By Ben Tinsley
TJP Staff Reporter
DALLAS — If the wife of a French farmer had not hidden Charles Teichman’s family from the far-reaching clutches of the Nazi Party, the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance board executive committee member believes he might never have been born.
Teichman, 68, said he continues to be astonished by the valor and bravery shown by the late Jeanne Coiffier — who concealed Isak and Blina Teichman and their sons Simon and David in her Northern France basement in the early 1940s from French police seeking to deport Jews to Hitler-controlled Germany.
Coiffier, who died in November 1991 at age 78, was posthumously awarded the title of “Righteous Among The Nations” by Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem at the Holocaust Memorial in Paris Jan. 14.
Teichman and his family were there.
“I remember meeting Jeanne Coiffier after the war and I asked her, ‘Why did you take in my family?’” Teichman said during a phone interview last week. “She looked at me and said, ‘It was the right thing to do.’ She didn’t really think she was doing anything exceptional, but her actions proved she was quite exceptional.”
For Teichman, this recognition was the only good news he has heard coming out of France lately. He has been greatly disheartened by the current trend of violence against Jews there. Four hostages were killed at a kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, 12 people were murdered at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and a police officer was executed in Montrouge, all at the hands of Islamic terrorists the week of Jan. 7.
In response, roughly 2 million people convened in Paris for a rally of national unity Jan. 11, with nearly 4 million others joining similar demonstrations across France. “Je Suis Charlie” — the French phrase for “I am Charlie” — became the consistent slogan of support at both the rallies and on social media.
But in the words of Albert Einstein, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” Teichman is of a similar mind, bothered that more concern was not specifically shown for the Jewish victims during these rallies.
“Millions of French people marched in the streets of French cities to show their refusal to give in to terror,” he said. “They all became ‘Charlie,’ if only for a day. Very few became Jews.”
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared, “France without the Jews is not France,” but when synagogues were attacked there last summer, the only demonstrators were Jews, Teichman said.
“Millions of French people stayed home,” he said. “So, I wonder… what will become of my relatives, of my friends.”
Ultimately, Teichman said, this tragedy underscores the importance of the heroism of Jeanne Coiffier.
Coiffier’s husband Emile was a prisoner of war in Austria during the time she concealed the Teichmans in the basement of her farm house between July 1942 and August 1944.
The Teichmans lived in that basement until the liberation of occupied Paris.
This was not an easy time in the Teichman family’s history. Originally from Eastern Europe, Isak and Blina Teichman fled anti-Semitism there, arriving in France in the early 1930s. The couple settled in a small house in Drancy near Paris — near a future internment camp. Isak was one of the founders of the first synagogue in Drancy. Their children, Simon and David, were born in 1934 and 1935, respectively. The brothers still live in Paris, although some of their children and grandchildren have moved out of the country.
At the outbreak of war, the stateless Isak Teichman joined the Foreign Legion and was dispatched to fight in North Africa, according to an English translation of the Jeanne Coiffier award.
Isak Teichman was discharged from service in June 1940. Upon his return home he took refuge at the Coiffier farm, joined later by his wife and children, who fled their home in Drancy because of an impending raid of which there was advance knowledge.
Living at the farm in secret with Coiffier and her two daughters was difficult for the Teichmans.
While they were being hidden, the Teichmans discreetly helped their benefactor with work on her garden — but Jeanne Coiffier never requested any financial compensation, according to the text of her award.
“The children, for safety, [did] not go to school,” according to the award.
Charles Teichman was born in Drancy July 12, 1946. He was named “Charles” after a cousin who was arrested in Drancy and deported to Auschwitz.
Teichman said that the fact he even exists now as a naturalized American citizen is testament to the good intentions of Jeanne Coiffier.
“Because of her actions, [my family] did not join the 76,000 Jews from France who ended in Auschwitz, never to come back,” Charles Teichman said.
The recent violence against Jews brings to mind the March 2012 shootings in the cities of Montauban and Toulouse in the Midi-Pyrénées region, he said. Seven were slain and five others injured during gun attacks on French soldiers and Jewish civilians. The gunman responsible was later shot and killed after a 30-hour standoff with authorities.
Teichman said while he experienced the torment of anti-Semitism in France when he was younger, it was nothing like the current wave of violence against Jews.
“When people start dying, it is a sign things are really getting bad,” he said.