Lilianne Kuhn (right) in Conjux, France, ca. 1942
Lilianne Kuhn (right) in Conjux, France, ca. 1942

Now 79, she’s honoring the French family that saved her in WWII

Liliane Rosenfeld seemed like a typical young girl in a rural French town, milking cows and sipping wine for breakfast. She wore a pink ribbon in her hair while walking with her parents each Sunday to the local church.

But Liliane was far from typical. She was a Jew, hidden in plain sight from the Nazis for four years in the early 1940s by a Catholic family. Her parents lived about 70 miles away in Lyon and visited her a couple of times a year, though she never knew they were her real mom and dad until after the war.

Lilliane Kuhn was hidden with a French family during World War II.
Lilliane Kuhn was hidden with a French family during World War II.

Now living in Palo Alto’s Moldaw Residences, Liliane Rosenfeld Kuhn capped a decade-long effort to honor the Maurier family that protected her: having them recognized last year by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

As the first Yom HaShoah since that ceremony approaches, she thinks back fondly to her life as a young girl in the small town of Conjux and the family that provided the normal childhood that was rare for a Jewish kid in Europe during the Holocaust.

“I was never hidden, I never suffered from it,” said the 79-year-old Kuhn. “I was not hidden, like Anne Frank; I was part of the family.”

Kuhn’s parents left Germany separately in 1933 when Hitler rose to power, and met in Paris. They married in 1934 and Liliane was born in 1939. Her father joined the French Foreign Legion and was sent to Algeria.

Liliane was about a year old when the Germans took over Paris. Her mother and a friend walked and hitchhiked 250 miles to Lyon. They were stopped on the road by a German patrol, Kuhn said, but were allowed to continue when an officer told the soldiers, “We are at war with the French army; we are not at war with two ladies pushing a baby carriage.”

Liliane Kuhn's uncle and father
Liliane Kuhn’s uncle and father (right) in French Foreign Legion uniform, Algeria, 1940

Neighbors in their Lyon apartment knew they were Jewish and feared for their safety, so they asked a cousin in Conjux — a town in southeastern France near the Swiss border — if they could take in Liliane.

“My mother and I took the train. We were met by Mrs. Maurier,” Kuhn recalled. “She came with a brick that she had put in the oven before she left so I could keep my feet warm in the carriage.

“The neighbors and my mom left and I stayed with these people. After a while these people became my parents, and I did not know who my parents were.”

It was an idyllic life. Marie and Jean Maurier, who had a teenage son and a preteen daughter, told neighbors Liliane was a cousin from the city who needed some fresh air. Jean was a fisherman and made wine in the cellar.

“They knew I was Jewish. They treated me like a daughter, they treated me very well,” Kuhn said. “The boy was really the big brother I never had. He really looked after me and took care of me.”

After her father was discharged, her parents came once or twice a year to visit and brought presents for the little girl who “had no idea who these people were.” Her parents survived the war thanks to a neighboring policeman who warned of impending German raids for Jews, allowing them to escape to the countryside.

After the war, Liliane was reunited with the parents she barely knew. The three of them visited the Mauriers every year, and she continued to visit Conjux even after moving with her husband, Alfred, to the New York suburbs in 1964. The Kuhns moved to the Moldaw in 2010 to be closer to their two sons and two granddaughters.

Liliane Kuhn and husband Alfred
Liliane Kuhn and husband Alfred

The Kuhns were visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., about a decade ago when they decided to seek official recognition for the Mauriers.

“We walked through the wing of the righteous gentiles and I read the story of a small girl from Belgium. It was like a carbon copy of mine,” Kuhn said. “So I felt maybe I can do that for the Mauriers.”

She wrote a five-page letter to the museum recounting her childhood in Conjux, but was told she needed six witnesses or a school transcript from that time — and she couldn’t provide either.

Instead, the Kuhns dedicated a brick to the Mauriers in the Holocaust & Genocide Memorial Grove at Sonoma State University, and then discovered they needed less documentation for the Medal to the Righteous Among the Nations from Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

Though Jean had died in 1972 and Marie passed away in 1990, their granddaughter provided the necessary testimony based on her recollection of a photo of 4-year-old Liliane that she remembered seeing as a child on the Mauriers’ mantel.

In October, about 30 descendants of the Mauriers joined the Kuhns, French and Israeli at a ceremony in Conjux, where the family received a medal from Yad Vashem. Marie and Jean Maurier also had their names permanently inscribed at the Israeli Embassy in Paris and on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem.

Kuhn feels the Yad Vashem honor is a small token to the family members who sheltered her and then had to part with the girl who began her childhood with them. When the Mauriers’ granddaughter used to ask about the blond girl on the mantel, Kuhn said, she was told, “That’s Liliane, we kept her during the war and we’ll tell you about her some other time.”

“She was my mother from the age of 1½ and then she had to give me back,” Kuhn said. “It must have been very tough, and that’s why she didn’t want to talk about it.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.