In 1940, when the Nazis invaded Belgium my grandmother, Flora M. Singer, along with her mother and two younger sisters began five years of constant fear and hiding. At times, Flora was separated from her mother, left to protect not only herself but also her two sisters. Throughout the war, Flora and her family were forced to leave their homes without notice and travel to new hiding locations. They ventured from their home in Antwerp to 83 rue François-Joseph Navez in the city of Brussels. While it was still possible, they walked from the Belgian border of France down to Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer in hopes of escaping by ship. Throughout the war, they took frequent trips by train to Lille and were forced to smuggle food. They had to hide their Jewish faith and pose as Catholics while they lived in a convent in the small port town of Doel. And again at their last home, Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Ruiselede, where thirteen long months later, they were finally liberated.
In June of 2014, my mother and I retraced Flora’s fearful journey. Throughout this process we rediscovered dozens of boxes full of documents that Flora had kept from the beginning of the war until her passing in 2009. Flora not only kept all 343 letters from Soeur Marie Consolata dating back to 1948, but also articles, photographs and paperwork she received about her entire extended family who perished in Auschwitz.
Beginning at the quaint Droomkerke Bed & Breakfast in Ruiselede, we rented a car and took day trips to the various places Flora stayed. We explored Calais, Boulogne-sur-Mer, and Lille in France. Although we had no exact addresses or maps, we walked around the cities trying to put ourselves in Flora’s shoes.
We returned to Ruiselede, Antwerp, Doel and Brussels in Belgium. We visited the Jewish Museum of Deportation & Resistance in Mechelen to learn more about Flor'a's relatives who were deported from that very location. We met with Soeur Marie Consolata, one of the nuns from Ruiselede, at the convent where Flora spent the last part of the war. We gained access to the Couvent des Franciscaines in Doel, a town that is slowly vanishing as the port expands further into the farmland. In Brussels, we found her first hiding location at 83 rue François-Joseph Navez and peered behind to see the train tracks she so frequently talked about.