Charlotte Adelman was checking her Facebook account in 2016 when she noticed a message that took her back 70 years to when she was hiding under a bed while German soldiers looked for her, nearly stabbing her with a bayonet as they did so. The message was from Alain Quatreville, the son of the family that had hidden Adelman for nine months during the war.
Now, the 85-year-old Valley resident will see Alain again for the first time since her father picked her up from the Quatreville home after the war ended. The two will be reunited in Paris in July, thanks to that Facebook message.
Adelman was born in Paris and spent her childhood in an apartment building that was mostly Jewish. Her father’s cousin tried to convince the family to relocate to the U.S. in 1938, but her father refused.
On June 14, 1942, the Nazis occupied Paris and began implementing a series of anti-Semitic laws. Adelman’s father knew worse was coming. So, he had the family split up and stay with neighbors just before French police, on behalf of the Nazi authorities, arrested more than 11,000 Jews.
Desperate to escape to southern France, where Jews were not yet being rounded up, Adelman’s father left her and her younger brother, Max, in an orphanage.
Her father planned to come back for them, but he was caught, along with Adelman’s mother, by the Germans. Though her father was able to escape by jumping from a moving vehicle, her mother was deported to Auschwitz, where she is believed to have died.
In the meantime, a Romanian woman had taken Adelman from the orphanage, while her brother contracted scarlet fever and was sent to a hospital.
Adelman said they were both lucky, since they survived the war. The other children at the orphanage weren’t so fortunate.
“I took my kids to France after the war and I showed them the orphanage,” Adelman said. “The 79 kids that stayed there, they took them to Auschwitz and they killed them.”
The Romanian woman didn’t realize that Adelman, who spoke Yiddish, could understand German. Adelman overhead the Romanian woman saying she was planning to sell her to the highest bidder.
Adelman contacted the building’s janitor, who got a message to a family friend who was able to rescue her.
Her father traveled to eastern France, where he heard those who worked there were not being deported.
When he learned where Adelman was, he picked her up and brought her to stay with him in the home of the Quatreville family.
When a villager warned Adelman’s father that the Germans were planning to round up the workers, they fled through the forest to a cottage, where they stayed while Adelman’s father rendezvoused with members of the underground resistance.
However, the woman who lived in the cottage said it was too dangerous for Adelman to stay, so she was returned to the Quatreville family hidden in a wheelbarrow.
The family hid Adelman in the basement of a destroyed neighbor’s house. Every day, the Quatrevilles’ 18-year-old daughter would bring Adelman her meals and water, and remove her waste.
“I would know what time it was during the day according to the food that she was bringing down,” Adelman said. “While I was in that cellar, I made up stories to not go crazy during those nine months. In the stories, I had a family, a little boy and a little girl. I had a husband, a home and a little red car.”
One night, Adelman begged the family to let her out of the basement and into the house. Despite the risk, they relented.
When police officers and German soldiers showed up, the boyfriend of the Quatrevilles’ daughter picked Adelman up and whisked her into an upstairs bedroom. When she heard the Germans enter the house, she hid under the bed.
The soldiers, it turned out, were looking for the boyfriend, who turned himself in to try to keep Adelman safe.
However, one of the soldiers had seen him holding something through the window.
The solders searched the house, eventually coming to the room where Adelman was hiding. Most terrifyingly, a soldier began probing under the bed, his bayonet coming within inches of her.
“Luckily, they couldn’t look under the bed because it was close to the floor,” Adelman said. “I was very little and I flattened myself against the wall. I put my little hand in my mouth not to scream.”
Alain Quatreville, who was 4 at the time, was about to reveal where Adelman was to the Germans when his grandmother whisked him into a bath, literally putting a bar of soap in his mouth.
The Germans finally left when they found the boyfriend’s bag, convinced that was what he was holding.
“When the Germans left, Mr. Quatreville pulled me from under the bed and I was white like a sheet,” Adelman said. “We couldn’t go to a doctor or hospital, so he gave me a shot of cognac to put me back on my feet.”
When the Americans liberated the village, Adelman came out of the basement for good.
“The Quatreville family kept me after the war because they didn’t know if my father or mother were alive,” Adelman said.
She stayed with the family for months. Every Sunday, she went with them to church, though she declined to be baptized, convinced she would be reunited with her family.
Eventually, her father found both her and her brother. They lived for a time in Paris, though Adelman moved to Israel, then Canada and then the U.S.
She married an American and eventually had the son, daughter and even red car she had dreamed of while hiding in the basement.
Adelman was excited to hear from Alain. The pair may visit Alain’s older sister, the one who brought Adelman her meals. Adelman will also visit her brother, Max, who still lives in France. She has even set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the trip.
“I was lucky all my life,” Adelman reflected. “I was lucky even to lose my mom, because it is like an angel has been looking over me.” JN