OGDEN — About 200 students at Ogden High School had the “opportunity of a lifetime” Wednesday morning, as teacher Katie Scott described it, when they heard one of the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust tell her story.
Students from several classes were invited to attend the presentation, most of them juniors and seniors, but no one was required to attend, Scott said.
The students were attentive as they listened to Ruth Kapp Hartz, a longtime resident of the United States who lives in Philadelphia, describe her childhood in France, where she moved from place to place while fleeing Nazis and French militia who cooperated with them under the Vichy government.
“Unfortunately ... maybe not in your area, anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head, Hartz said. “There are many, many of these incidents around the world and in this country against Jews and so I devote my life to speaking to students ... You are the last generation to hear our stories. You are our voices to tell our history to future generations.”
Originally from Germany, Hartz’s parents, Benno and Elisabeth Nussbaum Kapp, brought her to France when she was a toddler because they were Jewish, and Jews were facing increasing discrimination and danger in Germany.
Though her parents’ native language was German, Hartz’s native language is French because speaking German in France was dangerous.
“My father decided that the only way to survive is to take on a false identity,” Hartz told the group. “My name is Ruth, which is from the Old Testament, and in a Catholic country like France, it’s considered a Jewish name. So when I was four years old, in the middle of the war, I was told ‘From now on, your name is Renee.’”
Hartz’s memoir, written by Stacy Cretzmeyer, is called “Your Name is Renée.”
Her cousin, Jeanette, who was a teenager, gave her the name. It means reborn in French.
Hartz and her family had fled to southern France and spent time in Toulouse, a large city where her father’s brother and his family were living.
She and her mother had arrived in Toulouse in the summer of 1940, and this is where she has her first memories of life.
Hartz credits several French resistors living in different locations, who sheltered and fed her family, for saving their lives. She said they’re called the ‘silent resistance’ because of the penalties they could have faced for helping Jews.
A man who worked in the Toulouse city hall was able to get her parents false identification cards, which allowed them to pretend to be French. Hartz was even able to go to school.
Later, the same man who provided the ID cards rushed to the room where they were staying to let them know their names were on a list of people who would be arrested. He told them to run to the train station to catch the train that was leaving that night.
The man urged them to leave as soon as possible and told them he would try to warn her uncle and his family.
Hartz and her family were able to catch the train.
Her family learned after the war that her uncle had been arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where he died.
Hartz’s aunt was arrested later and sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Northern Germany, where she also died.
Jeanette was able to evade capture by police, by running away or hiding on the roof. She survived the war.
The other key people who sheltered Hartz’s family were a family in a small village called Arthès.
By the time they made it to Arthès, Hartz’s family had no money. They were given a room by the Fedou family, a mother, father and two teenage daughters.
When the Fedous learned that Hartz’s family was Jewish, the father, Eugene Fedou, told Hartz’s father that they would do everything in their power to protect his family, Hartz said. He told them not to reveal anything to anyone.
Hartz was occasionally able to go to school in Arthès. One of her friends knew her family didn’t have enough food and told Hartz there was a woman with a garden on the edge of the village who might be willing to share her vegetables.
This woman, Jeane Vallat, gave Hartz food and ultimately sheltered the family when the village was no longer safe.
Hartz was with a babysitter in the village when two soldiers came to her door and demanded to know where her father was.
“I said, ‘My father — I haven’t seen him in 1,000 years, and you’re not going to find him,’” Hartz said, describing her response to the soldiers.
They asked her to point the direction where her father went. Hartz pointed two different directions.
The soldiers considered taking her, but one soldier, who also had a young daughter that looked like Hartz, said they should leave her.
After this incident, Hartz’s mother asked Jeane Vallat and her husband, Henri, if her family could stay in their basement.
“We were total strangers to these people,” Hartz said. “And they said yes.”
Hartz, who was 6 years old by this point, and her family stayed in the basement for months as the area became more dangerous.
Hartz’s mother then sent her to a convent that had a school for children and an orphanage. The Mother Superior there was sheltering Jewish children saying they were orphans. No one else in the convent knew that some of the children were Jewish.
Hartz stayed there for five months, not knowing the fate of her parents, before she was reunited with them back at Arthès.
During that time, her mother had stayed with Jeane Vallat. Her father worked as a farm hand in a remote area.
Their area was liberated by the Allies on Aug. 25, 1944, the same day that Paris was liberated, though the war was not yet over.
In 1946, Hartz’s family learned from the Red Cross that all of her father’s family had perished.
“Because I survived, I have six ... biological grandchildren,” Hartz said. “I call them my ‘victory song.’”
After she spoke, students asked her questions, ranging from how she became reacquainted with her religion after their time in France, to what it was like not knowing where her parents were and if she had any advice for them.
“If you are insulted ... and if it’s serious, you shouldn’t let it lie,” Hartz told the students, in response to a student request for her advice. “You should tell your teachers, your parents ... until hopefully something will be done about it.”
Hartz’s daughter, Diane Hartz Warsoff, who lives in Utah and works in Utah County, also urged students to speak up when they see others who are victimized.
“I’m only here today because people were willing to take a stand,” Warsoff said.
In a previous visit to Utah, Hartz spoke to students at several schools around Utah, including in Orem, South Jordan, Salt Lake City and Logan.
Warsoff coordinates her mother’s visits here and works with the Utah State Board of Education to educate teachers and students about the Holocaust.