Isaac Bernstein

Born 2 July 1889

Maurice Bernstein

Born 22 April 1916


In a splendid photo from 1939 or 1940 stand together my great-grandfather, Isaac Bernstein, and his son, my great-uncle Maurice Bernstein, the former a volunteer in the Home Defence Force the latter wearing the uniform of the Navy, already a rating of several years standing. Their pride and sense of duty are self-evident.

Isaac Bernstein was born on 2nd July 1889 in Jassy, Romania, the son of Chaïm and Rebecca Bernstein. He married Ida Goldstein, daughter of Joseph and Bune Goldstein also of Jassy. Immigrating to France, Isaac established himself as a tailor and they began to put down roots. Their first child, Débora was born on 7th January 1912 followed by Sara in 1913, Rébecca in 1915 and finally, on 22nd April 1916, their only son, Maurice.

Naturalised in 1923, Isaac developed and expanded his business as a retailer of made-to-measure clothes, principally for children, and enjoyed a certain success. He began the construction of large house in the suburbs but the Great Depression of 1929 then hit France and he found himself obliged to sell it. The family thus remained at 30 Rue Charlot in the Marais, the heart of the Parisian Jewish community.


Isaac et Maurice Bernstein - Lettre du Ministère des Anciens Combattants


Maurice Bernstein, enlisted in the French Navy

Shortly after the end of his schooling, and for reasons unknown to me but which I happily attribute to his sense of adventure, Maurice volunteered for the Navy. His tours took him to, amongst other places, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Madagascar and above all North Africa. His letters to his sisters became a door to the discovery of an almost unimaginable and fantastic world. At a time when the world was so little known compared to today, the photos Maurice sent with his letters were a glimpse of other lands and cultures so removed from the daily life of a modest Jewish family in the age before mass tourism that they must almost have seemed make-believe. But the thrilling experiences the photos and letters reflect were real and Maurice was able to share them with his admiring sisters. However great the physical distance that separated them, brother and sisters were brought together by an intimacy which was the natural expression of their loving family life. Maurice rounded off each letter by sending kisses and hugs to Toby - his dog. But his letters also reflect the uncertainties of the times. One of them, written at the beginning of 1939, makes reference to Adolf Hitler and Maurice’s wish that he “leave us alone”. Naivety or a refusal to face the truth? How can any of us predict the future or the turns and twists of politics or the lives of men and countries? Would Maurice ever have foreseen the ultimate fate of his last boat, the submarine Sidi Ferruch, sunk in 1942 off Casablanca by the allies of Free France? But by 1942 Maurice was no longer in the Navy.

On the day of the capitulation in 1940, Maurice finds himself in Toulon where he photographed the Fleet peacefully riding at anchor. Demobilised at the end of 1940, he was unable to return to Paris situated as he was on the wrong side of the Demarcation Line. From the reception centre in Vinimes in Savoie, he found work for some time in Chambéry then, at a later and unknown date, finally succeeded in returning to the Rue Charlot. His mother died in 1943 as a result of (according to one of her daughters in a letter written after the end of the War) “grief”. By May 1944 Maurice was back in Paris.


Maurice Bernstein as a movie star

About the arrest of my great-grand-father and my great-uncle, I know very little. It appears that Maurice was arrested whilst out with friends one night, a pleasure forbidden by the anti-Jewish laws. Armed with his address, the authorities arrived to arrest my great grand father during the afternoon of the following day. The three sisters, who had been visiting that morning narrowly escaped the same fate. Imprisoned in Drancy, the two men took the decision to join Convoy no. 73 and were murdered at some point in its tragic history. Precisely when or where remains unknown.

The enquiries and searches to establish the truth about the two men began after the end of the War. Red Cross and others, no one could shed any light until, in 1946, a letter from the Ministry of Veterans arrived to inform them that they had been deported “in the direction of KOVNO REVAL”. In this form-letter (a blank space was left for individual information) each family was obliged to read the following bureaucratically approved phrase “It is common knowledge (notoire) that great destruction of life occurred in the camps”.

The few lines above will allow, I hope, Isaac and Maurice to reclaim their identity and dignity and lift them out of their darkness to live forever in our memory. I wish to thank those who gave me this ability to express myself. I also give my ever-lasting thanks and love to Débora Avrachkoff, neé Bernstein, mother, grand-mother and great-grand-mother, who, not without some tears, would so much have liked to have seen her father and brother walk again in the light.

Sean Edwards



Isaac Bernstein and his wife Ida in 1930


Young Isaac Berstein



Before the law dated 15 May 1985, the "last known address" of the internees in Drancy was... Drancy.


Isaac Bernstein'official family record book