Through the Morgue Door
One Woman’s Story of Survival and Saving Children in German-Occupied ParisUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights
In 1934, at the age of fourteen, Colette Brull-Ulmann knew that she wanted to become a pediatrician. By the age of twenty-one, she was in her second year of studying medicine. By 1942, Brull-Ulman and her family had become registered Jews under the ever-increasing statutes against them enacted by Petain’s government. Her father had been arrested and interned at the Drancy detention camp and Brull-Ulman had become an intern at the Rothschild Hospital, the only hospital in Paris where Jewish physicians were allowed to practice and Jewish patients could go for treatment.
Under Claire Heyman, a charismatic social worker who was a leader of the hospital’s secret escape network, Brull-Ulmann began working tirelessly to rescue Jewish children treated at the Rothschild. Her devotion to the protection of children, her bravery, and her imperviousness in the face of the deadly injustices of the Holocaust were always evident—whether smuggling children to safety through the Paris streets in the dead of night or defying officers and doctors who frighteningly held her fate in their hands. Ultimately, Brull-Ulmann was forced to flee the Rothschild in 1943, when she joined her father’s resistance network, gathering and delivering information for De Gaulle’s secret intelligence agency until the Liberation in 1945.
In 1970, Brull-Ulmann finally became a licensed pediatrician. But after the war, like so many others, she sought to bury her memories. It wasn’t until decades later when she finally started to speak publicly—not only about her own work and survival, but about the one child who affected her most deeply. Originally published in French in 2017, Brull-Ulmann’s memoir fearlessly illustrates the horrors of Jewish life under the German Occupation and casts light on the heretofore unknown story of the Rothschild Hospital during this period. But most of all, it chronicles the life of a truly exceptional and courageous woman for whom not acting was never an option.