The First Jewish High Holidays in Paris After Liberation from the Nazis – Mel Corren

After the liberation, and those dark years under the German occupation were over, the Jewish High Holidays were once again being observed at the famous Rothschild Synagogue on the Rue de La Victoir in Paris. In that magnificent edifice, Allied soldiers, along with those Parisian Jews lucky enough to have survived, came together to worship.

My buddy, Bob Rieders, and I were among the many who both sadly and joyfully attended that gathering of the remnants of the Jewish people in France, where the front pews of the synagogue were left empty in memory of the deportees who would never return. This display of reverence and acknowledgment caused tears to well up in the eyes of many of those in the crowd.

Along with Parisian Jewry were Allied Servicemen of all types and uniforms, including the top brass of the European and Allied Command. When the kaddish (the Hebrew memorial prayer) was recited on that memorable night, the feelings it evoked were beyond description. I felt they included grief, thanks, disbelief, and a good measure of guilt. The latter, we later understood, was suffered by many of those who survived while family members and friends had perished.

The next week was Yom Kippur and our bulletin board was posted with three or four synagogues where we could attend services. We decided not to go to the Rothschild Synagogue again, opting instead for a smaller one. We took a taxi to a location shown on our map but got lost. However, since the two of us looked a little strange in that neighborhood, a man approached us, and in broken English/Yiddish asked if we were Jewish and were looking for the synagogue. I told him in Yiddish that we were, and he took us on foot through a few short streets to a shul near the Bastille (before the war this was a very Jewish neighborhood in the center of Paris).

By the time we arrived, the services were already in progress, and, as we conspicuously took our seats, we observed the welcoming stares from the congregation.

When the service was over, the rabbi asked the congregants to welcome the American soldiers present and invite them to their homes for the uhp fahst (the breaking of the fast). Bob and I walked to the rear of the room where we were immediately surrounded by a sea of people asking such questions as: “Do you know Abe Epstein from Chicago? My uncle Eliazer Rosenbladt who lives in New York; do you know him? I have a cousin in Los Angeles,” and on it went. These folks had no idea of the immensity of the United States and, besides, I think they wanted to create an identity and maybe even make contact for future emigration.

Suddenly, an immaculately dressed man pushed his way through the crowd, yanked on Bob’s sleeve and said in broken English, “You come with me. My wife speaks English!”

Bob led him through the crowd to me, and we explained that we were a pair and wanted to stay together. He told us that it was not a problem – we could both come. He explained that his wife, who was from England, would be thrilled to have English speakers in their home.

This was to be the start of another wonderful chapter in our Parisian experience, and, after stopping for an aperitif, we reached his apartment, where we found his wife and son awaiting their husband and father’s arrival.

When she spotted us, she took us in her arms and we proceeded to talk, eat, and drink. That night, they gave each of us the yellow Star of David patch they had been required to wear on their clothing to identify them as Juives (Jews) during the Nazi occupation.

I sent mine to the Skirball Museum of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. I explained that the star was given to me by a couple who had survived the four years of occupation in their apartment in Paris.

They told us that when the trucks came by to pick up the Jews in the neighborhood, they had taken their baby for a walk so they were not at home, and fortunately, their neighbors did not report them to the Gestapo. They, also, told us how difficult it was with their infant son cooped up in their small apartment, and how, at times, they had to put swaddling cloth in their baby’s mouth so as not to call attention to themselves.

former boss had risked his life by bringing him work and returning, with food, to pick up the finished products. It was a Schindler-type operation on a small scale, but there would have been serious consequences had they been caught. We met others who told similar stories.

During our stay in Paris, Bob and I enjoyed many visits with these folks.

Then, when we visited Paris with my mother in 1969, we, sadly, discovered that his wife had died of breast cancer and he was remarried to a woman whose daughter was married to a Spaniard and lived in Spain. This accounted for the fact that on a future trip we visited him in Pau, a picturesque city in the mountains, near Spain.

Shortly after that last visit, we heard that he had passed away.


Mel Corren, who was named “Stocktonian of the Year in 2015”, was born and raised in Stockton, California where he has lived for 99+ years. The eldest grandson of Russian Jews who immigrated at the turn of the last century, Mel’s is a quintessential tale of the American Dream realized. A successful businessman, WWII veteran, loving husband of 75 years, father of two, and ardent traveler, his life reflects the boundless spirit, optimism, and determination that was America in the 20th century.

2 thoughts on “The First Jewish High Holidays in Paris After Liberation from the Nazis – Mel Corren

  1. Sarah Annabel Ades Lerner

    Thankyou for this – my grandfather was deported from Paris in 1944. It is comforting to read this. Best Wishes

  2. Sarah Lerner

    Thankyou so much for this. My grandfather was deported from Paris in 1944 and did not survive. His name is on the wall of the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris. It is lovely to read a happier story. Best WIshes Sarah Lerner


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.