HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — On April 18, the Hill AFB Special Observance Council held a Holocaust Days of Remembrance Service in memory of the estimated six million Jews and other minorities who were killed by the Nazis during World War II.
The service, held at the Hill Aerospace Museum’s Nate Mazer Chapel, included remarks by Diane Warsoff, a resident of Utah and second-generation survivor, who shared personal stories about her grandparents’ and mother’s experiences during the Holocaust.
Her grandparents lived in Germany before the war, but fled in 1936 to what was then Palestine where her mother was born. In 1938, her family moved to France and, on May 10, 1940, the country was invaded by Germany.
Since her grandparents and mother were not French citizens, they were put in a deportation camp. As a result, her grandfather volunteered to join the French Foreign Legion so her grandmother and mother would be released.
By 1942, Jews in the country were “living under the radar,” Warsoff said, hiding and seeking refuge with citizens who would take them in, because French officials working with the Nazi government were deporting Jews.
Warsoff said people “took a great risk to take Jewish families in.”
In 1943, her grandparents and mother went further into hiding and assumed fake identities to avoid being deported. In order to protect Warsoff’s mother, however, her grandparents sent her to a convent and orphanage headed by a nun who was hiding Jewish children from the Nazis.
Warsoff said her parents and other Jews only “survived based on luck and the kindness of others.” They hid in the walls or under the floors of these “refuge” homes.
Her grandparents and mother were reunited in 1944 following the U.S. invasion of Normandy. The official surrender of Nazi Germany occurred on May 7, 1945.
Warsoff’s mother eventually moved to the United States.
In 2015, Warsoff and her mother went to Germany to visit the area her mother’s parents originally lived. They also traveled to France, where Warsoff met the family who rescued her grandparents and mother.
They returned to France in 2017 to participate in a ceremony and place a plaque at the convent and orphanage to commemorate the nun who risked her life to protect Jewish children from being captured by the Nazis.
“It’s so crazy to think of the bravery of the people who took great risk to take Jews in,” Warsoff said. “They feel so proud of what they did, now. But back then it was extraordinarily dangerous for them.”