In November 2014, Charlotte Adelman received a message 70 years in the making — through Facebook. The young boy whose family had hid her from the Nazis in a cellar for nine months during the Holocaust wanted to reconnect.
But the French-born Adelman, who now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, had “never forgotten” Alain Quatreville.
Adelman, 86, was only 11 in 1943 when her Jewish family was separated, and her father orchestrated a daring escape to Eastern France, where she lived in hiding with the Quatrevilles for nearly two years.
Quatreville’s message, Adelman says, left her “enthusiastic.”
“How a boy could put so much effort into finding me again?” she says of Quatreville, adding, “I was pinching myself.”
Adelman spent her early years in Paris, the daughter of a tailor, Herszle Rozencwajg. “We had hot water and a shower,” she says, “so we were very, very fortunate.” But in 1940, when Germany occupied France during World War II, Adelman says “everything changed.”
“We weren’t supposed to be walking with the Germans on the same pavement,” she explains.
Two years after the occupation, Adelman’s mother, Rajzla Rozencwajg, took the children to an orphanage, while she and her husband were placed on a truck to be taken to a “camp” with other Jews.
Adelman’s father escaped, but her mother was taken to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Herszle worked quick to negotiate his daughter’s rescue to Eastern France, where he had been promised safe stay for Adelman if he worked for the Germans.
- For more on Charlotte Adelman’s incredible story, pick up the new issue of People on newsstands Friday.
The Quartevilles — with no connection to Adelman or her family — agreed to take her in, and she was smuggled out of Paris in a noodle truck. “Everything was clandestine,” she details.
“I never knew what was going to happen to me,” she recounts of her escape. “I was always the lookout.”
At first, Adelman spent several months attending school alongside the Quartrevilles’ two children — Ginette, then 18, and Alain, only 4.
With German presence looming, the Quatrevilles moved Adelman to the cellar of the bombed out home next door.
“[They] put me there with a mattress, a bucket of water to wash myself, and a basin, and a kerosene lamp, and a bucket to make,” she recounts. “It had no window, it was dark, I only knew the time of the day was, when [Ginette] brought me breakfast, lunch, and dinner. ”
The threat was all too real, Adelman recalls.
“One night I said, ‘Please, I cannot stay here. Let me go upstairs, and sleep in a regular bed,’ “ she recounts. “Well, that night the Germans came.”
She says, “I heard them coming in the front door, so I slid under the bed, against the wall. I put my little hands in my mouth, because I was afraid to scream.”
Ultimately escaping detection, Adelman spent six months with the Quatrevilles after the war ended, before her father (who joined the resistance) was able to return. Adelman’s mother died in Auschwitz in January 1943, while her brother Max had been taken in by another family.
“It was a miracle I survived,” she says. “It was like something was looking over me.”
Adelman relocated to the United States in 1957, after meeting her husband Alex Adelman in Canada. The couple — and parents of two — were married for 50 years before his death in 2011.
“I never forgot the Quatrevilles,” Adelman says, though.
After reconnecting online through Facebook Messenger, a plan was hatched to reunite. “He really wanted my mom to come to his little town,” Adelman’s daughter, Roz Goldberg, 55, says. “I knew it was going to be emotional, and I didn’t know if she was capable of that.”
With the help of Facebook Messenger, Adelman’s community and a GoFundMe campaign, she and her family were able to travel to France in July.
Adelman reconnected with Alain, now 78, at the Wall of Names in Paris at the Mémorial de la Shoah — where her mother is memorialized.
Says Quatreville, a retired math professor who’s married with three children and lives in the French Ardennes, “This meeting made Charlotte real to me. Until that day it was a very distant childhood memory, and she was almost unreal.”
He adds, “My mother waited all her life to see Charlotte again.”
“We met at the Shoah, and I lit a candle for my mom, and he came to help me to light the candle,” Adelman says.
Then, they traveled to Beaumont-en-Argonne and revisited the home where Adelman spent many months — and Quatreville’s sister Ginette, now 93.
Says Goldberg, “All the stories that my mom’s been telling for years and years and years, all of it came to life.”
“It brought it all back,” says Adelman, who has kept in touch with Quatreville since. “It was very emotional. It reminded me I never knew how I was going to get out.”
Adelman tells her story now to youth groups and beyond, but once didn’t even utter a word of her experience to her own children.
“When I lost [my husband] seven years ago, I felt, for me to be strong again, I have to tell the story to other kids, and to other people,” Adelman says. “I don’t want my story to vanish. It should be always around for people to know what happened.”