Traveling to various schools, universities and churches in the area, Middleburg made his way to HMHS to share his story with social studies teacher Meghan McCormick’s class.
In the heart of Paris, on the seventh floor of the apartment building where his mother, father and brother resided, 12-year-old Charles Middleburg found himself hiding in a room from German soldiers in the summer of 1942.
“We laid there for hours,” Middleburg said.
This is one of the many moments Middleburg recalled during his visit to Haddonfield Memorial High School on Thursday, March 15. Traveling to various schools, universities and churches in the area, Middleburg made his way to HMHS to share his story with social studies teacher Meghan McCormick’s class.
Although Middleburg is a Holocaust survivor, he prefers to be referred to as a witness.
In 1941, as a Jewish family, the Middleburgs began to notice his family’s faith would put their lives in jeopardy. Middleburg’s father received a letter in the mail summoning him to city hall in the spring of 1941, and unbeknownst to him, 9,000 other Jewish men had received that same letter. The group of unexpecting individuals were told they would be working for the German military, but they soon found out that was not the case.
“They bused them about 120 miles south of the city of Paris into a camp,” Middleburg said.
The family was unable to see or speak to his father, and as each year passed, times were only getting more difficult for the Jewish population. In 1942, things took a turn for the worse.
“Life for Jewish people was going from bad to worse,” Middleburg said. “All of the sudden, the French police, along with the German military, would crash into Jewish homes and just cart them away…it was unbelievable.”
The janitor of their apartment building was a World War I veteran who had lost his leg during the war, using a wooden peg leg to get around. Little did anyone know, the loss of his leg would end up saving the family. Showing Middleburg’s brother and mother a maintenance closet located on the seventh floor, the janitor told the family if the Germans and French police were to come for them, he had a solution. The plan involved taking the rubber off his peg leg so the sound of his leg hitting the wooden staircase would alert the family in case of a raid.
When German and French police raided their apartment, the Middleburg family heard the cue to go hide and remained silent in the maintenance closet.
After hiding in the closet for a few days, Middleburg’s mother sent him and his brother to stay in the French countryside to seek refuge. Reluctantly, Middleburg and his brother left their mother to stay with a farmer in the countryside.
Thinking he would have a better chance of reuniting with his mother, Middleburg and his brother traveled back to Paris and ended up staying with a Catholic family that had reached out to the brothers and offered to shelter them because they had witnessed their mother being taken away in a raid.
Middleburg was baptized Catholic and stayed with the family until Hitler’s reign of terror ended. Until that day, Middleburg spent his Sundays attending Mass and worked at the family’s cafe until Paris was liberated in August 1944.
Middleburg’s father was eventually reunited with his children after being at Auschwitz concentration camp. The Germans only kept him alive because he was the first watchmaker at Auschwitz and he served as a valuable asset to the Germans, fixing confiscated valuables. Middleburg discovered his mother was taken to a concentration camp and killed directly after the raid.
Middleburg, his brother and father eventually relocated to Philadelphia at the age of 20 and he eventually completed his master’s degree in electrical engineers from LaSalle University.
“It was one of the most notorious periods where 11 million people died needlessly,” he said.