Joan Salter MBE

Joan Salter 220

Joan was born Fanny Zimetbaum in Brussels, Belgium, on 15th February 1940. She lived with her parents, who were both originally from Poland, and her older half-sister, Lilane.

When Joan was still a baby, her father was arrested and was held in prison in France for six months. He was then put on a train to be sent to an internment camp but managed to jump off the train near Paris and escape. Although he was able to make it back to Belgium, the family decided it would be safer to leave and so they moved to Paris. Joan, Lilane and their mother stayed with Joan’s aunt, but it was not safe for Joan’s father to remain with them so he stayed in hiding with a cousin.

In June 1941, male Jews in Paris were being rounded up and Joan’s father woke up in the night to find that his street was full of French police removing Jews from their homes. Her father managed to stay hidden during the round-up but it was too dangerous for him to stay and so he travelled to Lyon in Vichy France.

At this time, women and children were not being rounded up and so Joan, her sister and her mother remained in Paris. Every week, Joan’s mother had to go with the children to the local police station to register as aliens. One day in 1942 while they were registering, a policeman told her that the deportations of women and children were due to start the following day and that Joan, Lilane and their mother were all on the list for the first transport. Joan’s mother was able to arrange for the Resistance to help the family to escape and in the middle of the night they were smuggled out of Paris hidden in a laundry van and joined Joan’s father in a village outside Lyon.

Although at this time Vichy remained independent, there was a great deal of Nazi influence within Lyon and round-ups still happened. Joan’s father was once again arrested and was taken to an internment camp. Once again, he was able to escape and travelled to Spain. He was afraid that Spain would also soon be occupied so he soon moved on to Portugal where he was able to contact the British Embassy and was drafted into the Pioneer Corps.

Joan, Lilane and their mother remained in Lyon until winter of 1942-43 when they travelled over the Pyrenees mountains into Spain. They were captured by the Spanish police and Lilane was put into a convent while Joan and her mother were put in prison. In June 1943, Joan and Lilane were able to leave Lisbon by boat and travelled to the USA. The American government had agreed to help to rescue children but their parents were not permitted to travel with them, so their mother had to stay behind.

On arrival in America, Joan was taken in by a foster family and had her name changed from Fanny to Joan. Lilane, being older and more aware of the situation than Joan, was very traumatised by the time they arrived in America and so struggled to settle with a family and was moved between a number of foster homes.

In 1947, Joan and Lilane were reunited with their parents, both of whom had managed to survive the war and were living in the UK. Joan found it very hard to adjust to life with her parents and spent the next decade travelling between the UK and her foster family in the USA.

Joan now lives in London and regularly shares her testimony in schools and colleges across the country.