Throngs of people crowded the muggy streets of Paris in August of 1944. No one knew if the Americans had persevered in their fight to liberate France or if the country would remain under control of Nazi occupied Germany.
A distant roar rumbled through the streets, followed by an eerie silence. “It was the greatest silence you’ll ever hear,” a teary-eyed Rosalie explained. “We thought the Germans were coming back.”
When the first American soldiers appeared, the city erupted in celebration. “It took ten minutes for everyone to be drunk,” recalled Rosalie, a palpable expression of joy softening her sturdy features.
“My Mother looked at me and said, ‘It’s over.’ I said, ‘The war is never going to be over.’” For Rosalie, this moment of relief could not erase a childhood rife with fear of being captured by the Nazis.
As a widow of a World War II veteran, Rosalie qualified for basic home improvements through the Home Depot Foundation’s Helping Homebound Heroes program. At 90 years old, she still lives independently in a home nestled in the rolling hills of San Francisco. It has been a long journey for her from the war torn streets of Paris to this quaint neighborhood where she moved with her husband Joe in 1952.
Growing up in Paris as a young Jewish woman in the turbulent years before and during World War II, Rosalie learned quickly how to survive in a city where danger lurked around every corner.
“You didn’t know who is your friend and who is your foe,” she recalled with a sense of urgency in her lilting French accent. During this time, she gained wisdom far beyond her years to trust her quick wit, keen instincts, and unwavering will to live.
The anti-Jewish sentiment she and her family faced in Paris during World War II started as a steady and entrenched form of harassment in their day-to-day lives. When Rosa was still a young girl, a local baker refused to serve her mother because of the yellow star she was forced to wear identifying her as Juden or a Jewish person. As the arrests and detentions in Paris became a daily reality, Rosa became desperate to find a place to hide her family. At first, she first approached a neighbor who refused to let her in. Unable to deliver this news to her parents, she took refuge in the courtyard of a friend’s apartment building. It was this unlikely place that she met the Lequins, the family that would ultimately save her own family’s life.
Seeing Rosa in the courtyard, Madame Lequin sensed the urgency of the situation and immediately invited Rosa in to her home. In a voice animated by the intensity of the moment, as if the decades since the war had vanished in to thin air, Rosa proclaimed, “I accepted immediately. I’m not wasting anytime. I wanted to stay there.”
The Lequin family opened their apartment for days at a time to Rosa and her family over the course of several years, saving them from being captured by the Nazis. Sixty years after the war was over, the Lequin family was awarded the title of The Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Isreal’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust.
Today, Rosa, a widow, lives alone with dignity and grace and with the same spirit that allowed her to persevere during the tumultuous years of her youth. She refuses to become inured by her past. To be in the company of Rosalie is akin to standing on solid ground, unwavering and resolute. She has endured human conditions that would have broken a person of lesser conviction.
Thanks to the Home Depot Foundation, Meals on Wheels can make improvements to Rosa’s home as a way to help her in her later years, and to honor her husband’s service to our country. Flowers now fill what had been empty planter beds; the linoleum floors gleam with a fresh coat of floor finish; a newly installed security door keeps Rosalie feeling safer and more secure; and a new plumbing faucet stops a nagging and costly water leak.
Meals on Wheels is proud to work with the Home Depot Foundation to honor Rosalie, and the service of senior veterans and their spouses.It is a privilege to see how this work continues to transform the remarkable lives of Rosalie, and hundreds more like her.