David Chazan, Paris
On a bleak February day in 1944, a French gendarme snatched a pair of dolls from two Jewish sisters about to be deported to Auschwitz, and flung them to the ground.
Denise and Micheline Lévy, aged 10 and 9 when the gendarme bundled them out of their school in the eastern French village of Gemeaux, never returned.
But a family in the village looked after their dolls for three generations and kept alive the story of how the two little girls were lined up in the snow with their parents, grandparents, an aunt and uncle, a cousin and other Jewish families.
Frédérique Gilles, a teacher from Gemeaux whose grandmother carefully preserved the dolls, on Sunday presented them to the Holocaust museum in Paris, the Shoah Memorial.
The gendarme left the dolls — one pink and the other blue — lying in the street, where a village shopkeeper picked them up and gave them to Mrs Gilles’ grandmother.
She gave them to her twin daughters, who in turn passed them on to their nieces, Mrs Gilles and her sister.
“I got the blue one, my favourite colour,” said Mrs Gilles, 38. “But none of us ever played with the dolls. We knew the story.
"Our family tried to find out what happened to the two girls, but they never came back. We were unable to trace any relatives.”
Mrs Gilles, a mother of three, decided not to give her doll to her four-year-old daughter.
“It felt wrong to hold on to them and my sister felt the same way. We wanted to give them to a museum or a place of memory.
"It wasn’t easy to give them up but it was the best thing we could do for the memory of those little girls,” she said.
The Lévy family were among the last Jews to be deported from France only months before the Liberation of Paris after remaining in hiding in Gemeaux, near Dijon, for most of the war.
The Shoah Memorial yesterday put on display about 200 of the 18,000 objects the museum has collected in the past three years.
Among them was a violin played by a prisoner at Auschwitz, kept by his grand-niece in Angers, western France.
Featured in The Telegraph, 18 September 2016 • 6:32PM