George Zeff

"I hope it will never happen again.  Enjoy life while we are alive, and stay close to your family."

Name at birth
Zelig "JoJo" Zeff
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Name of father, occupation
Meyer Ber Zeff, leather cutter, leather goods manufacturer
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Sjena "Jenny" Applebaum, homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, Danielle and Liliane, and me
How many in entire extended family?
My maternal grandparents, two uncles, and one aunt, and as many as 20 cousins. On my father’s side, one uncle and aunt, and many cousins.
Who survived the Holocaust?
Only my sisters, parents and myself
My father was part of the French Underground, and was hiding and fighting the Germans. When I was 11 years old around early 1942, the Germans were advancing through France and we learned that the French Police (Gendarmes) were taking all-male, non-French citizens from their homes. Since we were still Polish citizens, my father and I had to go into hiding.  
Mr. Tonnere hid me in a wine barrel and drove me to a village called Glenic where the Bugeaud family hid me for a few months.  They were one of five families that helped me to hide.  At their home, I hid in a very small attic, too small to stand up in!  When the Germans would come to drink at their inn, I would hide in an abandoned well.  It was very scary, with snakes and all kinds of bugs.  I would hide, sometimes for hours, with my feet in the bucket, and my hands wrapped around the rope.
I only had one opportunity to see my family during the war, while I was in hiding with the Glomot family. Mr. Glomot, who was the mayor of his village, had obtained false papers, indicating that we were Christians from Alsace.  We were the Sefe family, from a town that had been destroyed.  My mother took my sister and me on a train to go see our father. When we got off the train, there were German soldiers there checking everyone’s papers.  
As we got close to the desk, everyone turned to look because there was terrible screaming!  I realized that it was my little sister.  My mother explained, in flawless German, that her daughter was very sick and needed medicine.  The soldiers let us pass.  Afterwards, my mother told me that she had been pinching my sister to make her cry. 
Where were you in hiding?
Issoudun, Loire Valley, France; then Glenic
Where did you go after being liberated?
Our family stayed in France, we went back to Issoudun.
When did you come to the United States?
In 1953 I came through Ellis Island. Mr. Finkel, who was a good friend of my father, met me there. Zelig Bailey also helped me very much; he even gave me $50 which was very generous for a man who made a living parking cars.
Where did you settle?
I started in New York City, moved to Detroit after eight or nine months and stayed with my aunts. My family came in 1954 and I met them in New York.
Occupation after the war
I started out in sweatshops, working morning to night. Later on, I was a French teacher and an actor. I worked with Soupy Sales and on the Twin Pines TV Show, Milky’s Party Time.
When and where were you married?
1961 in Detroit
Leatrice Rothberg (divorced 1972), Homemaker
David, advertising sales; Jamie, event planner
One set of twins
What do you think helped you to survive?
Without the help of the Righteous, true heroes, I would never have made it. These five families were heroic in a way that most of us could never be. Also, my mother who was the pillar of our family, helped me to survive the war.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
I hope it will never happen again.  Enjoy life while we are alive, and stay close to your family.
To learn more about this survivor, please visit:
The Zekelman Holocaust Center Oral History Collection

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