“I’m frightened, Mother. Last year, I was seven years old. This year, I’m eight and so many years separate these two ages. I have learned that I am Jewish, that I am a monster, and that I must hide myself. I’m frightened all the time.”—Francine Christophe.
Francine Christophe’s account begins in 1939, when her father was called up to fight with the French army. A year later he was taken prisoner by the Germans. Hearing of the Jewish arrests in France from his prison camp, he begged his wife and daughter to flee Paris for the unoccupied southern zone. They were arrested during the attempted escape and subsequently interned in the French camps of Poitiers, Drancy, and Beaune-la-Rolande. In 1944 they were deported to Bergen-Belsen in Germany.
In short, seemingly neutral paragraphs, Christophe relates the trials that she and her mother underwent. Writing in the present tense, she tells her story without passion, without judgment, without complaint. Yet from these unpretentious, staccato sentences surges a well of tenderness and human warmth. We live through the child’s experiences, as if we had gone hand-in-hand with her through the death camps.
|Publisher:||UNP - Bison Books|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.35(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.46(d)|
About the Author
Francine Christophe lives in Rocquencourt, France. Christine Burls is a professional translator. Nathan Bracher is an associate professor of French at Texas A & M University and the translator of Vichy: An Everpresent Past by Éric Conan and Henry Rousso.
Read an Excerpt
This is not a full account, but a series of snapshots.Many have been lost in my childhoodmemory, some have yellowed with age; I have keptonly the clear images.
What follows is totally without literary pretension.From the age of twelve, I noted down my memoriesas they emerged from the spiritual desert intowhich suffering had plunged me, thinking eventhen that I should bear witness.
This little book was therefore inside my head.It took me only a few weeks to compose it in1967, bringing together my ideas and notes.
I was a privileged little girl, because my father hadbeen taken prisoner. And curious as it seems, that iswhat saved my life.
It all begins in Deauville, where Granny has rented a villafor the whole family: Uncle Daniel, Aunt Suzanne, theirtwo daughters, Father, Mother, and myself.
Deauville in August '39, the sea and sand, the stroll fromthe town to the beach in long white bath robes, the children'sclub beach balls, taller than ourselves, onto whichwe are hoisted to be photographed.
And one day, when we come home, the radio is blaring inthe house. Father and Mother go up to their room, verypale: Father comes back down wearing a suit and tie.
Kisses, smothering kisses, arms wrapped tightly, heartsbursting. The station, the train. And the radio that blareson about pink and blue forms.
I am six years old.
Later, Granny and Uncle Charles (he is Granny's secondhusband and we don't call him Grandpa) rent an apartmentin Cimiez, above Nice. I go to school there andinstantly pick up the lilting accent of the South.
Father obtains his first leave. Mother goes to pick him upat the station, and the way they lookat each other fills mewith contentment.
We go for a walk on the Promenade des Anglais. Motheris very beautiful, Father is magnificent with his doublebraided officer's cap, and I feel rather splendid myselfwith my grey coat from Mirkey, rue Saint Honoré, theshop founded by my grandmother.
Like the soldiers, I'm wearing a little army cap, the samegrey as my coat.
Back to Paris.
People are saying it's a "funny kind of war" (une drôlede guerre), and indeed it is funny to go to school with asatchel in one hand and a gas mask in the other.
We live with Grandmother, on the rue Saint Honoré. Theprimary school on the rue de la Ville l'Evêque is next toan old house with a deep cellar, where we rehearse airraid drills. One of my school friends has a prettier maskthan mine, funnier too, with a little capsule you can takeoff. Mine ends in a tube. I look like a funny elephant.
The way Mother helps me prepare my things every eveningis funny too, woollen underwear on top of the pile(we mustn't catch cold in the cellars!).
Ah! If only Father were here too, how much fun the warwould be.
June 1940. I'm six and a half. We are at La Baule, for a newkind of holiday, which Mother calls an "exodus."
She and I take a room with some local people; AuntSuzanne and the girls come too.
People are going crazy everywhere. One day, the linesfor the shops stretch all the way down the street andeverything on the shelves disappears.
We have to cross the Loire, say the grown-ups. "We'll leavetomorrow with Aunt Suzanne, who has a car."
And bang! The next day I have German measles ...it lasts forty-eight hours, but it's already too late. Forty-eighthours later, I watch a stream of roaring motorbikesgo by, ridden by very young, very handsome (the invasiontroops had been carefully chosen for their good looks),very well dressed (all in green) ... and very well armed,soldiers.
On the radio, we hear an appeal from a French generalsaying that one day we will win the war. Few people hearthis appeal, but our landlady's son, a saddler, is leavingimmediately to join this general, so he says.
A few days later, everyone has to take their radios along tothe police station.
We have to return to Paris. With difficulty, we find twoplaces in a train full of refugees from the North, nowreturning home because the invasion troops are everywhere.
For the journey, Mother puts an apron on me, and as Icomplain about it, says:
"These people have lost everything, darling, we mustn'tmake them feel worse by parading such a pretty dress."
So I keep my apron on.
Father was fighting in Amiens during the bombing ofthe town. Apparently the commanding officers left, andFather brings the remainder of his men back to the Loirealone. This is called the Amiens retreat.
From Clisson, he sends us a photo showing his beard andhollow cheeks.
Many officers have been grouped together there, andthe high command makes them give their word of honoras French officers that they will not desert.
They all give their word ... and are all taken prisoner.
The Germans send them to Laval.
We set off there. We stay in a family boarding house andeat at a restaurant.
One lunchtime, a German soldier calls me over and offersme a sweet. "She never eats sweets!" cries Mother ... "Asyou wish, my dear." And he laughs.
When he leaves, the waitress explains that he had beena barber in the neighboring street for the past five yearsand has just revealed his nationality and spying activities.
He knows everyone and everyone is afraid of him.
As for Father, he is staying in the Grand Séminaire atLaval. On our first visit there, he explains that around6,000 officers occupy a seminary meant for 150, thatthey sleep anywhere and everywhere, in the corridors,the toilets, the kitchens, and ... that they eat out of thechamber pots, buckets, and so on belonging to the nunswho did the cooking for the young priests. I think it's abit dirty.
18 August 1940. I am seven.
Mother buys a huge cake and we leave for the Seminary.At the entrance, the sentry on duty goes through all theparcels and shakes the cake box violently.
"The imbecile!" cries Mother. Then she blanches andadds, "No, no, he can't have understood!" Neither did I.
We rejoin Father and his companions, who look worriedwhen she tells them what she said.
We eat my cake, crushed, broken, but delicious all thesame. Father and Mother kiss. It's hot, the grass is limp.What a wonderful seventh birthday.
Two days later, at visiting time, a mass of green-clad,armed soldiers bar the entrance.
Mother obtains permission to embrace Father. And,under the surveillance of the sentinels, Father holds usvery close.
Excerpted from From a World Apart by Francine Christophe. Copyright © 2000 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
|List of Illustrations||ix|
|Introduction by Nathan Bracher||xi|
|From a World Apart||1|