Yvonne and her little sister Renée lived in the small town of St. Gratien on the outskirts of Paris, France. Yvonne, born in 1929, was five years older than Renée, so she was always the one in charge, even when they were children. If they played house, Yvonne was the loving mother and Renée was the baby. If they played school, Yvonne was the wise teacher and Renée was the student. They would also include their beloved German shepherd, Mirka, in their games. Mirka was a loyal friend to the girls, escorting them to school in the morning and greeting them again upon the conclusion of the day. When they were not at school, they spent their time playing hopscotch, jump rope, or hide and seek. When they were inside with the family, there was always a lot of reading and music, especially opera.
Mr. Ferstenfeld, the girls’ father, believed in teaching his two daughters about history and culture. He introduced Yvonne and Renée to these topics through the arts, and focused on the history of their native France. The family celebrated French national holidays with great enthusiasm. Papa was born in Poland and Maman was born in Russia, and they later met and married in Germany, but ultimately they chose to move and raise their children in France. Mr. and Mrs. Ferstenfeld believed that France was a special place.
TESTIMONY: “LIFE IN FRANCE”
“…pineapples and oranges and nectarines.”
Mr. and Mrs. Ferstenfeld worked during the day, but when Maman was home she loved to sing to the girls, dress them in pretty dresses, and brush their hair. Maman, of course, was the prettiest of all the women of the family, with her soft pink skin, blond hair, and clear blue eyes.
It was their grandmother, Oma, who was the disciplinarian at home during the day. Oma also cooked the meals, which often included soup, vegetables, meat, and fresh rolls. Oma came from an orthodox family, which strictly adhered to traditional Jewish practices. Yvonne would sometimes see Oma cover her hair and light candles on Friday nights. Her parents never explained that this tradition was part of a special prayer for Shabbat. To Yvonne, these traditional practices seemed meaningless. Her family identified more with French society and culture than with Jewish traditions. For example, Yvonne’s father and mother had the Jewish names of Moshe and Chana, but they never used them, preferring to answer to Maurice and Annette.