About Rosette Volk and Vittel
Born in Union de Reyes, Cuba in 1924, Rosette Volk was the eldest child of Sephardic Jews from Turkey. When she was 4, my grandmother and grandfather, Camilla and Yehuda, and her younger brother, Maurice, immigrated to France seeking new opportunities. Fourteen years later, in 1942, under orders from the government of occupation, German soldiers picked up my mother, taking her from her family and bringing her to an internment camp in Vittel, France (Illag Vittel), where, as a Cuban citizen under the protectorate of the United States, she was held with other non-French nationals. Located in the Lorraine region of northeastern France, Vittel had been a well-known spa with many grand hotels dating back to the 19th century that accommodated guests who came for the curative mineral waters. The establishment of the internment camp at Vittel in1939 enabled the Germans to utilize the hotels to house prisoners who were recuperating from treatment at the local hospital. Eventually, Vittel was used to hold British and American citizens, as well as other citizens of allied countries, who were of value for prisoner exchange, including, in some cases, Jews. Occupancy at the camp grew to over 3,000 people, and Jews were housed in separate hotels.
Vittel was unlike any of the other Nazi camps in France in that it also served as a model to demonstrate Germany’s “fair” treatment of captives to the International Committee of the Red Cross. It received supplies from the Red Cross, there was a hospital on its grounds, and residents were allowed to attend school and participate in activities. It was there that my mother learned to speak English. As it became known that internment at Vittel could mean survival, there were Jews who attempted to transfer to the camp with false papers. In one well-documented case, 300 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto came to Vittel, and when it was discovered that their papers were forged, they were sent to their deaths in the concentration camps. During the time of my mother’s internment at Vittel, her parents and younger sister had to return to Turkey, as their safety in France was in question. My mother was registered as a Cuban national and her Cuban citizenship enabled her to escape the plight of an estimated 77,000 other Jewish citizens living in France who were deported and killed in concentration camps. In 1944, American soldiers liberated Illag Vittel and my mother returned to Paris. In 1949, she immigrated to the United States.