- Contributed by
- Angela Maranian
- People in story:
- Angela Maranian
- Location of story:
- Holland, Germany and France
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 04 June 2005
From her sons Michael and Peter Maranian
The Germans confiscated several hotels in France to house the internees. The internment camp at Vittel in France was also formally a Hotel, with tennis courts and a spa. Its drinking water is still renowned today. The internment camp at Vittel housed about two thousand internees, mostly Americans, Russians, British and also Jews from Poland and Austria who had falsified British and American passports. Part of the Hotel was used as a hospital My mother was in a comfortable room on the fourth floor with another lady called Jeanne Russell and a very kind French Lady of peasant stock who could not read or write. A French lady, that my mother befriended, persuaded her to work in the kitchen serving the soup. Workers helping in the kitchen got special privileges and were allowed to go as group with a guard to the local village and buy things they needed. They also used to barter with the French farmers with their cigarettes and chocolate.
The men, including Maurice arrived on August 8, 1943 and there was enormous joy. They found that that they had changed somewhat. Our father’s hair had receded and he had been much affected by the rigours of being interned. Our mother on the other hand had put on weight. The married couples were placed in villa type accommodation and our parent’s room was number 330. It was quite comfortable with a large sized kitchen. They continued to get Red Cross Parcels every week which sustained them particularly for breakfast. They also received an allowance from the British once a month.. Life was relatively comfortable and our mother was able to play tennis and netball. Our parents found another Armenian family, the Gumuchian family consisting of mother and two daughters . The eldest daughter, Stella, was conductor of the orchestra and the younger daughter, Sona (who is still alive) used to also play in the orchestra and performed in shows.
Angela started to feel sick and went to see her kind Jewish Doctor. He prescribed her medicine but it seemed to make her feel worse . They still could not find out what it was but eventually after four months they realized that she was pregnant and that she was to expect twins. The five hundred or so Polish and Austrian Jews tragically in the spring of 1944 were found out by the Germans to have false documents. These Jews were very distinguished and prominent people from their society. Many of them committed suicide avoiding the inevitable of being sent to a concentration camp. The rest of internees strongly protested the terrible treatment of the Jews but were punished having to stay two nights in their rooms in the dark. This all happened about the same time that our mother gave birth on April 16, 1944 to twins Michael and Margaret. Angela and the twins had to stay in the hospital for three weeks since the babies were premature. Michael in particular was not responding well. Mother and the babies were looked after by German, French and British Doctors. During her stay she recalls hearing ambulances coming frequently to the hospital carrying those who had successfully or unsuccessfully committed suicide either by jumping out of windows or cutting their wrists. In the bed next to our mother was a Jewish lady from Austria who also gave birth to a child. The lady cried inconsolably since all her relatives, including her husband and mother, had been sent to concentration camps and she was left behind with her child. Our mother has told this story many times.
The doctors said that Angela could leave the hospital and leave the babies there. She decided not to do so on the advise of others who feared that the doctors would somehow allow the babies to die. After leaving the hospital with the babies our mother was helped by two sisters Rita and Sophie to look after them. Apparently there were about thirty babies born in the camp.
From the radio, the internees heard that the Americans and British had landed on June 6, 1944 and they subsequently followed the gradual retreat of the Germans. Sometime about September of 1944, the area around Vittel was being liberated and much fighting took place around the camp. The German soldiers went to the mountains during the day time for protection. There was a lot of bombing by the Americans and the French Resistance which went on all day. The German Komandant of the internment camp, known as Monsieur Stephan, made everyone go to the shelter. Our mother almost got killed when she went back to the room to get food for the babies and shrapnel burst into the room . The Americans and the French Resistance temporarily succeeded in liberating the area including the camp and the internees threw them flowers, chocolate and cigarettes. The Germans came back and attacked the area. However, the French Resistance had changed all the road signs and the Germans were confused. This time the Germans were trapped and defeated. Monsieur Stephan was killed. Angela saw many of the German soldiers being kept as prisoners in stables and our father went to the fields where many soldiers lay dead. She often said that they suffered too and has since throughout her life been appalled at the modern wars that have started knowing the terrible human suffering they bring.
After being liberated, our father, mother and the twins, along with the rest of the internees, stayed at Vittel for about three weeks or so. The British Consulate came and the were told that they would be in England within a day. On October 16, 1944 our parents, with the twins, took their few possessions and were taken to Tours in France in a group of twenty one refugees. Tours was an airfield with temporary hospitals for the wounded. Instead of staying a short while in Tours, they ended up staying four nights sleeping on stretchers in a large tent waiting to be put on a plane to England. They were well looked after by the Americans and were well fed. They had ran out of nappies for the babies so the Americans gave them four pillow covers to use. The Germans started to bomb and the American General said that it was too dangerous for them to stay. The group of twenty one refugees then traveled to Paris where many soldiers and refugees had gathered. They arrived at noon at the railway station and waited until 6.00pm when they were eventually taken to Montmartre Hotel by the British Consulate. The hotel had no lights so they had to stay in the dark. The following morning, the French Red Cross, who were very good to them, gave then some milk and money. To buy food you needed coupons which they did not have and so they had to go to the soup kitchens for the poor. They stayed at the hotel for four days.
After their stay the Montmartre Hotel, they were sent by the British Consulate by coach to Bourjais Airport which was still operating despite being flattened. They arrived at the airport at noon and had to wait till 6.00pm before being flown to Northholt airport near London on a Dacota plane with the rest of the group of twenty one refugees. After much interrogation at Northholt airport, they were sent to a refugee center in the center of London. They were photographed by the press in the refugee center. The following day, The Daily Mirror wrote an article with the heading “ Twins, born in Hun Camp are freed” and the Evening News showed photographs of mother and the twins with a title “ Born in Captivity, Free in London”. Our father went to see his sister in laws in Ruislip who lived on the same street but found neither of them at home since they were at work. He left a note to say that the family had arrived. They were overjoyed when they saw the note. Soon the family was reunited with our uncle and aunts having not seen each other for six years. Our uncles, Edward and Steven, had spent much of the war with the British 5th Army in Egypt.
The family settled in Eastcote, Ruislip, Middlesex where Peter was born in 1948 . Sadly our father died of a heart attack in 1971 and our sister Margaret died of cancer in 1990. Our mother, who has six grand children and two great grand children lived happily and peacefully in Eastcote till August 2004. She now lives in a retirement home in Cambourne near Cambridge and near to where Michael’s family lives.
Postscript: An interesting additional item is with regard to a post card sent by our father dated December 7, 1943 from the internment camp in Vittel to his landlord, Mr Ockemulder, in The Hague, Holland. Mr. Ockemulder only received the postcard some thirty six years later on November 30, 1979. An article in a Dutch Newspaper Haagsche Courant , regarding this astounding occurrence, was published in the newspaper’s December 4, 1979 edition. It is possible that the postcard got left in a corner of the local post office in Vittel to be found decades later.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.