Meet Holocaust survivor John Lamovie

John Lamovie was born Maurice Szlamowicz in Paris, France in 1936.  

John’s father, David and his father’s brother Charles had visited France from Warsaw in 1925, in the hopes of obtaining visas to Argentina, but were so impressed by the civil liberties there, they decided to settle in Paris. They worked and saved enough money to bring their wives, children and in-law families to Paris. The brothers set up two knitting factories in Paris and were very successful. 

John’s mother’s name was Alta Chana, and he had an older sister named Fanny.  

John’s family in 1926, before he was born, just as they were moving from Poland to Paris. Back row from left: Chil Cisinski -uncle, Alta Chana -mother, David – father, Mortre Cisinski – uncle, Boruch Cisinski – grandfather,. Seated: Raizle Cisinska -grandmother, Joseph, Szmerek, uncles, Fanny Szlamowicz – sister.


When the war started in 1939, it initially had no effect on their lives. John only experienced antisemitism some time later when a kindergarten friend called him a “dirty Jew”. He rushed home to tell his mother what had happened and to ask her the meaning of the word “Jew”. Although his mother was religious, John was unaware that he was Jewish.  

Nazi occupation

The Germans occupied Paris in June 1940.  

A short time later, a German officer visited John’s family home wanting to meet his father. The officer was a brother of David’s previous business partner, and he offered to take John to Germany with him, where he would raise him as his own son. John’s father was surprised by the offer and politely declined. 

Late one night, a local policeman whom John’s father knew well, visited the house to warn him that the police would be returning in the morning with orders for his arrest, as his name was on a list of Jewish socialists wanted by the French police. John’s father fled immediately and drove towards the Spanish border and crossed the demarcation line into Vichy France.  

On the run

French Jews were being arrested in Paris from mid-1941 so John’s father wanted his mother, Alta Chana, to leave with the children and meet him across the border in unoccupied France. As it was illegal and needed to be done at night, and as it was not yet understood that Jewish children were in any danger, John’s mother decided to leave five-year-old John with her parents in Paris.  

In July 1942 John’s mother and sister left Paris by train, after paying a French policeman to assist them. They stopped at Tours, where his mother noticed the policeman talking to German soldiers and pointing in her direction. John’s mother and sister were arrested at Tours and ended up at Drancy, a transit camp in Paris, in August 1942.  

John’s father tried to get them out by bribing two police officers. Unfortunately, because of her previous betrayal by a policeman, his mother refused to cooperate. She and her daughter remained in Drancy for a few weeks, but on 14 September 1942 they were transported to Auschwitz, in convoy number 32, arriving 16 September.  

Baby John with his mother and sister in Paris, 1936.

 Following this tragedy, John’s father organised for a smuggler to take John from his grandparents’ house and cross the demarcation line. John was joined by his father’s acquaintance, Simone Finifter, who was later to play an important role in John’s life. John joined his father in Lyon who was with his brother Charles and his family.  

John’s grandparents were arrested in Paris in January 1943. They were taken to Drancy and then deported to Majdanek concentration camp, where they were murdered.  

 In July 1942 John and his father were arrested one morning in Villeurbanne, a suburb of Lyon, and taken to Gestapo Headquarters. John remembers being brought into a long narrow room with a man sitting behind a desk. His father sat rigidly to the right of him but didn’t look at him.  

John was taken to a waiting room, where he fell asleep. Later he was woken when a woman scooped him up and said, “Come on Maurice, we are going home.” This was John’s neighbour, who had been arrested with her two daughters at the same time as John and his father, but she was able to prove that she wasn’t a Jew. She walked out of the headquarters with John, quickly crossed the street and handed him to a woman who was waiting there hoping to see John and his father released. It was Simone Finifter. 

Simone took John to his uncle Charles in Lyon. A few days later the Gestapo tried to enter the shop where they were living. “They banged their rifle butts against the steel windows but never broke in. During the commotion, my uncle calmly spooned halva out of a jar and gave it to all the kids in the room. To this day it is my favourite sweet.” 

Uncle Charles sent John to Uncle Boris, his mother’s brother, and later he went to another brother, Uncle Chil who lived in Pau, near Biarritz, in the south of France.  

His father had been sent to Rivesaltes, a concentration camp near the Spanish border in southern France. It was not until one year later that John was reunited with his father.    

Watch John’s Eyewitness testimony:

Uncle Charles managed to find a safer hiding place for the family in the centre of France. It was a small village called Murat-le-Quaire. John and his father joined Charles in the village where they rented a house and acquired false names and ID cards. John became “Jean Postayan” and his father, “Richard (known as Dick) Postayan”. Over the course of those years his father had many false identities. 

Life in hiding

John, now seven years old, went to school in Murat-le- Quaire and even went to Sunday mass. He stayed in the village for about 18 months.  

John with his dad while hiding from the authorities in Murat-Le-Quaire, 1943.

The family lived quite calmly in the village. John’s father worked for the local underground. Their house was the first house on the road into the village and his father had to monitor any approaching vehicles. He sat at the window all day, making socks by hand.  


In August 1944 the French underground wanted to liberate Paris before the Allies got there – it was a matter of national pride that the French army arrive in Paris first – so John and his father travelled on a truck back to Paris to help. “I was all of eight years old!  We went back to our apartment and to our amazement found it intact and unoccupied.”  

“I spent the next few months living in Paris with my father but I yearned to see my mother and sister. I used to walk down the street looking for them, hoping to see them coming home that way, but of course they never did. My father made enquiries as to what exactly had happened to them, but it took a while to confirm that my mother was killed in Auschwitz sometime in 1944.” 

 John has no visual memories of his mother 

Simone Finifter’s husband was also murdered in Auschwitz. In 1949 John’s father and Simone got married. They immigrated to Australia in 1952 and David set up a weaving business in Melbourne. “Simone was a good wife to my father till he died in 1995. I looked after her until her death in 2001.” 

John continues to search for the truth about what happened to his sister, but as yet has been unable to confirm any details. 

John began volunteering at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum (previously, Jewish Holocaust Centre) in 1993. He has three children, who went on to give him grandchildren and great grandchildren. “I often think that my growing family is the best revenge for what Hitler tried to accomplish.”