Paul S.was born in Vienna in 1933, the only child of Sarah and Friedrich S. His family had lived in Vienna since the eighteenth century, and his father worked with an import-export company. His mother had been trained as a hat maker, but stayed home with Paul. At age five, the family left Vienna for Cologne, Germany. From there, his father snuck across the border to Belgium. Paul and his mother were caught on their first illegal attempt to join his father in Belgium, but they succeeded the second time.
In May of 1940, Paul’s father was arrested and sent to a labor camp. Paul and his mother remained in Belgium, where she worked for a Belgian family. In 1943 a member of the underground approached Paul’s mother and offered to take Paul to safety. She agreed, and Paul was sent away under the name Exsteen, the name of the family for which his mother worked. Paul spent the rest of the war in Jamoigne, Belgium, in a Catholic home for boys. Though many Jewish boys were hidden there, Paul thought he was the only one.
After liberation, he returned home and found his mother still living there, waiting for Paul and his father to return. His father Friedrich was killed at Buchenwald two months before liberation.
Excerpt From Video Testimony
Paul tells how he went into hiding with help from the Jewish Underground.
Well, I saw it happen time and time and time again, but neither my mother nor I ever were victims of these and in the beginning of 1943, a man came to the house that I remember vividly and he asked my mother whether she wanted to save my life, because things were going from bad to worse, and if she did want to save my life, I would simply have to go away with him, and he said he’d be back that afternoon or that evening for her answer.
So we went to see the Exsteen family with whom we were so, so friendly and we talked it over and they must have heard some things, too, because they said to my mother, you know, “Let Paul go.” This sounds all so easy and cut and dried, but it wasn’t, you know.
They even said that I could use their name because I couldn’t go away under the name of Schwarzbart. So that day I became Paul Exsteen, a good Belgian, and the man came back and my mother didn’t have to get too many clothes ready, because our little bundle was always ready, as I said, but she had taken the stars off, and she said ‘Yes’ to the man and he took me by the hand and we walked away, you know.
He put me on a train and he explained to me where I was going, my mother was not allowed to know, and reminded me that I had given up my Jewish identity, you know, and that I was someone else now. I was 10 years old, not quite. But I understood. We understood. There were no kids left, you know, and then he walked away and really I never saw that man again. I have no idea who he is. We’ve tried to find out. No trace, just an anonymous member of the Jewish underground. I didn’t know that either, but I found out two years ago that he was part of the Jewish underground.
And that’s how I went into hiding.
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