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.