Friday, 14 November 2008

One think leads to another..

It is strange how random thoughts form the occasional cluster.

La Fille stuck the paper poppy I bought her in London in her school book alongside a felt-pen drawing of mamie her French grandmother. She and her classmates are expected to explain their "homework" presumably to stymie pushy parents who do squiddly à la Picasso drawings for them, and I asked her what she had said about the poppy. "I said it was a flower from London," she told me. I asked if she had explained it was for the soldiers in the war (I admit, I coached her) and she gave me a withering look. "The teacher speaks French and I don't know the French for 'soldier'," she said then added: "And I don't know what war means." Fair point, I thought.

Anyway, one thought led to another...and while she was at school explaining her paper poppy, I finished reading David Golder by Irène Némirovsky, whose most celebrated book Suite Française was written just before she was transported from France to Auschwitz where she was killed. Published a decade before World War II, David Golder is a bleak story full of such irredeemably awful people I felt I was being physically mugged as I read it. I had a frisson of sympathy for the main character Golder, but only because he is comprehensively done-over by his beloved only child, a daughter, and as the mother of a beloved only child, La Fille, I am appalled by the idea of beloved only children doing over their doting parents. (It's a solipsistic and intellectually dubious response I know, but I can't help it).

And when I think of Irène Némirovsky I always think of her two daughters Denise and Elisabeth who, their mother having been shipped off to the Nazis' most notorious but by no means unique, concentration camp, find themselves, aged five and ten, being hunted down by the collaborationist French police.

Perhaps it was this subconscious train of thought that led me to look up as I walked through the park huddled into the collar of my coat and notice the memorial for the first time; a park I have visited dozens and dozens of times thus a memorial I have walked past dozens and dozens of times without noticing.

It reads: "Arrested by police of the Vichy government, complicit in the Nazi occupation, more than 11,000 children were deported from France between 1942 and 1944 and assassinated at Auschwitz because they were born Jews. More than 500 of these children lived in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris among them 85 of the very youngest who had not even reached school age. In passing read their names. Your memory is their only resting place." There follows the names of 85 children, the eldest of them six-years-old, the youngest, just two months, several from the same family.

And I thought of La Fille and her paper poppy and blissful ignorance of war.

7 comments:

Cimon said...

You also probably have a (shorter) list of names in la fille's school.
Those of the pupils who were sent to concentration / extermination camps (and I guess never came back, otherwise they would not write their names down) and were studying at the very same school as her...

Parisgirl said...

Cimon, Thanks. I've seen the plaques on school walls but I didn't know they also displayed something inside. I'll have a look. It was the particular phrase "tout-petits" on this memorial that made me catch my breath.

Stinking Billy said...

paris girl,, I don't know how you came by me, but I have no French (other than 'Ave vou my mate's mess-tin?') from a National Service joke, circa 1954, and 'solipstic' sealed it for me. I am a philistine but do not desert me, please?

The Boisterous Butterfly said...

I'm afraid that we will start to forget and we never must. We never must stop talking about it as if it happened yesterday, because it is still happening all over the world in one form or another. We Europeans must never forget what we did, though. The best and the worst.

Mignon said...

I really loved this post. Keep your little girl blissful as long as you can. She will soon discover the ugliness of war soon enough. Peace...

Iota said...

That gives me goosebumps, just reading it. Each generation looks at their children, and thinks "never again", and then it always happens again. What is wrong with us?

parisgirl said...

Billy, sorry to be dim but do please explain the National Service joke.
BB, I agree, Mignon and Iota, thanks.