Jacques Benguigui was born in Oran, Algeria, on April 13, 1931. At the time of Jacques's birth, Algeria still belonged to France, and was home to nearly 120,000 Jews. Seeking to improve the chances for a better life for her children, Mrs. Benguigui moved the family shortly before the war to the bustling port city of Marseilles, France. When the Germans conquered France in 1940, the 350,000 Jews living in the country found themselves the targets of ever-growing persecution.
The Germans divided France, occupying all of the north, allowing French collaborators to rule most of the southern zone, where Jacques lived. The government in the south was directly responsible to the Germans and usually cooperated with them against the Jews. On July 31, 1943, Jacques's mother was arrested by French collaborators and was deported to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, where she was subjected to horrific medical experiments. Jacques, twelve years old, and his brothers Richard, who was six, and Jean-Claude, who was five, were sent to live in the children's home in Izieu. Their baby sister, Yvette, was hidden by sympathetic French farmers.
The children's home in Izieu was run by a staff who did everything they could to brighten up the lives of the children with picnics and other pleasurable activities. But the children at the home were Jewish, and the Germans were determined not to let them remain alive for long.
On April 6, 1944, the Nazis came for the children of Izieu. The Benguigui brothers and their friends at the home were deported to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland on Jacques's thirteenth birthday.
The German officer responsible for the arrests was Klaus Barbie. Barbie escaped justice after the war by working as a spy for the United States. He had been living in South America when the scandal was uncovered decades later. Barbie was eventually extradited to France, where on July 4, 1987, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for "crimes against humanity." On hand for the trial were Mrs. Benguigui and her daughter, Yvette. Both had miraculously survived the Holocaust. Jacques and his two brothers were unable to see Barbie brought to justice. They perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in May 1944.