As a Holocaust survivor, Charlotte Adelman's story is full of twists and turns. Many improbable things had to happen for her to be here: after several years in Montreal, she is living in Phoenix, Ariz. at age 86, with a son, daughter, and two grandchildren.
Decades after her traumatic childhood in Nazi-occupied France, something else unlikely happened: she reconnected with two members of the family who saved her life, thanks to Facebook.
"It's something that I would say would never happen, and it happened," Adelman told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview. She still has a French accent, although she's lived in the U.S. for decades.
Adelman's survival story is centred in the small town of Beaumont-en-Argonne. In 1944, her father had left to search for her mother; he had no idea she had been taken to Auschwitz. He left 12-year-old Charlotte in the care of a woman in the town, who was part of the resistance.
Terrified, the caretaker instead brought Adelman to the some neighbours. Alain Quatreville was four years old when Adelman came into his family's life. He is 78 now.
"He couldn't say 'Charlotte,'" Adelman remembers. "He knew me as 'Lotte.'"
Anyone caught trying to hide Jews from the Nazis could be arrested, beaten or even killed, but the Quatreville family was willing to take the risk to keep Adelman safe.
Bar of soap may have saved her life
Because the area had been bombed, the neighbouring house was deserted and its roof blown off. So Adelman stayed in that home's cellar for nine months, where she had a mattress, a kerosene lamp, a wash basin, and a bucket.
She almost always stayed in the cellar, but on the night the Nazis came — "Catch-22," she says — she was up in the house, in plain sight. She hid under a bed, waiting helplessly as Nazis poked bayonets around the house, looking for any signs of fugitives.
Alain Quatreville, who was too young to understand what was going on, was about to say something, but his grandmother put a bar of soap in his mouth, Adelman remembers. That bar of soap may have saved her life.
Adelman's mother died at Auschwitz, but she was able to reunite with her father and brother after the war.
She moved on with her life, leaving France for Montreal. She was travelling in the Laurentian Mountains, north of Quebec City, when she met Alex, the American man who would become her husband. They were together for 50 years until he died in 2011.
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Adelman's name changed a few times since childhood. But her current name was included in a book about Beaumont-en-Argonne during the war — and Quatreville used that information to find her on Facebook.
When she saw his message, "I couldn't believe it was true," she said. "I was pinching myself."
My parents died a long time ago, but we still think about you.Alain Quatreville
Quatreville is a retired math professor with three children. His Facebook message to Adelman was short but emotional.
"My parents died a long time ago, but we still think about you," he said. His mother, especially, had always talked about Charlotte, and was troubled not to know where she was.
It's a fortuitous connection since Adelman said she loves the "fabulous" social media platform, which she uses to communicate with friends. And she's proud that one of her grandsons works for Facebook.
Adelman's daughter arranged a trip to France. They met Alain at the Shoah Memorial in Paris, where the name of Adelman's mother is one of 76,000 engraved on the memorial wall.
The plan had initially been to stay in Paris, but Quatreville suggested Adelman visit his 92-year-old sister, who was bedridden in Beaumont-en-Argonne. Their reunion was an emotional one.
"Believe it or not, when I went to see her, the village knew about me,"Adelman says. Because of the book written about Beaumont-en-Argonne, people knew her as the girl who was housed in the cellar, and many came to see her from neighbouring towns.
Now that she's back home, Adelman remains in touch with Quatreville. She leads a very happy life, she said, but the trauma of her childhood will never go away.
"I don't read it from a paper," she said. "I wake up with it and I go to bed with it. It's in me."
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