The internet received a new good news story when the story of a Holocaust survivor buying Bonne Maman jam in a New Jersey supermarket went viral on Twitter. According to “a small, elderly woman,” the family that created Bonne Maman jam actually helped her survive the Holocaust by hiding her when she was sheltering in Paris.
Of course, leave it to Twitter to bring the skeptics out of the woodwork as well. Many people started fact checking the story immediately, trying to figure out if the woman’s story of the Bonne Maman family helping those who are now Holocaust survivors is even true. However, the real question we need to ask in this instance is: “How important is the truth here?” One journalist even tweeted, “Please don't make me fact check the Bonne Maman story. Can't it be like Santa Claus?”
This is what happened with the Holocaust survivor and the Bonne Maman family.
Basically, on Feb. 14, a professor named Michael Perino tweeted about his conversation in a New Jersey supermarket. The first tweet read, “At the supermarket today, I found a small, elderly woman standing in front of a high shelf holding @BonneMamanUS preserves. She was having trouble finding the flavor she wanted because the jars were set back on the shelf.”
The woman went on to ask Michael, “Do you know why I buy this brand?” He replied, “Because it tastes good?” And the small elderly woman replied, “Yes, it tastes good. I am a Holocaust survivor. During the war, the family that owns the company hid my family in Paris. So now I always buy it. And whenever I go to the store, my grandkids remind me, ‘Bubbe, don’t forget to buy the jelly.’”
Michael and many other Twitter users agreed “that is the best reason to buy any company’s product,” and many promised to now only buy Bonne Maman jam. One would think that Bonne Maman would eat this PR up, but they basically said, “No comment.” It is known that one of the Bonne Maman family members, Jean Gervoson, has never granted a public interview in the 40 years of the company, and that the entire family is notoriously secretive.
The story told about the Bonne Maman family by the Holocaust survivor could be true.
While there are many skeptics, all the internet sleuthing signs point to no true or false confirmation on this meaningful supermarket encounter. The first falsity to debunk, which Snopes also addresses in its fact check, is that because Bonne Maman wasn’t founded until 1971, this couldn’t possibly be true.
However, even though Bonne Maman was founded in 1971, the family was selling fruits and jams long before then. Bonne Maman's founders, Jean Gervoson and Pierre Chapoulart, can trace their business back to a French village, Biars-sur-Cère, where they sold fruits and nuts during WWII. The Chapoulart family had likely been selling fruits and nuts as early as 1910, and by joining forces with Jean Gervoson, they expanded into the world of international jam sales.
Other critics of the Holocaust survivor’s story bring up the points that Bonne Maman is based in Biars-sur-Cère, but she said she was sheltering in Paris. However, Eric Mayer from Wayne, N.J., told the story of how he became a Holocaust survivor to the Jewish Standard in 2016. He shared that he was sheltering in Paris when the Nazis took over, so he had to flee and ended up in Biars-sur-Cère, “the village where Bonne Maman preserves come from.”
It’s possible the N.J. supermarket Holocaust survivor had a similar experience to Eric Mayer. The other possibility, corroborated by a genealogy search by Rick Giovannelli on Twitter, is that Jean Gervoson’s father, Henri, lived in Paris during WWII, and very well could have helped shelter our Holocaust survivor supermarket friend.
Whether or not the Holocaust survivor’s story about the Bonne Maman family is true, we can all learn something from her tale.
Sometimes, it’s not about if every fact is 100 percent true but about the circumstances of the history, and how that affects all of us going forward. It’s imperative to tell the stories of those who survived the Holocaust (and those who didn’t), so we can be sure nothing like it happens ever again. And this woman’s story is inspiring in a way, because it shows how the ties between unlikely people can pass down from generation to generation.
Not only that, but it also reminds us that there’s so much we don’t know about the Holocaust. The professor who originally shared this story asks us after the skepticism he received, “What possible reason would this woman have to go out of her way to lie to the perfect stranger who just retrieved a jar of preserves for her?” Hearing these stories reminds us that we’ll never fully understand what many Holocaust survivors went through, but it’s important to try.
There may be a bit of conflicting information, but one thing we can all agree on is that Bonne Maman definitely does taste good.