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A TIME TO TIME NEWSLETTER OF THE JOHN WEIDNER FOUNDATION
Dedicated to the promotion of Altruism and Moral Courage and standing as another witness to the reality of the Holocaust
2nd Edition AUGUST 9, 2012
Frank Mazzaglia, Editor in Chief,
Kevin O’Rourke, Managing Editor
ONE FAMILY’S HOLOCAUST STORY
By Frank Mazzaglia
When the German Luftwaffe bombed the helpless population of Belgium on May 10, 1940, hundreds of thousands of dazed and bewildered refugees crowded the roads to reach England and safety. However, German paratroopers and glider-borne special forces moved quickly. They seized key bridges and blocked any hope for escape. So, the refugees turned themselves around and walked back home.
For the Chapnik family, home was next to the majestic gothic Saint Waudry’s collegiate church in Mons. Charles and Jeanne Chapnik and their five children Simone, Anna, Jacques, Louis and Maurice were Jewish. As it happened though, the location of that house next to the largest Catholic church in Mons may have played a part in their survival.
Maurice Chapnik now lives in Natick and although years have passed since those dark days, his story is worth remembering. Maurice was only seven years old and in the second grade of the public school when the Nazis occupied Mons. Because the school stood next to a railroad track, however, it was often bombed and the children were sent off to a nearby Catholic school until the building was repaired.
Even before the occupation, children used the courtyard next to Saint Waudry’s as a playground and frequently raced up and down the aisles of the huge church. Nobody seemed to mind. Maurice, of course, joined in with the other kids. He observed them dipping their hands into the holy water and making the sign of the cross. Soon he learned how to do it himself. As a child, he listened to Catholic prayers so often that they became familiar to him. Moreover, he loved watching the weekly religious processions before Sunday services. People got used to him being there whenever they were. In other words, Maurice blended in.
His father, Charles, earned his living as a tailor who spoke German as well as French. In fact, it was not unusual for German soldiers to come into his shop to have their uniforms tailored. The income from the shop plus a small patch of land where they grew potatoes helped the family get by.
All of that, though, was before 1942 when the Nazis began to deport Jews in earnest. Jews were instructed to register at city hall where they would be issued yellow stars to wear on their clothing. A family friend, however, advised Mr. Chapnik not to register. Nonetheless, a night never passed without fearing the real possibility of the Gestapo knocking at the door. Still, despite the almost nightly roundups nobody denounced the Chapniks to the Gestapo.
Then one day, a well dressed German officer entered the school and announced that all Jewish students should register at the principal’s office. Being a good boy who had been taught never to lie, young Maurice signed his name to the list that very morning. However, when he told his older brother what he had done, Jackes quickly informed their father who immediately rushed to the principal’s home. The principal, a member of the underground, erased Maurice’s name from the list and danger passed over them once again.
History records that the German occupation was particularly harsh. The black market thrived and the bare necessities of life were scarce. Nevertheless the Chapniks survived. Acting over the anxious concerns of his parents, however, seventeen year old Jacques joined the resistance. Sadly he was later arrested, sent to a concentration camp and never heard from again.
Liberation came on August 25th when the 3rd Army Division cut off 40,000 Nazis and captured 8,000 prisoners in Mons. Maurice smiles as he remembers making up for lost time as American soldiers lavished the children with candy and chocolates. Simone became a war bride and soon thereafter the family joined their daughter in the United States. Maurice was drafted during the Korean conflict and became an American citizen while serving in the army. He remains active in the Metro West Jewish War Veterans.