Life in Nice—our personal Sitzkrieg

Life in Nice—our personal Sitzkrieg

This is an except from The Ruby Family Histories (2006), written from Helga Ruby's point of view. 

In Nice, we rented an apartment in a three story walk-up building on the west side of the city. I became fluent in French, but my circle of friends was mainly German Jewish refugee kids. We hung out on the Promenade des Anglais, the beachfront, which was where I flirted with flyboys from the RAF (Royal Air Force), who were based in southern France after the France and England went to war with Germany in September, 1939. Some of them were really gorgeous.

Ogi and Hilda spent a lot of time gambling at the Casino in Nice, as well as in nearby Monte Carlo and Villefranche. Sometimes, I would make scenes, because I thought going to the casino and gambling was really vulgar and decadent, especially that that world was at war and people were dying. Still, occasionally Hilda would win some money and take us all to a fancy restaurant. That I didn’t mind.

Meanwhile, my mother was doing something practical: learning how to make hats. She also made pretty dresses and suits. She had always been good with her hands, doing things like knitting and crocheting. I have criticized my mother a lot, but I always admired her strength of character to learn a trade. She was able to put aside the fact that she had been wealthy and never had to work before and to acquire a skill that would enable her to pay the rent and put food on the table, no matter what the situation or in which country we would next find ourselves.

1939 and early 1940 slipped away rapidly, but we were unsuccessful in finding a way to get out of France to a safer country. Of course, the south of France was a very nice place, but the future appeared very ominous. France had declared war on Germany in September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, but then nothing much happened.

It was a strange time, the sitzkrieg (sitting war). There was no fighting, but everyone was apprehensive of what might be coming because the Germans quickly conquered Poland and later Denmark and Norway and the Allies didn’t seem to be able to do anything right.