Photo by Jono David
Born in Vienna in 1928, Edith Mayer Cord moved to Italy with her family to escape the rise of Nazism in Austria. In 1938, Italy passed the same anti-Jewish laws, similar to the Nuremburg laws, and the entire family was asked to leave. Unable to receive a visa for any country, Edith and her family entered France illegally in April 1939 where they received a temporary residence permit while trying to find a country that would let them in.
At the outbreak of World War II, her father was arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Les Milles, a camp near Marseille. Released in 1940, both he and her older brother were arrested again and sent to Gurs. After several other camps, both were deported to Auschwitz in the summer of 1942. Neither returned.
During that time, Edith and her mother remained in Nice from where they were eventually kicked out as Nice was forbidden to Jews. They received a residence permit in a small village in Vichy France where Edith, 13, and her mother did farm work. When the mass deportations began, Edith was encouraged to go underground. At fourteen, Edith accepted because she was afraid of what would happen to her if she were arrested and sent to a concentration camp.
In July 1943, Edith went into hiding with false papers with the help of the Jewish scouts of France and their clandestine arm, the Sixième. She spent a year on the run, hiding in different schools, until she was smuggled into Switzerland in May 1944 with a group of thirty Jewish children. In Switzerland, still deprived of schooling, she worked as a nanny until the end of the war when she was able to rejoin her mother, who had managed to survive in a village in France.
Back in France, the truth about the death camps and the Gestapo torture chambers became fully known. Edith was faced with the triple task of making a living, coming to terms with man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man, and getting an education. What followed were seven years of struggle, intense study and hard work. In 1949, Edith passed the second baccalauréat with a major in philosophy and in 1952, she earned the Licence ès Lettres from the University of Toulouse before coming to the United States.
Arriving in New York, Edith was self-supporting within two weeks, earning a minimum wage job of $1 an hour. She went to night school and continued to take courses with an eye toward earning a PhD. In 1954, Edith married and had three children and now has seven grandchildren. From 1962-1979, she worked as a professor of French and German in the department of foreign languages at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. This was followed by a career change in 1979 when Edith started working in the financial services industry. In 1984, Edith earned her CFP designation and she continued her work as a financial advisor and securities broker until 2006, when she retired in order to write her book. She then translated her book into French and L’Éducation d’un Enfant Caché was published in 2013 by L’Harmattan. Her new book Finding Edith: Surviving the Holocaust in Plain Sight was published in May 2019 by Purdue University Press.
Edith now lives in Columbia, MD. During all these years, Edith has been a frequent speaker in schools, universities, churches, civic groups, and to government and military audiences in the Baltimore Washington area where she shares her experiences and the lessons learned the hard way: how to rise above difficult circumstances, transcend hatred, find meaning and protect our freedom.