your coming tonight.  I am here because Denny Hartzell, a member of this Meeting, and I were talking one day about the impact that wars have on individuals and their families.  He thought that it might be very appropriate to talk about how my family, the Juliard family, survived the most terrible war of our times.  The story is an uplifting one because of the generosity of people who saved the lives of total strangers without expecting any rewards except the satisfaction of being charitable Christians and caring human beings.  This can help us to renew our faith in human kind.


We were well-to-do Belgians who escaped to the Cevennes, located in the Southeast part of the Massif Central mountains of France between 1940 and 1944.  We lived part of the time as farmers and part of the time hidden in homes of the local farmers.  I was a child at that time, and I experienced being a refugee, living in three different cultures in a space of ten years, including one in which I did not speak the language.  I also have known what it is to fear for one’s life, to feel helpless, to be worried, to be cold, to feel hungry at times, to sleep on a small straw mattress with others in the bed, and to be violated twice before turning 10.  I hardly have had a childhood, as my husband says, because there were very few toys to play with, no books to read, no candies to eat, nothing to entertain us like movies or other friends to play with, and there were no swimming pools…Actually, I didn’t learn how to swim or ride a bicycle until I was 11.  As children, we often had to help our parents in the field and in the house, and my cousin and I had to take care of my younger sister and our brothers.


I will expand on each one of these themes as I go along my story.  I promise you, I will not keep you here all night long but I certainly have enough material to do so.


I guess I will start the story of the Juliard family like any good novel, and the way our 4 year old granddaughter, Katie, started her book about the dream of a princess. 


Once upon a time, two Juliard brothers, Andre and Alex, married two Freedman sisters, Denise and Andre, in a double ceremony, in the main synagogue and City Hall of Antwerp, Belgium, attended by the who’s who of that city.  Neither the grooms nor their brides nor their respective parents, were practicing Jews or religious but they later on were considered to be Jews by the Nazis.  My father was a highly respected chemistry professor at the University of Brussels and my uncle was a successful stamp dealer.  The two women, who were highly intelligent, had only finished high school.  In those days, society girls not supposed but went to finishing school but my mother really wanted to do.


At about the same time, in 1933 Germany was gradually building its military strength, recovering from the occupation of the First World War.  Hitler was named chancellor at the beginning of that year.  Dachau, the first concentration camp was built and the boycott against Jews began around that time.  Two years later, the Jews in Germany lost their citizenship and civil rights, Jewish kids were expelled from schools and some Jews were sent to concentration camps.  Things got worst for the next 5 years including the invasion of Poland in 1939 by Germany


Most Jews in Brussels were unperturbed, but the Juliard brothers and their wives, who listened to the BBC, saw the handwriting on the wall.    In early 1940, they started to plan for their future by selling their apartment in Brussels, storing their furniture and, moving to the Coast of Belgium, anticipating a German invasion to the other European countries.  They had tried to immigrate to England but England would not accept my father and uncle since my mother and aunt were British subjects.  On the other hand, my mother’s father, who had been a diamond dealer in Antwerp, left for England, as he too was a British subject.  He donated to my parents his large black Buick which was usually driven by his chauffeur,. It turned out to be a godsend. 


On Friday, May 10, 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg.  On that day, my father, Andre, who was in Brussels, tried to join his family, but the trains had stopped running.   He used his bicycle to make the three-hour trip to the Coast.  Before leaving, he went to the safe in the basement to pick up the diamonds that had been given to the family by my grandfather.  He did not know the combination by a stroke of luck, and that story was mentioned to us afterwards on numerous occasions, he guessed that it was the name of his brother Alex.   It was very fortunate because those diamonds turned out to be the only portable wealth available to the family for the next four years.  The next day, the family got on the road toward France in that big Buick.  In the car, were my father and his brother, their parents, the two mothers, and four kids, all under 6 years old?  Behind it was a trailer with whatever worldly goods they had been able to assemble.  Has anyone seen the movie NoWhere in Africa, the story of the Jewish family who immigrated to Kenya?  Well, we didn’t bring the good china and the refrigerator but only whatever was absolutely necessary for 10 people.


My first memory of the war took place that first night.  We started off for France with thousands of other Belgians who were escaping the German army.  There were no hotels, no restaurants, no Mc Donald’s, just whatever food my parents, that term includes my uncle and aunt, had brought with them.  Because the border between the two countries had been closed, we had to stop along the edges of a Belgium canal for the night.  I still remember the fear of the unknown; the noise of the airplanes, and the fact that I almost rolled down into the water.  I am sure I was also sensing the real fear my parents must have felt.   We were just innocent children but I still see a picture of that canal on that night.  We were able to enter France the next day.  It was a lucky break because we learned later that the border between the two countries had only been opened that one day.  Another lucky break was that my father, who was in the Belgian army reserve had planned to go back to Brussels in case he was called for duty.  He was told by the border police that they expected eminently for the country to capitulate and let him go through the border with his family.


We stopped south of Paris in a chateau owned by a friend of my aunt but decided to move on further south as my parents fell that Paris was too vulnerable and they were right.  The two brothers barely escaped a mandate that required all men to go and build trenches around Paris.  If they had been recruited for this effort, we may have perished, as the two women did not know how to drive, another reflection of the times. The Germans walked into Paris undefended a month later and France signed an armistice.  My parents weighted very carefully where we should take refuge and where we would have the best chance to survive.  They decided that we should to go to a remote area of France.  The Department (one of the 90 counties in France) called Lozere, nickname the “le pays de miseres”, the country of misery, became our destination.  It is mountainous area of France where the Huguenots took refuge after they were persecuted in the 17th century and had fought ferociously for their freedom.  To them this sounded like the best place to hide from the Nazis.


We ended up in a little town in the western part of the Lozere for the summer.  We started to grow a garden, and became quickly involved in the local community.  My father, being a chemist, was able to assist the village with some of their agriculture problems and even received a certificate of appreciation from the Mayor for having helped the community to turn their plums into prunes.  My mother became a celebrity in the area because of what happened during a terrible storm.  The bus that she and others were traveling on broke down on a bridge.  She was a very wise woman and she knew the dangers of rushing waters.  She urged everyone to leave the bus as quickly as possible.  Two minutes later, it was washed away but everyone one was safe. 


My second memory of the war, and I was only 6, is having to work in that garden and enjoying the fruits and vegetables we raised.  Meanwhile, my parents were searching for an even more remote place to settle.  They found an abandoned farm, perched on a mountain, 20 minutes by foot, away from a secondary road that linked the two major towns, Bedouez where we were spending the summer and Vialas, the town where a Hugenot temple stood.  After a while we trekked the 5 miles from the farm to Vialas to attend the Sunday school and the special festivities like Christmas.  On that main road, at the bottom, of our mountain was a little village, Soleyrol, with about 10 or 12 families.  It consisted of a school, a café, and a butcher shop.  


My cousin and I attended the school in Soleyrol.  It was in a one-room house with one teacher who taught over 20 kids in 12 different grades.  This was my first experience of having to fit into a new culture.  I was a city child living in a farm community.  My only memory of that school is the fact that a very nice man came regularly to teach us songs with his guitar. 


Our farm, which was called Lafont, was very primitive but was a wonderful haven for all of us.  It had four rooms, a storage room at one end, two bedrooms, and a common room at the other end.  That room served as the kitchen, dining room, living room and playroom.  The central heating system consisted of a fireplace in the common room and animals, the pigs, the rabbits, the goats, and the chicken underneath us. In the back of the kitchen, there was a faucet with running water from a spring above the farm but there were no toilets. 


The villagers very kindly advised our parents on what animals to purchase and how to take care of them.  They came up to the farm on numerous occasions to give them advice on how to run a farm.  But the whole village came up when it was time to kill the pigs, Goebel and Gering, two hated Nazis, whose main food was our garbage.  Killing a pig is usually a cooperative enterprise, as so much has to be done after the pig has been killed.  It was a big job that consisted of cleaning the intestines to make blood sausages to preparing pickle feet.  We had electricity but no refrigerators or freezers, so the meat had to be smoked and stored in the storage room.  Reciprocally, my father, the chemist, was able to show the local farmers how to make soap from grease and other things that facilitated their lives when fewer and fewer supplies were arriving from the outside.


Another poignant memory was to come back from the school and seeing only big pots of laundry on the stove.  For a child who was very hungry, this was disappointing.  Food was not plentiful as sugar, flour, oil, coffee and cigarettes were rationed.  We mainly had relied on those rations and whatever we were growing or raising.  Chestnuts appeared on the table at all meals.  Picking them up in the fall was a full time occupation for the whole family.  It was not easy to do that as the chestnuts, which were the main crop of the farm, have prickles that hurt your fingers badly.  To preserve the chestnuts for all year around food, they had to dry in a special two-story house where a low fire was kept for a whole month.  Before they could be eaten, they had to be boiled for over 2 hours.


My liking for dry fruit dates came from that time because we had an uncle who had immigrated to the US and who had been able to send us, on a monthly basis for the first two years, sardines and dry fruits through Portugal.  Candies did not existed so dessert consisted probably of very few of those dry fruits.  My parents must have tried to make it a real treat by telling us that we were getting 36,000 desserts.  This spirit throughout all of this was unbelievable as they tried to shield us from their challenges.


By the end of 1940, Germany had invaded a number of other European countries and started bombing Britain.  In December 8, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the US Congress joined the war against Japan, Germany, and Italy. We were lucky to be in the unoccupied area, but General Petain and his pro Nazi Vichy government were running the local police.  The Maquis, or the Resistance, organized originally by Protestant pastors, was building its strength.  Many camps of young people burgeoned all over our area.  The Maquis organized a kind of housing bureau to find shelters for those who were trying to escape the Germans’ decreed that all men between 18 and 45 and all of the foreigners that had taken refuge in the country had to go to Germany to work.  The Maquis was also rebelling against the German requirement that all farmers declare the size of the lands and number of cattle heads, requiring them to deliver them for the German army.


My father and uncle participated in the movement and took part in a couple acts of sabotage.  One day for example, 500 sheep disappeared over night on their way to be slaughtered for Germans.  At a later time, my mother often mended clothes for the young maquisars, and we children had to go occasionally to the camps to deliver messages.  Our parents were grateful for the help they were receiving and wanted to participate in this movement against the Nazis.


In the spring of 1942, the arrival of my brother created a new challenge to the family, as there were very little supplies for infants.  It is hard for us to think of raising babies without disposal diapers, washing machines, colorful toys, monitors, pacifiers, etc.  My mother, my sister and I had to go to a larger town, called Aubenas, located in yet another department, for the birth.  On the big day, my sister and I were parked with a baby sitter who took us to a Catholic mass that lasted three hours.  It was probably in Latin.  At the ripe age of 8, I made a decision that the Catholic religion was definitely not for me.


The situation looked bleak enough for our parents to try to immigrate to Dutch Guinea, since the two brothers were Dutch.  There were talks about sending all four of us kids to Switzerland through an underground movement but our parents decided against this even though one of their first cousins was living there.  They were wise again as many of those kids were caught by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps.  Even though our parents spoke English, they never taught us that language as they were trying to shelter us from the realities of the times.  I am sure that they talked in English about things they did not want us to know as well. 


During the long evenings, my father and my uncle, when they were not too exhausted from physical labor, remember that they both had white-collar jobs, taught themselves homeopathic medicine.  They read books and stocked up with medication for major sicknesses.  This proved to have saved my sister’s live and mine as I fell on a nail in the manure and I surely was not up with my tetanus shots, and my sister caught meningitis by falling down on a flight of stairs and opened her cranium box.  Our parents had also notified the local practioner and who knows which of the treatments actually did the trick.  Those two events and plus others that he had been able to observe, change my scientist father to a believer that there was something beyond what is considered our reality.  One advantage that we had was that we were not exposed to too many other kids so we did not get catch too many diseases.  I don’t actually recall visiting a doctor during those four years.


My father and his brother also became very interested in psychology and started to design a system to distinguish preference in the use of people’s values.  I still remember the discussion on that topic which bored me at that time but that I find fascinating as an adult.  They discussed this with an English teacher, Madame Maurel, from Ales, a town in the next department, who came to Vialas in the summer time.  Madame Maurel had two teenagers, a son, Max, who was 20, with whom I fell in love (don’t forget I was only 8 by that time) because one day he took me on his motorcycle around Ales.  Fanchon, her 16-year-old daughter and I became a very good friend.  We still call each other sisters and we have kept in touch for the past 60 years.  We have often entertained members of their family.  Actually, Fanchon’s daughter and granddaughter visited us this February and we always visit them when we go to Europe.  Max, the son, who just turned 83, was one of the people who were in the resistance and he became a major player in planning the next phase of our lives in France.


Through Max, the two fathers heard that the local police had an order to arrest them.  So one night in November 1942, they went into hiding, being hosted by a farmer and his wife, who let them use their barn.  That family kept the two fathers, feeding them three times a day, without any remuneration. The children were told that our fathers had gone to Spain.  The two mothers went to visit them occasionally at night when the moon was shining.  My grandmother was staying with us as by that time as my grandfather had passed away.  His grave in Vialas, says the following words. ”Here lies Louis Juliard in this hospitable land”.  The Israeli government later decorated the farmer and his wife, who hid my father and uncle along with other Jewish refugees.  All of us had to send testimonials praising them for their bravery.  They lived not too far from a main road so there was even more danger in hiding people on their property.  These and many other people who helped us were not seeking rewards but were acting from the bottom of their hearts.  The Juliard family in many ways had become a regional responsibility.  The farmers of the area did everything they could to make sure that we were protected and were able to survive the war.


So my mother, my aunt and my grandmother, with our help, had to keep the farm going.  Then one day, in March of 1943, and I still remember that day, a the young lady from the village came running up the mountain, have you ever tried to do that, to tell us that the police was planning to arrest us in the morning.  So in a period of three hours, we had to clear the farm, kill our faithful dog so that he would not follow us.  This was another traumatic experience for all of us. This mutt dog, Toute, our faithful companion, used to accompany us to school in the morning, went back to the farm for the day, and returned to pick us up at 4.  He and the cat had formed an alliance.  The cat had two little kittens around the birth of my brother.  Her duty was to keep the mouse population at bay so when she was ready to go hunting, she placed her kitten between the paws of the dog.  Another favorite place was between my brother‘s head and the back of the drawer in which he was sleeping. 


That night, the two mothers, the five kids now, and my grandmother who was 60 by then, had to move to different locations.  The few possessions we had went down to the village for storage under a load of hay.  My mother, who was carrying my baby brother, almost drowned that night as she slipped on a rock when she was crossing a stream.  Max, our friend, grabbed her and saved their lives. 


When I see my granddaughters being fussy about food, I can’t stop thinking of the first morning in our temporary quarters with a wonderful family who gave us their backroom and took care of us for over 3 months.  A bowl of water with garlic and hard piece of bread was offered to us.  I remembered my mother’s look when I told her that I did not like that.  She ordered me to eat it, as there might not be anything more to eat for the rest of the day.  The four of us stayed in a one room, not being able to leave the room except late at night.  This is when I read the Bible from cover to cover several times.  We had to keep very quiet at all times so that neighbors would not know that we were there.  This family had two daughters whom we still visit when we go to Vialas.  My mother, who was a wonderful lady, helped those two girls who were adolescent at that time and were going through a difficult period.  All of the young men were either in the war or in the resistance so women had to do all of the work.


Three months later, the four of us were moved to Le Saleson, a two family village on the other side of the mountain, probably a little more isolated, allowing the three of us to go outside occasionally.  A very warm and loving mother and a daughter took us in.   Mame had lost her husband during the First World War.  Her daughter, Tata whose husband was a prisoner of war in Germany came back, after the end of the war, as a mental invalid.  Down the mountain from us were Tata’s uncle and aunt.  The husband, Toton, had been a victim of the German chemical warfare during the First World War.  His sole foods were mashed potatoes and noodles.  I could not understand such a thing but it did leave me something that remained forever.  The helplessness faced by those families was incredible but their courage and faith sustained them through these challenges.


I was proclaimed to be a cousin from the city, adopted the name of France Milard, and started to go to school in a village located on the opposite mountain.  That required walking down the mountain, crossing a river on rocks and climbing back to the other side.  That trip took over an hour and I was only 9 by that time.  I always had to stand on a rock half way down or up the mountain and scream to let them Tata know, as my mother was not supposed to leave the back room, that I had crossed the river safely.  The only shoes available to us were wooden shoes.  Have you ever tried to climb rocks with those?


A little later, my aunt and cousin came to live in our village.  They had been hiding on the second floor in a schoolhouse right above the only classroom.  That meant no walking whatsoever while the school was in session so to not raise any suspicion from the kids.  My aunt’s younger son, who was 4 by that time, had be placed with a family not too far from the school house and my aunt saw him only at night while asleep for more than a year.  My grandmother went to stay with Mme Maurel in Ales and became Aunt Marie. 


Our lives became routine, although one day, again a person from the neighborhood village came running down to tell us that there were a large number of German trucks stopped on the main road.  In this village the main road was a half hour walk in a narrow path that barely could take more than one person at the time.  But everyone in the village left and slept in the woods on the other side of the mountain where it would have taken the Germans an hour to walk down.  Everyone was afraid of retaliation for the many acts of sabotages that were taking place in the region.  The German kept their floodlights on all night and were probably more scared then we were since they did not know the region. 


Tata, my host, was a Quaker and used to take me to her Friends meeting.  The meetings were held in people’s home and I remembered being very impressed by their simplicity and their silence, a great improvement from my earlier experience in the Catholic Church.  I am sure that Tata was influenced by her faith in deciding to take on a family of 4 in an already poor household.  At least 6 different families, who did not even know of our existence before, shared their meager food supply with us for over two years, endangering their lives as well.


In January of 1944, US and British troops landed in Italy and by June they had entered Rome.  On June 6, the Allies launch the invasion in Normandy and Paris was liberated two months later.  By that time, we were living a little more in the open as I remembered that Max and his fiancé came to visit us in Le Salecon.  By early October, my father made a trip to Belgium to assess the situation.  He came back to announce the destruction of some of our possession in Brussels, and the news that the University would reopen in November.  He also found out that we had lost 64 members of the extended family to concentration camps.  Some of those were the people who had made fun of our parents for leaving their comfortable life in Brussels.  On the other hand, the decision to leave Belgium was a fortunate one for us as all member of our immediate family survived.



In November of that year, and with great sadness, the five of us my father, mother, sister and brother took off for Brussels.  That trip was a memorable one as it was painful and difficult.  People had given us an enormous quantity of food to take with us.  The trains were working in most places but many bridges had been bombed and there was no food on the train and no water in the toilets. 


I don’t know if any one of you has ever been covered by honey.  While I was sitting on the train, in the middle of the night, I suddenly felt something sticky.  One of the containers with honey had opened above me, and proceeded to leak all over me.  With little water on the train, it took me a while to get cleaned and a long time to ever want to touch honey again.  One night, we had to sleep on tables in the Paris station waiting for the next train.  At the border, my mother who was carrying some of the left over diamonds, many had been sold to sustain us during the war, was searched and threaten with prison term.  By some miracle we made it to Brussels and settled in a very small apartment.  Food was still very sparse and sold mainly on the black market. 


Going to school in Belgium meant that my siblings and I had to switch culture once again, this time from a peasant society to an urban environment.  All of the other children had learned Flemish since 1st grade, I had no Flemish, and my education in my first four years was atypical, having attended school less that half of the time of that of my contemporaries.  Again it was very rough but we were sustained by the love and support we received from our parents and most of our teachers.  My aunt and uncle, decided that if they survived the war, they would adopt an orphan whose parents had been deported.  Annie, our new sister and cousin integrated in the family beautifully.


The worst of our time in Brussels right after the war, was the VI and the VII bombs, which the Germans were constantly sending on the city.  We knew when the VI’s were coming because we heard sirens.  Even, to this day, those sirens bother me.  The worst ones were the VII, which arrived without warning.  One of them fell on a school for example and killed a large number of children.  Another one fell on a movie theater and again devastated the neighborhood.   Because of this, I can feel for some of the Afghanis and the Iraqis who have just gone through the same horror.  In December 1944, the Germans launch a counteroffensive in Verdun, at what is called the Battle of the Bulge, and we all felt unsafe again as Brussels was not far from there.  Last week, I received a letter from a member of the Meeting sending me his regrets for not being able to come tonight.  He was in that battle and later on served in a youth core in the region where we had lived.


But there are some happy memories.  The American troops in Brussels distributed one lemon per child, a greatest treat, as we had not seen a citrus fruit for more than 4 years.  White bread was an unknown for us but the troops often gave us some. We were so pleased to see that and were happy to see the liberating army. 


The calm reigned again but my parents knew very well that the future of their children was not in Europe since most of the young Belgians had to go to the Congo as administrators.  So they decided to move to the US, again planning carefully for a better future for them and their children.  My father became one of the first Fulbright professors at the University of Pennsylvania and my uncle and his family emigrated with his stamp business.  We arrived in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, and were welcome by the Quakers in that area.  We had such positive experience with the Quakers during the war that we started to attend Merion Meeting outside of Philadelphia and soon became members.  Quakerism continued to play an important role in my life.  I was an active Young Friend there and later on I started the Student meeting at Swarthmore College.  My husband and I and three other couples started the Newark, Delaware Meeting, which is still thriving, and the Student Meeting at SUNY at Buffalo which is now defunct.


Our parents could speak English but my knowledge of the language was very rudimentary.  So I had to struggle not only to master the language but also to adapt myself to a third culture.  Sixteen years old are usually not too open to newcomers so my year and a half in high school was what I could describe miserable.  On the other hand, members of Merion Meeting made us feel very welcome.  My cousin and I made the great decision of choosing Swarthmore, fortunately Swarthmore had chosen us, as we continue to learn more about Quakerism and it wonderful approach to life.   I had a hard time academically as my English was not yet up to par, like having to rewrite my first English 101 essay three times, but I succeeded in graduating.  I sought to work for the American Friends Service after graduation because I wanted to be of help to others.  I worked with them for three years, two of them here as the assistant to the directors of Davis House, the Quaker International Center.  I felt that I was working with an organization that was responsive to the needs of human kinds at all levels and one that I believed in.  This is also where I decided to dedicate my life to assist people to adjust to new cultures.  The Quakers and the American Friends Service Committee played another big role in my life, that of cupid.  In 1959, I was asked by the Young Friends of America to go to Vienna to observe the Community Youth Festival.  A gentleman by the name of Dean Pruitt applied to our team.  I had to turn him down as the team was full but the American Friends Service Committee had the good judgment of asking him to be their representative and the rest is history.


Fifty years later when we visited Vialas again, as we had done many times since 1944, we were struck by how people still remembered in great details how their community had mobilized significant patriotic acts of defiance to the invaders and how they had helped the innocents who had been impacted by the war.


On October 18 of this year, all members of my sister’s family and all of our family, including three of our granddaughters, will be going back to Vialas to dedicate a granite bench in honor of our parents.  We, together with the other 4 siblings of the original two brothers and two sisters who got married in 1933, are donating this bench to the city’s newest park as a gesture of thankfulness and gratitude to the people of the region who literally saved our lives while endangering theirs.  There are probably not enough words to count our blessings for having parents who had the wisdom and foresight.  We can only admire their tenacity and courage.  It would not have been possible without the love and generosity offered to us by the people of the Cevennes.


I will return to my first theme, I have gone through a war, I know how horrible it is, but I also know that people can be wonderful.  Thank you for listening to what I called a beautiful story of faith and courage demonstrated by dedicated human beings.  I would be amiss if I did not thank my husband, the best editor and supporter in town, our two sons Andre and Charles for helping me to put this presentation together, and our Philadelphia son for his comments.  Another big thanks to the Ministry and Worship Committee of this Meeting and the Washington Office of the American Friends Service Committee for sponsoring this talk and a special thanks to Denny.  Good night.