Liliane Kuhn was just 1 1/2 years old when a strange woman took her away from her parents. Hitler's henchmen were tightening their grip on France.
"The farmer lady brought a warm brick and a blue blanket. She had heated the brick in the oven and put it on my feet," she recalled this week.
Kuhn's Holocaust experience will be recounted during Santa Clara County's Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday, April 13. She and her husband, Alfred, will be among those honored by the county Board of Supervisors from 4 to 5:30 p.m. during a ceremony titled "Some Were Neighbors: Betrayers, Bystanders and Protectors." High school students who interviewed the Holocaust survivors will give a presentation followed by the survivors' stories.
Palo Altan Luba Keller, mother of former Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commissioner Arthur Keller, will also be honored. She was 12 years old when the Nazis invaded her town in Poland. She was forced into slave labor for five years in concentration camps in Poland and Germany; all of her family members died. She was liberated by American soldiers in 1945, according to Eli Taub, co-chair of Remembrance Day planning committee.
The Kuhns said remembering the Holocaust today is as important as it has ever been, in the face of current religious fanaticism and extremist atrocities.
Alfred was 4 years old when Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," occurred in 1938. The Nazi pogrom smashed Jewish businesses, synagogues and buildings throughout Germany and Austria.
"It happened in our little town on Nov. 9 and 10. There was a knock on the door. The police said, 'You have to come to the station.' We were put on trucks and driven to the county center and put in the basement of the local courthouse. The women and children were on one side and the men were on the other. Then the processing began. The results were simple: The women and children were sent home; all of the men were arrested and sent to concentration camps," Alfred said.
The Nazis planned to burn the synagogue next to the Kuhns' home, but fortunately, the town's main inn was attached to it and the non-Jewish innkeeper protested the planned burning, Alfred said. The Nazis ransacked the synagogue instead, removing the Torahs, prayer books and even the seat cushions. They made a bonfire and threw everything in, Alfred recalled.
"As the fire burned, the feathers the stuffing of the pillows rose in the sky. For two days the wind carried them. Every time I see a white feather it reminds me of that day," he said.
A single piece of paper saved Alfred's father after four or five months in the concentration camp. He kept a commendation in his pocket for his military service in World War I. As a veteran for the Reich, Alfred's father was allowed to return home.
The family sought to leave Germany, but a quota meant they would not be accepted into the United States for three years a certain death sentence if they waited in Germany. They learned of a Swiss farmer in South America who was offering German Jews the chance to work for him.
"My parents, who had never seen a cow in their lives except on the dinner table, applied," Alfred said.
They were the last four Jews to leave their town alive, town records later showed.
In April 1940 the family boarded a train for Genoa, Italy. The family then lived in Bolivia for 10 years.
Liliane's German Jewish parents had fled to Paris, France, in 1933 as the Nazis came to power. They lived in safety until the Nazis invaded Paris. Liliane's mother took her toddler out of the city as the Nazis entered, and moved to Lyon, a town nearly 300 miles away. They settled in a walk-up apartment in a Christian neighborhood there while Liliane's father fought with the French Foreign Legion in South Africa.
But a Gentile neighbor knew the mother and daughter were not safe. She found a cousin with a farm in the Savoie region to take Liliane in. Raised by the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jean Maurier, Liliane became part of the family, along with the couple's older son and daughter.
Liliane's parents, eventually reunited, hid in Lyon using forged documents. But Lyon was a center of atrocity.
"Klaus Barbie was there the Butcher of Lyon," Alfred said. "He killed, murdered and tortured hundreds of people."
The neighbor who had helped get Liliane to the farm also helped her parents. She and a plain-clothes police officer, who knew when Nazi raids would take place, hid the couple. The officer's wife was able to send the couple to a small summer cottage until it was safe to return, Liliane said.
Liliane's parents occasionally visited the Mauriers' farm.
"Once in a while these two people came to visit. They always brought a bag of cookies. They gave a hug and toys and presents, and then they left. I had no realization that those were my parents," she said.
When the war ended, they took Liliane home.
The Kuhns said it was years before they thought about the loss the Mauriers felt in abruptly giving up Liliane.
The Mauriers kept her photograph on their mantle for decades. The only comment they ever made when their granddaughter asked about the little blonde girl was that she "was a kid we protected during the war," the granddaughter told Liliane.
The Kuhns kept in touch with the Maurier family over the years, visiting about every other year when Liliane would return to France. They still correspond with the granddaughter, they said.
Now 74 years later, the Kuhns have applied for the Mauriers to receive a posthumous medal of the Righteous Among the Nations from the State of Israel. The medal is granted to non-Jews so-called Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from death.
The Kuhns see many parallels between the Holocaust and the violence of extremist groups such as ISIS. This time, Christians are being slaughtered.
"I hate to use the term, but deja vu," Alfred said.
Kristallnacht and the horrific chapter of history it began is "slowly drifting into ancient history," Alfred said. But succeeding generations must never forget.
"When the Nazis came to power, less than 10 percent believed in them. The silent majority kept silent. By the time somebody spoke up, it was too late," Alfred said.