Holocaust survivor and Santa Barbara resident Regine Pringle recalls being mistreated because she was Jewish even from the time she started attending school in the 1930s.
Born in the French town Nancy in 1930 to Polish-Jewish immigrants, Ms. Pringle told the News-Press that she had her first encounters with anti-Semitism when the teacher would sit the kids of her Christian neighbors in the front of the room and put her in the back.
The teacher also punished her differently than the other kids.
“If they thought I did anything wrong I was even hit in the stomach, which they never did to the other children. So that’s where anti-Semitism started,” she said.
Eventually, mistreatment came her way from kids her own age. When she was around 8 years old, if she walked across the street to where other kids were, they would promptly walk to the other side and say, “I can’t stand next to a dirty Jew.”
She was hurt and came home crying, after which her parents told her that anti-Semitism was why they left Poland. They also made it a point to explain that not everybody carried animosity toward Jewish people.
Quoting her father, Ms. Pringle said, “There’s going to be nice people, and there’s going to be not nice people, it doesn’t matter where they come from.” Ms. Pringle said this lesson stayed with her for the rest of her life, even after the horrors that were to come.
Aside from some hard times at school, Ms. Pringle described her early life with her mother, father, and three sisters as “a beautiful, wonderful childhood.”
That all changed in July 1941. Germany had invaded France and one night some Nazis knocked on her family’s front door and gave them 10 minutes to pack whatever they could. Ms. Pringle and her family were loaded into a truck and transported to a concentration camp near the city of Poitiers.
The camp was divided in two sections, one for Jewish people and the other for gypsies. Ms. Pringle said she didn’t know too much about the gypsies’ half as the two sides were not allowed to speak to each other, but recalled that the Jewish half received less food.
Ms. Pringle and the other Jewish kids were schooled in the camp, as their families decided it was important to have some semblance of life while at Poitiers. Still, many people were dying in the camp and anybody who tried to escape was killed, which Ms. Pringle herself witnessed.
“It’s hard to talk about. … They killed someone right in front of us to show us what would happen to us if we escaped,” she said.
Luck happened to be on her side in 1942, when a rabbi and a preacher from Poitiers talked the French government and occupying Germans into letting French-born children out of concentration camps. Those who got out, which included Ms. Pringle and her sisters, were placed with Jewish families in the city.
Passover of 1942 turned out to be the last time Ms. Pringle would ever see her parents. She and the other kids who had left the camp earlier that year were allowed to return for the weeklong Jewish holiday, a reunion that she called “beautiful.” At the end of the week, the German guards said the children could stay longer if they wished. Ms. Pringle wanted to stay and her father was quick to allow it, but her mother said, “No way.”
“She saved my life,” Ms. Pringle said. Her parents were later taken to Auschwitz, where they were killed. Fortunately, her sisters survived the Holocaust.
Not too long after, the Jewish family with whom Ms. Pringle was staying in Poitiers found out that the Nazis were on their way to seize them and quickly fled occupied France for free France.
There Ms. Pringle stayed with an aunt, but this was swiftly disrupted when the Germans moved into free France, kick-starting almost three years on the run with the help of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an organization that helped Jewish people flee Nazi capture and resettle.
From a convent, to a farm, to an old lady’s house, to an orphanage, Ms. Pringle jumped from hiding place to hiding place until she eventually wound up in Toulouse near the border of France and Spain border in 1944.
At Toulouse, she and several other children stayed with more than 40 other children under the care of a woman named Madame Gisele Roman. Madame Gisele lead the kids on a trek across the Pyrenees mountains into Spain, where Ms. Pringle spent eight months. She then traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, and got on a ship for the United States, which landed in Philadelphia.
For a long time, Ms. Pringle made up her mind that she would never return to France, but changed her mind when her daughter earned a scholarship to study at a foreign university for one year and decided on France so she could see her mother’s homeland.
Ms. Pringle recalled her first visit after the war was less than pleasant, however, as her younger sister showed her items from their childhood, none of which were shared with her.
“The abandonment I had felt during the whole war came right back in 1979, so I was very happy to get back to the United States,” she said.
Though she said she has gotten over the animosity she felt toward Germany, Ms. Pringle still can’t bring herself to visit the country, even though one of her children lives within walking distance of the French-German border.
However, echoing what her father told her about good and bad people existing everywhere, Ms. Pringle feels no ill will toward the German people.
“I feel sometimes bad for a lot of the German people who feel guilt, still. And I try to explain that it has nothing to do with them,” she said.