On May 11, 2013, Mely Rahn of Rapid City will present her World War II memories of living in the tiny village of Vignaux, where she and her father and nurse fled when Germany occupied the country. They hid there for three years.
"I will be forever grateful to the people in that village," Rahn says. "They probably saved our lives." She and her father left Vignaux just before she turned 6, and later immigrated to the US. She remains a student of the military history surrounding this part of her girlhood.
Vignaux is the stuff of Rahn's earliest childhood memories. She still can recall the house she lived in, the garden and fruit trees adjacent her home, the well that served as a backdrop for several old photographs and the "lavior," an open-air washhouse for laundry.
Rahn's father, Albert de Neufville, was German, but his mother was of Jewish descent. Such a heritage proved problematic when Hitler came to power in Germany.
The Hitler regime used the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 to divide Jews into four categories. Under these new restrictions, de Neufville was deemed a "Mischling First Degree," a label applied to anyone with two Jewish grandparents and two non-Jewish grandparents, who was either baptized and brought up Christian or practiced no religion. His was a stifling stigma. When he applied to marry Rahn's mother Hilda, the state denied his request.So the couple left Germany and settled in France.
Setback followed de Neufville to France. Hilda died after Rahn's birth, so he found a nurse to care for her. Though he fled an oppressive state, the French interned de Neufville twice as an "enemy combatant." He was released from a second internment camp in 1940. The Germans were approaching, so his French captors let him go.
A French Protestant agency eventually found a house for de Neufville, his daughter and her nurse in Vignaux. He arrived in 1940. Rahn and her nurse, Lina Gunther, joined him more than a year later. The trio lived there until Rahn's uncle, a soldier in the American army, brought them back to Paris in December 1944. In 1946, they immigrated to the United States, where de Neufville remarried and had a second daughter.
Since her last visit, Rahn remains in contact with her friends in Vignaux. They continue to swap stories and photos. She would like to return, but doesn't know when.
She feels deeply indebted to the villagers who took her father in when they could have turned him out. The Germans had not yet overrun that part of France when de Neufville and his family first arrived.
Occupation eventually came, and life in the primitive village changed. Days grew harsh in German-occupied France. People were starving. They weren't supposed to harbor men like de Neufville.
The people of Vignaux temporarily lost their undisturbed way of life to the Germans, but they didn't lose their decency. They chose to show kindness to a stranger, and Rahn is forever grateful.
Excerpt written by Danie Koskan, Rapid City Journal
(FatherAlbert de Neufville, nurse Lina Gunther, and Mely)
Veterans listening to Mely Rahn at 5-11-13 meeting. Photo thanks to Duke Doering.