Life at the convent was difficult. The nuns were strict, food was scarce, and infections could easily spread among the rooms crowded with girls. The nuns would regularly check the girls for lice . As soon as they saw a child scratching her head, they cut off the girl’s hair, applied gasoline to her scalp, and had her wear a beret for several days to avoid further infestation. Renée loved her beautiful long hair, and Yvonne convinced the nuns to allow her to keep it long. Remembering how Maman used to love brushing their hair and knowing how important this was to Renée, Yvonne took personal responsibility for the upkeep of this priceless treasure. At the same time, she constantly worried that her sister would have to cut her hair because of lice . Yvonne believed that if the nuns cut her hair, Renée would be traumatized. In spite of herself, Yvonne finally decided to protect Renée by cutting her little sister’s hair herself. She gathered her courage and promised herself that she would not cry. If Renée saw her crying, how could she understand that this was in her best interest? Yvonne worried that Renée would feel deserted once again, this time by her sister, caregiver, and last friend in the world.
TESTIMONY: “lice ”
“I’m very sorry, but that’s the way it is.”
In July of 1943, the Ferstenfelds decided to bring the girls home for a short visit. Though everyone was happy to be reunited, Maman and Papa were worried about raids on Jewish homes and arranged accommodations for their daughters at the home of a Christian neighbor. In fact, one day Yvonne woke to learn the terrifying news that Nazis had been to her parents’ home in the early morning hours. The girls quickly ran to find their home empty and in shambles. Only Oma was left, hysterical.
TESTIMONY: “deportation ”
“Somehow I got the message that I should leave.”
After their parents’ deportation , Oma decided to hide in a quiet place with farmers, and offered to cook for her keep during the war. Yvonne and Renée made their way back to the convent with the help of a neighbor. Because they no longer had family members to take care of them, they were now considered orphans. In order to stay at the convent they had to do more chores to pay for the cost of their room and board . Life in the convent became everything to them now, and religion was their only comfort. With their lives absorbed in Catholic religious practice, Yvonne became devout and even thought of becoming a nun .
TESTIMONY: “TAKING COMFORT IN FAITH”
“I was looking for a place where I could really stop worrying.”