Vivianne Spiegel was one of the lucky ones - surviving the Holocaust along with her two siblings. Now, on a speaking tour of New Zealand schools, sponsored by the Zionist Federation of New Zealand, working to sustain Jewish identity, she is sharing her story. Astrid Austin speaks to her about her harrowing childhood and life now.

Vivianne Spiegel's hand lovingly rests on her siblings' shoulders. Their innocence shining through the black and white photograph. They were just children.

But life as they knew it was cut short when German forces occupied their country and the Nazi regime began targeting Jewish people – tearing their family apart. It was Paris, 1941.

She was 6, her brother Albert 4 and sister Regine 2 months old when their father, Morsko was captured and turned over to the Nazis.

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And a year later they became orphans, seeing their mother, Tauba Perla for the last time after they were rounded-up" to the Velodrome D'hiver, along with 13,000 other Parisian Jews.

"They were very loving, very warm parents. It is something that I still treasure to this day," the now-84-year-old remembered. The pain, suffering and loss evident in her eyes.

The only photographs Vivianne Spiegel has of her parents, Moshe and Tauba. Photo/Supplied.
The only photographs Vivianne Spiegel has of her parents, Moshe and Tauba. Photo/Supplied.

On a speaking tour of New Zealand schools, sponsored by the Zionist Federation of New Zealand, working to sustain Jewish identity, the Holocaust survivor believes it is her "duty" to share her story, on behalf of those who can't.

She visited four Hawke's Bay schools last week and when back home, she is a tour guide at the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Elsternwick.

Born, Berthe Rigman, poverty and war was all she knew. But when it might have seemed like all hope was lost and her fate was sealed, it was the actions of others' who saved the three young children.

"There were kind people who helped us along the way. They were righteous gentiles."

Perla and her children were released from the velodrome after appealing to a sympathetic French policeman, before she made a decision to part with her children so they could be sent to safety.

They were put on a train bound for a small farm in the town of Chaufour-Notre-Dame – 250km south of Paris, where a Catholic family welcomed them with "open arms" until the Allied Forces liberated the country in 1944.

The eldest child remembers her mother crying at the station. She promised the war would be over soon; that the family would be together again. But that was not to be the case.

"[The Catholic family] were absolutely wonderful; they fed us, they looked after us, and we took on their family name because ours sounded a little bit Jewish."

"It was really unusual because I don't know of any other three children who were saved by one family. They risked their own lives for us. They would have been shot if the Germans had discovered that they were hiding three Jewish children."

Passed off as relatives from Paris, no one else in the village knew their true identity apart from the local priest and school teacher.

And for those two years, it was mostly a normal life they lived, going to church every Sunday, despite not knowing what religion was at that time, and school when they could.

Vivianne Spiegel (right) with her two younger siblings, Albert and Regine, featured in an unpublished book titled 'Vivi's Journey'. Photo/Warren Buckland.
Vivianne Spiegel (right) with her two younger siblings, Albert and Regine, featured in an unpublished book titled 'Vivi's Journey'. Photo/Warren Buckland.

"But when the Germans were roaming around the farm, my brother and I used to go and hide in the potato fields because my brother was circumcised and he knew, at the age of 6 that he was different to other boys and the Germans would use this as a ploy to find out if a boy was Jewish or not.

"He knew that if he was found out, he would have endangered the lives of his sisters."

In 1944, with their parents presumed dead, the three children found themselves in an OSE. Orphanage in Lemans.

"The teachers who taught us were amazing educators ... and I think that I grew and I developed there."

But in 1948, they were sent to Melbourne, Australia where they were assured a family would be waiting for them.

"That made us very keen to leave France to think that a family was going to look after us and love us."

But when they arrived in the foreign country six weeks later, Siegel and her two siblings were greeted by representatives from yet another orphanage.

"I was absolutely flabbergasted, upset, dismayed that we were treated in that manner. That we had to leave one orphanage to go to another orphanage on the other side of the world."

During their two-year stay at the orphanage, a childless Jewish couple, Wolf and Gladys Charlotte "Bon" Fink became besotted with 9-year-old Regine and wanted to adopt only her.

"I dreaded the idea of being separated from her".

But a few months later they changed their minds and decided to adopt all three.

"My brother and I came as a package deal. It was a great adoption for my little sister but it was a bad adoption for us. I was 16 years old at the time and I had a lot of mental problems caused by the war that were never ever spoken about, let alone attended to."

It was this which ultimately let to the separation of the three children - despite coming so far together.

"I am not at war with them but we are not very close. I think the adoption did that because my adopted family was so unfair, they treated us so differently. I mean Regine was spoilt and taken on trips."

She stayed their for seven years before leaving for Israel and starting a family of her own, before later returning to Melbourne.

"I always wanted to have my own family. I wanted children straight away. I wanted to create a nest for myself."

Now she has three adult children; daughter, Tamar and sons, David and Michael, as well as 10 grandchildren.

It took the survivor 40 years to speak about her torturous past and to this day still has nightmares - haunted most by photos of the massed bodies.

"When I think of them on top of the piles of corpses it sends shivers down my spine."

In 2010, Mrs Spiegel and her two sons retraced her childhood in France and travelled to Auschwitz for the annual March of the Living.

"I don't ever want to go back again but it was a form of closure for me," she said, the tears streaming down her face.

"I came face to face with reality. I saw the gas chambers, I saw where they were incarcerated, I saw the lot."

Her son said growing up he didn't really know what had happened to his mum, but later on in life it helped to put into perspective "who she is and why she is the way she is".

They met the daughter of the family who rescued the three children and put together the missing pieces - all documented in 'Vivi's Journey' - a memento just for the family.