Yvette Farnoux, co-founder of Relais de la Mémoire, was born on September 10, 1919 in Alsace, France. Her family was Jewish, but they were not at all religious, indeed, she did not know that she was Jewish herself until she started attending school.
Yvette first experienced signs of anti-Semitism in 1934, while studying social work in England, where she encountered Jewish refugees from Germany. When she heard news of potential war, she returned to France.
In Paris in 1941, Yvette, her brother Jean Pierre, and her sister Claudine joined the Resistance. She helped as a social worker aiding Jewish families, her work included organizing escapes from internment.
In January 1944, when Yvette was eight months pregnant, she was arrested by the French Gestapo and taken to Blois, where she miscarried. She escaped but was detained again and transported to Birkenau in Germany, where she was imprisoned from May 1944 to January 1945.
In January 1945 Yvette was sent on a death march, in extreme cold, from Birkenau in Germany to another concentration camp in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. Whilst she didn’t know how many people were in the death march, she was told that the column of inmates leaving Birkenau was seven kilometers long, but only three kilometers long when they arrived at a train station for the final part of their journey. Four kilometers of this human column had died during the march. Yvette nevertheless spoke of the great sense of companionship which, despite the horrors they faced together, existed among all of those on the march and how, every 20 minutes, people moved spontaneously from the more sheltered centre to the windy, cold sides of the column.
She attributed her survival to chance. When asked whether she ever thought about how long her ordeal would last, she replied “I did not think that we would ever leave the camp. But how long? Who knows? You lived day to day, hour to hour… every minute you could laugh, nobody could do anything about that… The difference between life and death is so minimal. You did not know.”
Yvette believed strongly in the importance of giving testimony about Holocaust experiences. She regularly gave talks to students and was a co-founder of Relais de la Mémoire, which she passionately supported until her death in November 2015. She believed that history is repeating itself, and people must be aware of potentially dangerous situations around the world and draw lessons from the past.
Relais de la Mémoire: Memory builds the future.