Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sarah's Key - A Personal Observation

My wife never tires of reading about the Holocaust. I on the other hand almost never talk about my family's experience in concentration camps during the Second World War. Yet my wife started reading this Sarah's Key book that is apparently going to be made into a big movie. She kept talking about how great the book is that I finally had to break my 'vow of silence' and called my mom. You see my mother was on the last train out of Paris before the Germans seized Paris. Her mother had lost her Swiss citizenship (which I am told her grandfather purchased with one million Swiss francs back in the days when a million francs was really something) owing to the fact she had married a German who happened to be Jewish.

In any event there is a whole story about how my mother helped get my grandmother on the train despite her lack of documentation. But the book is about the Jewish children who didn't make it on that train. Here is a Wikipedia article on the subject. My wife, I think, knew something about my mother escaping from France. Yet what she didn't know was that her father ended up in the velodrome but somehow managed to avoid being sent to the concentration camps for Jews because he looked like me (fair complexion, strawberry blonde hair) and spoke fluent Parisian French (and avoiding speaking his native German tongue).

Interestingly enough his mother (my grandmother) ended up going to three different Jewish concentration camps (I guess making up for the other members of my family). She survived the unbelievable ordeal but like all the other members of my family - she wouldn't ever talk about it.  The only obvious residue of her experiences is that she absolutely despised Jews from certain eastern European countries.  But that's another story.

My family always had this thing growing up that being Jewish was a big secret.  You had to hide any obvious signs of Semitic identity.  Looking like a Gentile was a good thing so I had one up on my brother (who had more pronounced Semitic features).  It is so strange when you think about it.  She married and moved to the whitest place possible in the world.  We never had Jewish friends growing up outside of the family.  It was really bizarre.  Even though the war had long been over the stress never left my family members.  It was always tense under the surface.

When my grandfather died of cancer I remember him being on morphine thinking he was still in France saying in Italian 'they're coming to get us.  Hide!'  Stuff like that.

My mother actually has a book which apparently documents how my great grandmother acted as a kind of doctor in the camps by using the herbal and plants growing in the camps.

I don't know why I have a reluctance to talk about this stuff. I guess it is inherited. It is only my wife who keeps bringing this up. When she went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC she called up my mom and told her to donate the book. My mother declined. Nevertheless I think there is a story in here somewhere.  The question is whether my mom wants to tell it or whether I want to write it.

I think my wife would be all too willing to do it - even if it meant spending hours with her mother in law  ...

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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