The information about the late Dr. Henri Barik is the result of several telephone conversations with his wife, Florence Barik, who lives now in Jerusalem.
Florence Barik Googled the name of her late husband one day and found him among the “Remember Me?” children. She contacted the Museum and was very eager to help with information on his life for an update on the Museum’s Web site.
Henri Barik was born prematurely, as Henri Charles on June 16th, 1936, the third child and only son of his parents, who already had two daughters, Paulette and Raymonde. His mother, Elisheva (Lisa) nee Gutmann, had him when she was in her forties. His father, Mendel Menahem, originally from Warsaw, worked in the Renault factory in Paris. They met and were married there, probably in 1926.
As the family was preparing for Henri’s 5th birthday in June of 1942, his father was rounded up with other men, supposedly because a Nazi officer was shot in Paris. This group of men was sent first to Draney and then to Pithiviers. Henri often relived the trauma of his father’s arrest as he told him that he would have to become the ‘man of the family.’ Years later, when he talked about it, he would always cry. The family received a letter from the father in Draney but the letter was lost.
Mendel Barik was deported to Auschwitz on Convoy 35 on September 21, 1942 and according to ITS documentation, died there on December 3rd. Henri was never to know his father’s exact death date as he was led to believe that he died upon arrival which was the eve of the holiday of Sukkot, ironically Henri’s favorite holiday.
According to Florence, all three children were indelibly marked by their Holocaust experiences. All three were very attractive people, bright, and charming. They lacked self-confidence but each was capable in a different area. The family was religiously assimilated. After the father’s arrest, they remained in the apartment where they had been living, and although everyone in the courtyard knew that they were Jews, no one betrayed them to the police. Their mother did not allow them to wear the required Star of David, and they managed to get by that way because they did not look stereotypically Jewish, and their neighbors did not give them away. All her life Lisa, the mother, spoke with warm feelings about her French neighbors.
At the beginning of the war, Lisa went late at night to a restaurant across the street from the apartment and did cleaning work for which she was given leftovers for her hungry children. (The apartment house and the restaurant were still in place when Florence and Henri visited there in the early 2000’s.) Lisa was a heroic woman who resourcefully cared for her children. She was very intelligent and spoke several languages in a polished and refined fashion. Her French, which she learned as a teenager, was impressive. She was born in a small town in the Ukraine, but raised in Turkey where the family escaped to so that the father would not have to serve in the army. In Istanbul Henri’s mother was educated at a Scottish missionary school and for the rest of her life spoke English with a heavy Scottish accent. Eventually most of the family made its way to France in search of a livelihood and Lisa was brought to France when her mother was too ill to care for the family.
When the war raged on, it became clear that the small family would have to be split in order to survive. Lisa sent her daughter, Paulette, who was 16 when her father was arrested, to work as a nanny near Paris at Pouponiere. She was later sent to Hendye, a little village in the south of France near the Spanish border. Lisa walked to Lyon where she had wealthy relatives, sleeping in the woods on her way, but determined to get some money for her family. They were most generous and later in life she often spoke about them with affection and respect.
Henri and Raymonde, his ‘little mother,’ were sent to a farm in St. Bohaire outside of Paris. The school there had his registration records as well as those of his sister. His papers listed him as “quiet and shy but obviously brilliant.” They were on the farm for six months but when there was no more money to pay for their care, they had to return home where they were like “sitting ducks.” Henri saw German soldiers marching in the street and sometimes they would give him chocolate. He always said that when he saw German women soldiers pushing French men around, he felt personally insulted.
Henri had an uncle, Armand, one of his mother’s brothers, who was with the French Foreign Legion for twenty years. Because they knew that he was Jewish, during the war he was not sent to places where he would have been in greater danger for that reason. Several other relatives of Henri perished in the Holocaust and he made sure to submit their names to Holocaust memorial organizations. His mother was one of twelve siblings, several of whom lived around the world. During the war, Uncle Armand came once to see them in Paris. Henri knew almost nothing about his father’s family except that they were from Warsaw.
After the war, when American G.l.’s liberated them, Raymonde fell in love with a Jewish soldier, but her mother did not want her 14 year-old daughter to marry so young. Lisa had a good government job then and wanted to stay in Paris, but her wealthy brother who was living in South Africa pressured her to move to Canada where they had well-to-do relatives, an uncle in Toronto and an aunt in Ottawa, for the sake of the future of her children. They eventually immigrated to Toronto in 1948 when Henri was twelve, and stayed with the family. His uncle with whom they lived for a few weeks, made it clear that it was a temporary situation. His aunt Marie took him to Ottawa to make sure he had a Bar Mitzvah.
After a while, the family moved to their own place and Henri went to school. Paulette worked in a department store, and after Raymonde moved to New York city, she followed her and there was promoted to a very responsible position. She never married and lives in Manhattan.
Raymonde married a Frenchman who was not Jewish and had three children. In retirement she has lived in Poughkeepsie, NY, near a devoted daughter.
Henri was left with his mother, who worked in a bakery but was unhappy because she always wanted to return to Paris. As a compromise, they moved to French speaking Montreal where their situation was grim. They did not have enough money for food as Henri’s mother had but a menial job. He attended high school there and his performance was excellent. A very close friend in high school and the friend’s family helped Henri a great deal, but a year before he would graduate, they moved back to Toronto and Henri finished high school attending night school, scoring the highest marks in Ontario. This accomplishment was written up in local newspapers. While studying, during the days he worked in a candy factory and took other part time jobs to make ends meet. Later his mother lived on and off near her daughters in New York.
For his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Henri attended McGill University on a full scholarship. He received a PhD from the University of North Carolina in Linguistics and Applied Psychology. Because of his charm and likeable personality, several times in his life Henri was taken in by loving families who helped him through the challenges that he took upon himself. He worked for many years at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) which is part of the University of Toronto. There he did invaluable work at the center of modern languages, especially in research on learning a second language. His publications continue to be relevant in the field.
Florence met Henri in 1979 and they had a very happy thirty-year marriage until Henri’s death in 2009, after a rapid decline from a particularly debilitating form of dementia. He was a bachelor until the age of 43 and never had children of his own but he was like a loving uncle and grandfather to Florence’s two daughters and her grandchildren.
Henri continues to be deeply mourned by his wife and sisters. His tombstone reads: A Wise, Compassionate and Generous M an. Florence insists that every word in the epitaph is true.