Holocaust Survivor and Former Springside Teacher Tells Students ‘You Are Our Voices’

Holocaust Survivor and Former Springside Teacher Tells Students ‘You Are Our Voices’

Holocaust survivor and former Springside French teacher Ruth Kapp Hartz visited SCH earlier today to talk to 10th-grade students about her early life as a “hidden child” in Nazi-occupied France. 

Kapp Hartz’s story is documented in her memoir, Your Name Is Renée (Oxford University Press), written by Springside alumna Stacy Cretzmeyer '77 who approached her former teacher to tell her she was interested in writing a novel about “hidden children,” not knowing at that point that her teacher was one of them. After a visit to Philadelphia, Kapp Hartz entrusted the writing of her biography to Cretzmeyer who agreed to craft it from the perspective of the child. She visited Kapp Hartz’s parents and the places from her teacher’s past.

At the start of the war, instead of wearing the yellow star, 4-year-old Kapp Hartz and her family went into hiding in Arthès, France, with fake documentation. Her cousin gave her her new name, Renée, which, she noted for the student audience, is French for “reborn.” 

“Only 6 percent of European children survived,” she said, “and most, like me, were ‘hidden children’ because others were immediately put to death.”

The family first traveled together in hiding, first to an apartment and then to a neighbor’s basement, but they were eventually separated. Kapp Hartz was taken care of by nuns in a convent where a raid forced her into a trap door in the building while officers walked overhead. “Having a hidden experience was of course no comparison to the concentration camp experience, but it was traumatic,” she said. 

On August 25, 1944, Kapp Hartz was liberated and reunited with her parents. While many of her family members did not survive, her grandparents and cousin did. In 1958, she came to America and eventually began to work at Springside School, where she spent 22 years as a French teacher. Back then, she said, she did not talk about her life as a “hidden child,” nor did she speak to her parents about their experiences. That came later.

Kapp Hartz emphasized the kindness of those who helped to hide her during the war, several of whom she returned to visit again and again in southern France. She also helped to memorialize the nun who took her into the convent.

At the end of the talk about her experience, she urged students to repeat her story. “You are the last generation to hear our stories,” she said. “You are our voices to tell our history to future generations.”

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