Did Bonne Maman Really Shelter People During the Holocaust?
The founders of the jam company can trace their business roots back to a small village in France.
On Feb. 14, 2021, author Michael Perino shared a story on Twitter about an interesting encounter that he had in a grocery store with a woman who was buying jelly. The woman reportedly told Perino that she always buys the Bonne Maman brand of preserves because she was a holocaust survivor, and that the founders of the company had protected her family during World War II.
The full thread can be viewed here. The most relevant tweets appear below:
We can’t definitively prove the veracity of this story. For one, we don’t know this woman’s identity. We can say, however, that it is plausible.
When this story first went viral, some readers pointed out that the Bonne Maman brand was created in 1971 and therefore the story must be false. Others pointed out that the manufacturing company Andros, which owns the Bonne Maman brand, was only founded in 1959, supposedly showing once again that this story couldn’t be true.
While it’s true that Bonne Maman did not exist in any official capacity until after World War II, the founders of Andros, Jean Gervoson and Pierre Chapoulart, can trace the history of their business back to the French village of Biars-sur-Cère during the second World War.
Gervoson was born in 1920, and shortly after the war he married a woman named Suzanne Chapoulart, the sister of his future business partner. The Chapoulart family lived in the village of Biars-sur-Cère where they owned a fruit and nut business. In the 1950s, Gervoson started to package and sell his father-in-law’s unsold jams, a business that would eventually evolve into the Bonne Maman brand. While it’s not entirely clear, it seems that the Chapoulart family has been selling fruits and nuts in this small village since the 1910s.
Playac Press reports (translated via Google):
An industrial jam with the air of “homemade” Jean Gervoson, born in 1920, married Suzanne Chapoulart after the Second World War. His in-laws live in the village of Biars-sur-Cère (Lot). For nearly 40 years, Father Chapoulart has owned a nut and fruit business. In the 1950s, Jean Gervoson had the idea of recovering his father-in-law’s unsold plums to make jams. And sell them! A success, at a time when more women are working (read What is it?). The activity takes on an industrial scale. In 1971, Jean Gervoson decided to create, with his wife and his brother-in-law, Pierre Chapoulart, a brand of jams. Her name, Bonne Maman, is a family nod. Pierre Roche-Bayard, who will remain the group’s general manager until the mid-1990s, works on the packaging. He designs the cover in a gingham pattern, reminiscent of the curtains on his family’s farm. He himself writes a label on the pen holder, taking care of the full and thin lines of the letters. The flagship product is launched. And almost 50 years later, the pot hasn’t changed!
The Jewish Standard also mentioned Bonne Maman in an article published in 2016 about the atrocities that took place in the German city of Worms during the Holocaust, and the people who escaped them. Holocaust survivor Eric Mayer told the publication that at one point during the war he escaped Worms and ended up in the village where Bonne Maman preserves come from (emphasis ours):
Meanwhile, back in prewar Germany, Moritz and Irma Mayer worried about their children, and decided to get them out. “My brother, Fred, my sister, Ruth, and I ended up in a village in Alsace, with much older cousins, and later, still with the cousins, in a town in Burgundy, then in Vichy for a year and a half. We were expelled from Vichy in July 1941 because we were foreign Jews and ended up in southern France,” Mr. Mayer said. His mother, who stayed in Worms, was deported to Belzec and was gassed there in 1942. (His brother died 10 years ago, and his sister, whose last name was Rothschild, died about a year and a half ago, he added.) “We were complete strangers to everyone in this village, Biars sur Cere, which then had about 800 people; it’s the village where Bonne Maman preserves come from.
“I was a courier for the French Resistance in November 1942 until August 1944, at the liberation of southern France.”
“You have to understand what it was like then,” Mr. Mayer said. “There were posters on the walls, from the Nazis and from the collaborators, and they said that if you are found to help a Jew, a freemason, a communist, a socialist, or a pervert, you will be shot on sight.” Despite the great danger in which helping the Mayers and other Jewish children put the villagers, still they kept the children safe. “I have an inordinate feeling of indebtedness to them that I can never repay, even if I live to be the age of Moses,” Mr. Mayer added.
We can’t say for certain if these families were personally involved with aiding Jewish people who were seeking refuge during the Holocaust. We have been unable to find any articles, interviews, or company statements touting this historic act. (The French outlet Capital noted in 2009 that “[in 40 years] Jean Gervoson had never granted the slightest interview.) When we reached out to Bonne Maman, they told us that the company does not comment on personal matters.
A spokesperson said: “Bonne Maman is privately owned by Andros, a family-owned French company located in Biars-sur-Cere, France. The family prefers to maintain privacy and does not comment on inquiries about personal matters.”
The founders of Bonne Maman can trace the roots of their business back to this small village in France. As Biars-sur-Cère had a population of less than 800 people during World War II, and as this family owned and operated its business during this time, the claim seems at least possible. Source: snopes.com