Dora Bruder

Dora Bruder

Paperback(First Edition, Nobel Prize Winning Author)

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2014 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Patrick Modiano opens Dora Bruder by telling how in 1988 he stumbled across an ad in the personal columns of the New Year's Eve 1941 edition of Paris Soir. Placed by the parents of a 15-year-old Jewish girl, Dora Bruder, who had run away from her Catholic boarding school, the ad sets Modiano off on a quest to find out everything he can about Dora and why, at the height of German reprisals, she ran away on a bitterly cold day from the people hiding her. He finds only one other official mention of her name on a list of Jews deported from Paris to Auschwitz in September 1942.

With no knowledge of Dora Bruder aside from these two records, Modiano continues to dig for fragments from Dora's past. What little he discovers in official records and through remaining family members, becomes a meditation on the immense losses of the peroid—lost people, lost stories, and lost history. Modiano delivers a moving account of the ten-year investigation that took him back to the sights and sounds of Paris under the Nazi Occupation and the paranoia of the Pétain regime as he tries to find connections to Dora. In his efforts to exhume her from the past, Modiano realizes that he must come to terms with the specters of his own troubled adolescence. The result, a montage of creative and historical material, is Modiano's personal rumination on loss, both memoir and memorial.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520218789
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 11/07/2014
Edition description: First Edition, Nobel Prize Winning Author
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 276,713
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Patrick Modiano is one of the most celebrated French novelists of his generation and recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. He has collaborated with Louis Malle on the film Lacombe Lucien and has written over fifteen novels.

Read an Excerpt

Dora Bruder

By Patrick Modiano, Joanna Kilmartin


Copyright © 1999 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-96202-6


EIGHT YEARS AGO, IN AN OLD COPY OF PARIS-SOIR DATED 31 December 1941, a heading on page 3 caught my eye: "From Day to Day." Below this, I read:


Missing, a young girl, Dora Bruder, age 15, height 1 m 55, oval-shaped face, gray-brown eyes, gray sports jacket, maroon pullover, navy blue skirt and hat, brown gym shoes. Address all information to M. and Mme Bruder, 41 Boulevard Ornano, Paris.

I had long been familiar with that area of the Boulevard Ornano. As a child, I would accompany my mother to the Saint-Ouen flea markets. We would get off the bus either at the Porte de Clignancourt or, occasionally, outside the 18th arrondissement town hall. It was always a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

In winter, on the tree-shaded sidewalk outside Clignan-court barracks, the fat photographer with round spectacles and a lumpy nose would set up his tripod camera among the stream of passers-by, offering "souvenir photos." In summer, he stationed himself on the boardwalk at Deauville, outside the Bar du Soleil. There, he found plenty of customers. But at the Porte de Clignancourt, the passers-by showed little inclination to be photographed. His overcoat was shabby and he had a hole in one shoe.

I remember the Boulevard Ornano and the Boulevard Barbes, deserted, one sunny afternoon in May 1958. There were groups of riot police at each crossroads, because of the situation in Algeria.

I was in this neighborhood in the winter of 1965. I had a girlfriend who lived in the Rue Championnet. Ornano 49–20.

Already, by that time, the Sunday stream of passers-by outside the barracks must have swept away the fat photographer, but I never went back to check. What had they been used for, those barracks? I had been told that they housed colonial troops.

January 1965. Dusk came around six o'clock to the crossroads of the Boulevard Ornano and the Rue Championnet. I merged into that twilight, into those streets, I was nonexistent.

The last café at the top of the Boulevard Ornano, on the right, was called the Verse Toujours. There was another, on the left, at the corner of the Boulevard Ney, with a jukebox. The Ornano-Championnet crossroads had a pharmacy and two cafés, the older of which was on the corner of the Rue Duhesme.

The time I've spent, waiting in those cafés ... First thing in the morning, when it was still dark. Early in the evening, as night fell. Later on, at closing time ...

On Sunday evening, an old black sports car—a Jaguar, I think—was parked outside the nursery school on the Rue Championnet. It had a plaque at the rear: Disabled Ex-Serviceman. The presence of such a car in this neighborhood surprised me. I tried to imagine what its owner might look like.

After nine o'clock at night, the boulevard is deserted. I can still see lights at the mouth of Simplon metro station and, almost opposite, in the foyer of the Cinema Ornano 43. I've never really noticed the building beside the cinema, number 41, even though I've been passing it for months, for years. From 1965 to 1968. Address all information to M. and Mme Bruder, 41 Boulevard Ornano, Paris.

FROM DAY TO DAY. WITH THE PASSAGE OF TIME, I FIND, perspectives become blurred, one winter merging into another. That of 1965 and that of 1942.

In 1965, I knew nothing of Dora Bruder. But now, thirty years on, it seems to me that those long waits in the cafés at the Omano crossroads, those unvarying itineraries—the Rue du Mont-Cenis took me back to some hotel on the Butte Montmartre: the Roma or the Alsina or the Terrass, Rue Caulaincourt—and the fleeting impressions I have retained: snatches of conversation heard on a spring evening, beneath the trees in the Square Clignancourt, and again, in winter, on the way down to Simplon and the Boulevard Omano, all that was not simply due to chance. Perhaps, though not yet fully aware of it, I was following the traces of Dora Bruder and her parents. Already, below the surface, they were there.

I'm trying to search for clues, going far, far back in time. When I was about twelve, on those visits to the Clignancourt flea markets with my mother, on the right, at the top of one of those aisles bordered by stalls, the Marché Malik, or the Vemaison, there was a young Polish Jew who sold suitcases ... Luxury suitcases, in leather or crocodile skin, cardboard suitcases, traveling bags, cabin trunks labeled with the names of transatlantic companies—all heaped one on top of the other. His was an open-air stall. He was never without a cigarette dangling from the comer of his lips and, one afternoon, he had offered me one.

Occasionally, I would go to one of the cinemas on the Boulevard Omano. To the Clignancourt Palace at the top of the boulevard, next to the Verse Toujours. Or to the Omano 43.

Later, I discovered that the Omano 43 was a very old cinema. It had been rebuilt in the thirties, giving it the air of an ocean liner. I returned to the area in May 1996. A shop had replaced the cinema. You cross the Rue Hermel and find yourself outside 41 Boulevard Omano, the address given in the notice about the search for Dora Bruder.

A five-story building, late nineteenth century. Together with number 39, it forms a single block, enclosed by the boulevard, the top of the Rue Hermel, and the Rue Simplon, which runs along the back of both buildings. These are matching. A plaque on number 39 gives the name of the architect, a man named Pierrefeu, and the date of construction: 1881. The same must be true of number 41.

Before the war, and up to the beginning of the fifties, number 41 had been a hotel, as had number 39, calling itself the Hotel Lion d'Or. Number 39 also had a café-restaurant before the war, owned by a man named Gazal. I haven't found out the name of the hotel at number 41. Listed under this address, in the early fifties, is the Société Omano and Studios Ornano: Montmartre 12-54. Also, both then and before the war, a café with a proprietor by the name of Marchal. This café no longer exists. Would it have been to the right or the left of the porte cochère?

This opens onto a longish corridor. At the far end, a staircase leads off to the right.

IT TAKES TIME FOR WHAT HAS BEEN ERASED TO RESURFACE. Traces survive in registers, and nobody knows where these registers are hidden, and who has custody of them, and whether or not these custodians are willing to let you see them. Or perhaps they have quite simply forgotten that these registers exist.

All it takes is a little patience.

Thus, I came to learn that Dora Bruder and her parents were already living in the hotel on the Boulevard Ornano in 1937 and 1938. They had a room with kitchenette on the fifth floor, the level at which an iron balcony encircles both buildings. The fifth floor has some ten windows. Of these, two or three give onto the boulevard, and the rest onto the Rue Hermel or, at the back, the Rue Simplon.

When I revisited. the neighborhood on that day in May 1996, rusting shutters were closed over the two end fifth-floor windows overlooking the Rue Simplon, and outside, on the balcony, I noticed a collection of miscellaneous objects, seemingly long abandoned there.

During the last three or four years before the war, Dora Bruder would have been enrolled at one of the local state secondary schools. I wrote to ask if her name was to be found on the school registers, addressing my letter to the head of each:

8 Rue Ferdinand-Flocon
20 Rue Hermel
7 Rue Championnet
61 Rue de Clignancourt

All replied politely. None had found this name on the list of their prewar pupils. In the end, the head of the former girls' school at 69 Rue Championnet suggested that I come and consult the register for myself. One of these days, I shall. But I'm of two minds. I want to go on hoping that her name is there. It was the school nearest to where she lived.

It took me four years to discover her exact date of birth: 25 February 1926. And a further two years to find out her place of birth: Paris, 12th arrondissement. But I am a patient man. I can wait for hours in the rain.

One Friday afternoon in February 1996 I went to the 12th arrondissement Register Office. The registrar—a young man—handed me a form:

To be completed by the person applying for the certificate. Fill in your
First name
I require a full copy of the Birth Certificate for
Surname BRUDER First Name DORA
Date of birth: 25 February 1926
Check if you are:
[] The person in question [] Son or daughter
[] Father or mother [] Husband or wife
[] Grandfather or grandmother
[] Legal representative (You have power of attorney, and an identity
card for the person in question)

No persons other than the above may be supplied with a copy of a Birth Certificate.

I signed the form and handed it back to him. After reading it through, he said that he was unable to supply me with a standard birth certificate: I bore no legal relationship whatever to the person in question.

At first, I took him for one of those sentinels of oblivion whose role is to guard a shameful secret and deny access to anybody seeking to uncover the least trace of a person's existence. But he was a decent fellow. He advised me to go to the Palais de Justice, 2 Boulevard du Palais, and apply for a special exemption from the Superintendent Registrar, Section 3, 5th floor, Staircase 5, Room 501. Monday to Friday, 2 to 4 P.M.

I was about to enter the main courtyard through the big iron gates at 2 Boulevard du Palais when a functionary directed me to another entrance a little farther down: the same as that for the Sainte-Chapelle. Tourists were waiting in a line between the barriers and I wanted to go straight on, through the porch, but another functionary gestured at me impatiently to line up with the rest.

At the back of the foyer, regulations required you to empty your pockets of anything metal. I had nothing on me except a bunch of keys. This I was supposed to place on a sort of conveyor belt for collection on the far side of a glass partition, but for a moment I couldn't think what to do. My hesitation earned me a rebuke from another functionary. Was he a guard? A policeman? Was I also supposed to hand over my shoelaces, belt, wallet, as at the gates of a prison?

I crossed a courtyard, followed a corridor, and emerged into a vast concourse milling with men and women carrying black briefcases, some dressed in legal robes. I didn't dare ask them how to get to Staircase 5.

A guard seated at a table directed me to the back of the concourse. And here I entered a deserted hall whose high windows let in a dim, gray light. I searched every corner of this room without finding Staircase 5. I was seized with panic, with that sense of vertigo you have in bad dreams when you can't get to the station, time is running out and you are going to miss your train.

Twenty years before, I had had a similar experience. I had learned that my father was in hospital, in the Pitié-Salpêtrière. I hadn't seen him since the end of my adolescent years. I therefore decided to pay him an impromptu visit.

I remember wandering for hours through the vastness of that hospital in search of him. I found my way into ancient buildings, into communal wards lined with beds, I questioned nurses who gave me contradictory directions. I came to doubt my father's existence, passing and repassing that majestic church, and those spectral buildings, unchanged since the seventeenth century, which, for me, evoke Manon Lescaut and the era when, under the sinister name General Hospital, the place was used as a prison for prostitutes awaiting deportation to Louisiana. I tramped the paved courtyards till dusk It was impossible to find my father. I never saw him again.

But I found Staircase 5 in the end. I climbed several flights; A row of offices. I was directed to Room 501. A bored-looking woman with short hair asked me what I wanted.

Curtly, she informed me that to obtain particulars of a birth certificate I should write to the Public Prosecutor, Department B, 14 Quai des Orfevres, Paris 3.

Three weeks later,

I had a reply. At nine ten P.M. on twenty-five February nineteen hundred twenty-six, at 15 Rue Santerre, a female child, Dora, was born to Ernest Bruder, unskilled laborer, born Vienna (Austria) twenty-one May eighteen hundred ninety-nine, and to his wife, Cecile Burdej, housewife,born Budapest (Hungary) seventeen April nineteen hundred seven, both domiciled at 2 Avenue Liegeard, Sevran (Seine-et-Oise). Registered at three thirty P.M. on twenty-seven February nineteen hundred twenty-six on the declaration of Gaspard Meyer, aged seventy-three, employed and domiciled at 76 Rue de Picpus, having been present at the birth, who has read and signed it with Us, Auguste Guillaume Rossi, Deputy Mayor, 12th arrondissement, Paris.

15 Rue Santerre is the address of the Rothschild Hospital. Many children of poor Jewish families, recent immigrants to France, were born in its maternity ward around the same time as Dora. Seemingly, on that Thursday of 25 February 1926, Ernest Bruder had been unable to get time off from work in order to register his daughter himself at the 12th arrondissement town hall. Perhaps there is a register somewhere with more information about the Gaspard Meyer who had signed the birth certificate. 76 Rue de Picpus, where he was "employed and domiciled," is the address of the Rothschild Hospice,an establishment for the old and indigent.

In that winter of 1926 all trace of Dora Bruder and her parents peters out in Sevran, the suburb to the northeast, bordering the Ourcq canal. One day I shall go to Sevran, but I fear that, as in all suburbs, houses and streets will have changed beyond recognition. Here are the names of a few businesses and inhabitants of the Avenue Liegeard dating from that period: the Trianon de Freinville occupied number 24. Was this a café? A cinema? The lle-de-France wine cellars at number 31. There was a Dr. Jorand at number 9, a pharmacist, Platel, at number 30.

The Avenue Liegeard where Dora's parents lived was part of a built-up area that sprawled across the communities of Sevran, Livry-Gargan, and Aulnay-sous-Bois and was known as Freinville. It had grown up around the Westinghouse Brake Factory, established there at the beginning of the century. A working-class area. In the thirties, it had tried to gain its autonomy, without success, and so had remained a dependency of the three adjoining communities. But it had its own railway station nevertheless: Freinville.

In that winter of 1926, Ernest Bruder, Dora's father, is sure to have been employed at the Westinghouse Brake Factory.

ERNEST BRUDER, BORN VIENNA, AUSTRIA, 21 MAY 1899· His childhood would have been spent in that city's Jewish quarter, Leopoldstadt. His own parents were almost certainly natives of Galicia or Bohemia or Moravia, having come, like the majority of Vienna' s Jews, from the eastern provinces of the Empire.

I had turned twenty in Vienna, in 1965, also the year when I was frequenting the Clignancourt districts. I lived on the Taubenstummengasse, behind the Karlskirche. My first few nights were spent in a sc:;edy hotel near the Western Station. I have memories of summer evenings spent in Sievering and Grinzing, and of parks where bands were playing. And, not far from Heilingenstadt, of a shack in the middle of some sortof allotment. Everything was closed on those July weekends, even the Café Hawelka. The city was deserted. Tramlines glistenedin the sunlight, crisscrossing the northwestern districtsas far as Pötzleinsdorf Park.

Some day, I shall go back to Vienna, a city I haven't seen for over thirty years. Perhaps I shall find Ernest Bruder's birth certificate in the Register Office of Vienna's Jewish community. I shall learn his father's first name, occupation, and birthplace, his mother's first name and maiden name. And whereabouts they had lived in that zone of the 2d district, somewhere between the Northern Station, the Prater, and the Danube.

Child and adolescent, he would have known the Prater, with its cafés, and its theater, the home of the Budapester. And the Sweden Bridge. And the courtyard of the Commodities Exchange, near the Taborstrasse. And the market square of the Carmelites.


Excerpted from Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano, Joanna Kilmartin. Copyright © 1999 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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