Leon Malmed, 79, vividly remembers July 19, 1942. On that Sunday at 5 a.m. two gendarmes, French policemen, knocked on his family’s apartment door in Nazi-occupied France and took his mother and father, Polish Jews, away for questioning.
“This is the only memory I have of my parents,” Malmed said. “This is actually the first memory I have as a child.”
Malmed’s parents never returned to him and his sister, Rachel. They were taken to the Drancy internment camp then the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau where they suffered an untimely death.
Throughout World War II, the Malmed’s downstairs neighbors, Henri and Suzanne Ribouleau continued to keep the children safe, a promise they made to Malmed’s mother and father when they were taken away on that fateful Sunday.
“This couple put their lives in mortal danger for the next three years,” Malmed said. “These beautiful people always said, ‘We promised we would take care of Mr. and Mrs. Malmed’s children until they return’ and they did.”
Malmed paid tribute to the courage and compassion of the Ribouleaus and shared his story of survival during a special presentation of his memoir “We Survived… At Last I Speak” at the College of the Canyon’s University Center Wednesday night.
“The Holocaust is one of the darkest eras of mankind that occurred some 70 years ago and affected millions of people around the globe,” he said. “I speak to recognize the heroism of a French Christian couple who risked their lives for almost three years to save my life and my sister’s.”
Papa Henri and Maman Suzanne—as Malmed fondly calls them—were honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem in 1977 for their heroic efforts in saving and sheltering Leon and his sister.
In addition to discussing his life with the Ribouleaus, Malmed shared details about his escape from raids and roundups, his constant state of fear, the American liberation of occupied France and his reconciliation with his parents’ death.
Throughout his presentation, Malmed’s enduring message was that “good always triumphs over evil,” a motto and attitude that took him nearly 60 years to share with the public through his memoir and presentations.
“I was silent because I had bottled this tragedy in a bottle and sealed it with a tight cork and resealed it,” he said. “I tried to never think about it or talk about it.”
But today, Malmed breaks his silence to show how one story of sympathy and courage can stand against moral weakness, tragedy and injustice.
“Among the worst people in the world there are some good ones and we have to acknowledge them,” he said.
Malmed hopes that his story, and others like his, will help prevent individuals from repeating the mistakes of the past and will encourage people to stand up for hate and indifference.
This thought is why one attendee, Santa Clarita resident Desiree Nascimento, attended the presentation Wednesday.
“I have an avid interest with anything having to do with the Holocaust,” she said. “Because those who don’t remember are condemned to repeat the past.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_