It’s the middle of the 1940s, and war is raging across Europe. Even a tiny town in northeastern France is affected by the conflict when Nazi soldiers search a house there. The Germans thrust bayonets into dark corners, looking to flush out any Jews that might be hiding in the vicinity. And as the hunt goes on, a small girl quivers with fear under a bed – anxious that she may soon be found.
The girl – known today as Charlotte Adelman – had escaped from Paris by being hidden inside a truck. Then, thankfully, she had found safe haven in Beaumont-en-Argonne with a local family called the Quatrevilles, who had hid the youngster despite having no prior links to her. But now that safety has been shattered – and any noise could lead to her death in a Nazi concentration camp.
Many years later, in 2018, Adelman would describe the terror of the Nazis’ search to People magazine. She revealed, “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. It was a miracle I survived. It was like something was looking over me.”
Adelman would never forget her wartime experiences, in fact. In 2019 she explained to HuffPost, “I don’t read it from a paper. I wake up with it, and I go to bed with it. It’s in me.” And more recently – with Adelman in her 80s and living in Phoenix, Arizona – she received a surprise that brought that period of history back to life yet again.
Way before Adelman made it to the U.S., however, she was raised in some comfort in her native Paris. Charlotte Rozencwajg – as she was then known – grew up in a building that mostly housed Jewish people like her, while her dad, Herszle, worked as a tailor. But although life started off well for the French youngster, that all changed after the German invasion of 1940.
Once the Nazis arrived in France, conditions became oppressive for Jews. Jewish people were made to stamp distinctive marks on their papers, while kids had to display yellow stars on their clothes as a signifier of their ethnicity. Adelman told The State Press in 2014, “Soldiers watched the streets. We weren’t allowed to go to the movies. We had to take the last train and the last subways. Jewish children even had to sit in the back of classrooms.”
But Adelman’s teacher liked her a lot and wouldn’t treat her badly. The keen student was therefore allowed to take a seat at the front of the classroom, while a scarf draped over the star hid it from any passing Nazi’s view. At the same time, the other kids were told not to mention Adelman’s Jewishness.
Things changed for the worse, though, and Adelman’s dad got the scent of something bad. Herszle therefore chose to get his family to safety – a decision that proved prescient. Soon after that, you see, the Nazis ordered the gathering of many Parisian Jews in the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, and these unlucky souls’ end destination would be the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Yet although Adelman’s mom, Rajzla, got Adelman and her brother safely into an orphanage, she herself ended up on a truck with her husband en route to a Nazi camp. In 2018 Adelman told Good Morning America about the moment when she was separated from her mom, explaining, “When they took [my mother] away, it was like them taking my arms and legs.”
And while Herszle ultimately got away from the truck, Rajzla didn’t follow suit. The mom thought, you see, that she might never meet her kids again if she also ran. As it happens, though, neither of the kids remained in the orphanage long. This turned out to be another stroke of luck, as all 79 of the other children at the facility were later cruelly murdered at Auschwitz.
Adelman’s brother ended up enduring a spell of hospitalization; the young girl, on the other hand, found herself the target of adoption. Yes, a woman chose her and promised her a wonderful new life in a castle. When Adelman went to her supposed savior’s home, however, a janitor there shared some suspicions about this person with her.
The warning then led Adelman to eavesdrop on a conversation that the woman was having with a German. And while the pair believed that the girl couldn’t understand them because they were talking in German, her knowledge of Yiddish – a language with Germanic roots – helped her to translate. It turned out that the young girl was to be sold and would end up in a camp, and so Adelman let the janitor know that he had been right.
Fortunately, rescue came in the form of a family associate named Madame Elazare, who quickly spirited Adelman away. But while Adelman was then able to enjoy a period of recuperation, Paris remained dangerous. When the girl’s dad found out where she was, then, he schemed to get her out of town to somewhere safer.
Adelman’s father was himself in the northeast of France, and his daughter therefore had to take a long journey across the country while hidden inside a noodle truck. In the end, though, the ploy was a success, and Adelman was reunited with her dad. And from there, Herszle requested that locals around them watch over his daughter so that he could earn money tailoring.
Yet the Germans were closing in, and Adelman couldn’t live in the open anymore. Later, she recounted to HuffPost, “My father carried me into the woods [instead].” Then, deep in the countryside, a local family called the Quatrevilles took Adelman in. Her new home was now the town of Beaumont-en-Argonne.
Naturally, the Quatrevilles were taking an enormous risk by giving shelter to Adelman. If the Germans caught them, they may have ended up under arrest and facing a beating – or, in the worst-case scenario, a firing squad. Seemingly undaunted by these prospects, however, the clan proceeded to protect the little girl from the Nazis for the rest of the war.
So, while her father hunted for her mother, the youngster joined the Quatrevilles. And the fugitive – then aged 12 – would go on to befriend the family’s young boy, Alain. Adelman later recalled to HuffPost how the four-year-old had struggled to get his tongue around her name properly. She claimed, “He couldn’t say ‘Charlotte.’ He knew me as ‘Lotte.’”
While with the Quatrevilles, though, Adelman had to spend her time in the cellar of a bomb-blasted, roofless house that was situated next door to the family’s own home. And there was a distinct lack of creature comforts for her during that period; all she was provided with was a bucket, a mattress to sleep on, a basin to use for washing and a lamp to give her light.
So, for nine long months, Adelman remained in the dark of the basement. And while, on one occasion, a Nazi came to check that no Jews were hiding in the ruined house, he fortunately neglected to investigate the cellar. Nevertheless, the location was so gloomy that Adelman pleaded for a single night above ground.
And as fate had it, that night actually proved to be the one that saw a squad of German soldiers come to search the house. Hoping to flush out runaways, the Nazis used bayonets to probe hidden places, while Adelman cowered under a bed – terrified that one of the men would discover her.
As the soldiers hunted for Jews, the Quatrevilles looked on, horrified. And while at one point little Alain – clueless about what was really happening – looked ready to speak, his quick-thinking grandma grabbed a soap bar and subsequently shoved it into his mouth. It’s far from inconceivable to suggest that this soap preserved Adelman’s life.
After that scare, Adelman had to stay in the cellar full-time, although the Quatrevilles didn’t just abandon her to the lonely darkness. She would would eat well, in fact, and had plenty of water. Nor did the girl spend all that time alone. Grandma Quatreville kept her company on occasion, you see, and gave her knitting lessons.
Grandma wasn’t the only person to visit, either, as Alain’s sister, Ginette, also spared some moments for Adelman. She’d come down to the cellar at the same time with food for the fugitive. Ginette would also help keep the visitor clean by means of sponge baths. And for nine long months, Adelman marked time by Ginette’s visits.
In the meantime, Adelman tried to keep her loneliness at bay by fantasizing about a reunion with her mom and thinking up tales that kept her sane. Later, the survivor told The State Press, “I would imagine having kids and taking them to school and having a little red car with a husband.” Amazingly, when the war ended, this was a vision that actually came true.
The hiding didn’t last forever, of course, and the end finally came when the Quatrevilles invited her to greet the liberating Americans. Plump from the lack of exercise, the young Adelman subsequently emerged blinking into the light. And while her stay with the Quatrevilles wasn’t over, at least she could now live with them openly for the next few months.
Adelman told Good Morning America of the family, “They treated me like their own child.” The clan took her to church, too, and even hoped that she would convert to their religion. Despite learning Catholic prayers, though, Adelman kept to her own faith. She later explained to The State Press, “I still felt I was Jewish.”
Meanwhile, as Adelman waited for her dad, he was looking for her brother. And, thankfully, the boy eventually turned up. He’d had a difficult time of it, however, living with folks who had made him beg. Adelman told HuffPost, “My brother would go under the table during the dinner because he was afraid he would get shot if he didn’t. It took him a few months to eat at the table.”
Then the Adelmans and Quatrevilles eventually had to say goodbye – but they still kept closely in touch. Yes, for a period of time, Adelman didn’t lose sight of any of the people who had aided her during the war. A year after leaving, in fact, Adelman and her brother paid the Quatrevilles a visit. As often happens, though, the two families ultimately drifted apart.
And on top of that, there was a reunion in Alderman’s life that would never come to fruition. During those dark days in Beaumont-en-Argonne, the girl had kept herself going by thinking about the day when she’d see her mom once more. That day never came, though, as she would later find out that the Nazis had murdered her mother – who had been just 33 – at Auschwitz.
Meanwhile, when Adelman lost touch with the Quatrevilles, they, in turn, worried about whether they’d ever see her again. Alain Quatreville told Good Morning America that his mother, not knowing what had become of Adelman, was very upset. As he put it himself, “She suffered immensely from the lack of news.”
In fact, Adelman had headed off to Montreal, Canada, as understandably it seemed that she wished not to remain in France. Then, one day, when on a trip in the Laurentian Mountains, she ran into an American called Alex Adelman. And the two made a loving couple for half a century until he passed in 2011.
In the meantime, Adelman’s story featured in a memoir that covered Beaumont-en-Argonne and which used her married name. As a result, in 2014 Alain Quatreville made the connection between Charlotte Adelman and the little girl whom his family had harbored. Then, he was able to track his former friend down on Facebook – and he immediately messaged her.
Quatreville told Adelman that he had thought about her often and would like to catch up with her again. And, naturally, after nearly seven decades of separation, this message out of the blue came as a stunning surprise for Adelman. She told Good Morning America, “It was very emotional. The fact that [the Quatrevilles] found me meant so much.”
Adelman agreed that the pair should get together, too. So, despite her advancing years – she was now 86 – she flew to France. There, she visited the Mémorial de la Shoah – Paris’ Holocaust museum – where she could see her own mother mentioned on the Wall of Names. Quatreville – himself 78 – joined her at the monument.
Adelman told People, “We met at the Shoah, and I lit a candle for my mom, and [Quatreville] came to help me to light the candle.” And Quatreville was left close to speechless by the occasion. “What can I say, Charlotte?” he asked her. Adelman responded, “This is a dream come true.”
Quatreville felt the loss of his mom, too, and he went on to tell Good Morning America, “This reunion would have meant so much more to my mother.” Adelman revealed, on the other hand, that she’d never have known “how to thank” the Quatreville matriarch for her willingness to put her own life in danger.
Then, Adelman’s next stop on her French trip was the village that had once been her safe haven. And although the bombed premises that had previously been her home was now gone, seeing the location again was incredibly moving. So, too, was the reunion with Ginette, whose mind turned out to still be sharp.
Of that meeting, Adelman told HuffPost, “Believe it or not, when I went to see [Ginette], the village knew about me.” It turned out that the memoir about Beaumont-en-Argonne had given her a measure of fame locally, leading people to come from all around to see “the girl from the cellar.”
Then, after her reunion with Quatreville, Adelman was able to keep in touch – although she had never actually forgotten him. Indeed, even though her dream of a husband, a red car and two kids did eventually come true, the dark days of the war had stayed with her and cast a shadow upon her happy and fulfilling life.
Adelman had lost her mother, after all, to the horrors of the Holocaust. But while Rajzla was one of six million Jews who were murdered by the forces of Nazi Germany, her daughter managed to escape with her life – all thanks to the bravery of the Quatreville family.