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A French girl, an American soldier, a romance
A war story
 
By Danielle Flood
 

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It was the search for her real name that led Nicole Aure to look for her father. For about sixteen years the dark blonde, green-eyed girl born in Cannes, France, thought she was Nicole Thomas.  She had lived for most of her life with her older brother and sister and their parents, Irwin and Josette Thomas, in Metz, in northern France. It was a quiet life. But she didn’t understand why she felt “an emptiness.” Then the turmoil began.

 

She was riding her bicycle on the sidewalk in Metz. A friend walked beside her. But this was not allowed at the time, she says. On the sidewalk people were supposed to travel in single file. And so the police stopped her and her friend and asked for their names, and  their identification papers. She had no papers. So the police asked about her parents, who they were, where they lived. She gave what information she had. The year was 1961.

 

A few days later, two men came to her home, asking for her mother, who was out shopping with her brother. “They asked me who I was. When I said, Nicole, they looked at each other…And so I said to myself: ‘Do they know me?’” They came back in the early afternoon. “My mother opened the door and she asked me to get out of the way. She knew what was going on. And later on, many years later, I found out they were from the juvenile courts. Because I had given a false name. Nicole Thomas didn’t exist.”

 

Her mother went to Cannes to see if she could straighten out the matter. Things had begun to be tense at the sparkling wine factory where Nicole worked. Her boss kept asking her for her social security number. One day while her mother was in Cannes she received a phone call at work. This was startling. Nicole was not used to receiving phone calls. Her family didn’t have a phone at home. The call was from a woman in the social security office in Cannes. “She asked me when I was born, my mother’s name, grandmother’s name. I gave it to her. And she said, ‘Well, I’m going to send you the paper but your name is Aure.’ ‘Aure,’ I said, who is that?’”

 

She gave her number to her boss and when her mother came back from Cannes, Nicole asked her mother: “Aure. Who is that?” She knew no one in or outside her family with this name.

 

Irwin Thomas was in the kitchen. Her mother left the kitchen, saying nothing. Thomas told Nicole that the city hall had made a mistake. “A mistake,” Nicole said. “You think I’m that stupid or what?”

 

“So nobody ever said anything to me. [But] in the building where we were living, there was a lady next door who was wonderful. She had three sons and I was very close to them and to that lady and she is the one who told me about my father. She even showed me a picture.” But the lady didn’t know enough.

 

And so commenced Nicole’s struggle with bits of information from the neighbor in Metz, and later from a family friend in Cannes, and later, in response to what Nicole had learned from others, a little from her mother. But the bits were so insufficient she could not find what her father’s real name was, or what had happened to him, or whether or not he was alive for 40 years.

 

“I wish my mother had spoken to me more. Yes…Very very little from my mother. That’s something I can’t understand.”

 

It was the family friend, Freda Lambert, in Cannes who on Nicole’s 20th birthday gave her the small garnet ring her father had given to her mother and another photograph. Freda had known Nicole’s mother back then, in 1944 and 1945, when Nicole was born. Later, her mother sold the ring to Freda.

 

Freda and the neighbor in Metz told Nicole her father’s name was “Stephen,” but she didn’t know if the spelling was correct. They gave these details: In 1944, Stephen was working in the medical corps for the U.S. army, stationed at the 78th  Station Hospital in the town of Vallauris, near Cannes. Nicole’s mother, Josette, who had two children, had been abandoned by her husband and their father, Irwin. Josette got work in Vallauris, decorating ceramic plates at a business there, in order to provide for her four-year-old her son and year-old daughter, who had been a twin. Irwin had left Josette when one of the twins, at four months old, died. Josette’s mother was taking care of the children while she worked. Josette met Stephan who was a friend of a U.S. serviceman named Raymond Kellerman, who was dating a friend of hers. They had a birthday party when Stephen turned 23 on December 25, l944.

 

Food shortages and absences prevailed in France during World War II. Stephen was bringing food to Josette, who was then about 22, and to her mother and the small children. Some time in January, 1945, he was transferred to the infantry and sent to Germany. Josette learned she was pregnant with Nicole. She heard from friends of his that he’d died, but she couldn’t be sure. She wasn’t married to him, so she wasn’t allowed any information by the army. Josette was technically still married to Irwin Thomas. “It was like a shame for her,” Nicole said. Josette had been by raised by nuns in a private Catholic school. “She was embarrassed that she had slept with somebody while she was married, even though her husband had left her.”

 

When Nicole went to her mother with this information, she was able to get what she thought was Stephan’s last name: Baachus. And something about a place called Osborn. She said Josette thought he was from Kansas.

 

Nicole would also learn that her mother had put her up for adoption. She said, “My mother thought I would be much better over there in the states.” There was a Red Cross boat leaving for the states but Nicole was born too late to be put on it. When she was born in September, 1945, a week after the war ended, Nicole was given a number by the state. She was put into a private orphanage after she was born, but taken out of the orphanage on the same day. She doesn’t know what happened. A week later she was baptized without a surname. Her baptismal certificate shows no name for her mother, father or godparents and no surname for herself – only her forenames, Nicole Josette.  

 

So who is “Aure?” “Nobody,” she says. “Just me.”  She doesn’t know who in the government or when the state bestowed this surname upon her. The papers she has, that are dated July, l946 state she is Nicole Aure. She says it makes you “feel like you have a unique name and no one is going to share this name with you. It’s a very strange feeling. Because you know that no one has a name like that.”

 

Later, Nicole’s stepfather, Irwin Thomas returned to his wife and they had three more children.

 

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When Nicole was 23, she came to America looking for her father. She had to find out what happened to him. To read more, click here.

 


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