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The Gift of the Memory of a Nation

From the dining room table on which I have the laptop and all the necessary working tools (coffee, phone, files), there is a view of the ocean, South Beach, Ocean Drive, a swimming pool, palm trees and luxury high-rise condos. We’re staying in one of them with all the creature comforts I’d almost forgotten existed à la Americain.

Miami is a beautiful American city, with a stunning assortment of skyscrapers (mostly downtown), low-level Art Deco designed hotels painted in bright pastels, adorned by lush greenery. I love the tones of blues and greens on a foundation of sand beiges and whites. It’s exactly what I have in mind to decorate the next rental apartment à la Saint-Tropez.

On the plane over, from cover to cover I read a book titled “Sarah’s Key” that my friend and poet, Cecilia Woloch, had sent me simply because the story is centered on what took place in an apartment on my street, rue de Saintonge, in the summer of 1942. If I had known that about it prior to receiving it as a gift, I would certainly have attended the reading and booksigning by author Tatiana de Rosnay at the Village Voice Bookshop on February 7th (6 rue Princesse, 6th). It is distressing to have missed the opportunity to have heard her thoughts about her important subject matter.

The story starts at 4 a.m. on July 16, 1942, when almost 13,000 Jews, of which more than 4,000 were children, were rounded up by the French police by order of the German Gestapo, and (most of which) were taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver in the 15th arrondissement before being taken to the internment camp at Drancy. The Vélodrome d’Hiver (known as the “Vél d’Hiv”) prior to this had been an indoor cycle track at the corner of the boulevard de Grenelle and the rue Nélaton, close to the Eiffel Tower. From there, almost two-thirds were deported to Auschwitz and murdered. The family residing at 26, rue de Saintonge were among them, including a brave young girl, named Sarah who held an important secret and a key to that secret that haunted her and many others until it is revealed by a curious journalist.

As I was reading the story, with tears welling up, I could easily imagine my own apartment, now under complete renovation, possibly excavating a similarly horrible tale. I had once heard a story by someone who had visited my apartment, remembering it as the apartment of her Jewish aunt and uncle, who was a dentist seeing patients “au noi

r” (illegally) in the living room!

Then, as coincidence would have it, just this past week, President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke in Périgueux, promoting an educational curriculum based on the remembrance of these young victims of the Nazis. Journalist Elaine Sciolino reported in the New York Times on February 16th, that he “dropped an intellectual bombshell” by “surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum…” If he has his way, as of this coming fall, “every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.” Plaques commemorating these children are already on buildings all over the Marais, including my own daughter’s “college” (middle school) on rue Béranger, so this black history will never be forgotten.

(To read the story by Elaine Sciolino, click here.)

One can easily imagine the controversy centered on separation of religion and state, and the question of exposing what could be traumatic to a young citizen, but underlying there is the embarrassment of France’s history during World War II. Ms. Sciolino reveals them all well in her article and notes, “In France, a country where one’s religion is typically kept private, Mr. Sarkozy heralds his religious identity, referring publicly to his Jewish grandfather and wearing his Roman Catholicism on his sleeve.”

Personally, I believe that ignorance is of no value whatsoever. Knowledge is power — knowledge on any level. True and accurate information should never be withheld and who are we to judge who should hold the knowledge and who should not? That in itself, gives us each too much power over others. Sarkozy said in his speech vowing to proceed in the face of controversy, “It is ignorance ­ not knowledge ­ that leads to the repetition of abominable situations,” adding, “You do not traumatize children by giving them the gift of the memory of a country.”

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. Don’t miss the upcoming readings of our Parler Paris friends:

Monday, March 24th at Shakespeare & Co. (7 p.m., 37, rue de la Bûcherie, 5th) with David Andelman about his newest book, “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.” For more information, visit http://www.shakespeareco.org

Tuesday, March 25th at the Village Voice (6, rue Princesse, 6th) with Kathleen Spivack reading from her new collection of poetry, “Moments of Past Happiness.” For more information, visit http://www.villagevoicebookshop.com

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