Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Seventy two years ago this week Paris was liberated

Denise Damensztein is fifteen years old in this photo. It was taken at Leon, a Jewish restaurant, that operated during the Occupation. Denise worked serving here on Sundays and lived upstairs in the apartment on the first floor. In 1942, her parents and sister answered a knock on the door to the French police. Because they were foreign born in Poland they were on a list. Denise, fourteen at the time and born in Paris at the Rothschild Hospital, wasn't. Still the police wanted to take her. But her father bribed the policeman not to take her with a bar of soap. Denise lived in the apartment for two years by herself, thinking and hoping they would return. She went to beauty school, worked partime at a coiffeur outside Paris. Everyday she took a train and a bus, wore a yellow star as required by law but covered it with her shoulder bag. Downstairs, the family who ran the Leon bistro, fed her dinner and she earned tips on Sunday. Her family were close friends of Monsieur and Madame Bellalisse who ran a leather factory next door to their apartment. Monsieur Bellalisse was a Greek Jew and his wife, a German. The couple treated Denise as a niece during the Occupation. after her parents and sister were taken. Here is the remembrance of the Muguet, lily of the Valley, when the couple took They took Denise for her 16th birthday to the famous Pied au Cochon at Les Halles.
Here are the papers that enabled her to emigrate to the US in 1948.
At the end of the war, now 16 she received her Carte d'Identitie.
At Liberation in 1944 Denise learned her parents and sister had died at Auschwitz. But here she is, seventy two years ago during the week Paris was liberated, sitting next to a GI in his jeep in front of the restaurant Leon and below her apartment. She's the one smiling.
Denise loves chocolate. Here she is a few days ago topping off lunch with a dessert of chocolate mousse.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Wonderful vignette of an amazing story. Thanks, Cara.

  2. Wow. Thank you for sharing this story - Denise looks like a wonderful woman, and I can only imagine her bravery.

  3. Thank you, Cara, for not allowing so many of these stories to pass on untold!

  4. Thanks, Cara. Glad this one had a happy ending at least in part.

  5. Oh, Cara. My imagination reels. Left alone at fourteen? What can that have been like! Is she still in the US? Or has she returned to France?

  6. Amazing. These stories are so important. Thanks for telling one of them - you told it so beautifully, have you thought of enlarging it ~ a book perhaps?

  7. I'm so very lucky to know Denise. And honored that she's shared stories of her life in Paris - we've been friends since 1995. So generous and wanting the past told. She says, even though she's a US citizen now, she's French but of a France that's gone. Her stories were invaluable when I wrote Murder in the Marais.
    My dream is that we'll be in Paris together some time and she'll walk me down her childhood streets. PS I've been to Resto Leon - it's now a Thai resto!

  8. I hope we don't lose these stories and I am so happy for Denise's survival and strength.
    P.S. I am writing this from Grand Marais.

  9. Glad to read of Denise's story. Such an awful turn of events, but she survived and was lucky to have an adoptive aunt and uncle right there.
    And she loves chocolate! Always a good sign!