FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld  

 
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anniversary of the first deportation convoy from France by duplicating its route to Auschwitz. The organization also created a striking memorial to the French Holocaust at Roglit, Israel, overlooking the valley where David slew Goliath. A long, slightly curving wall on which are inscribed the 76,000 names of the victims, the memorial is a conceptual precursor to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. A different kind of memorial is the plaque at the Hotel du Parc in Vichy, headquarters of the Vichy régime (1940-44). No other public recognition is to be found in this pleasant resort town recalling the "crimes and dishonor" of Vichy.

Understandably, given the high drama of the Klarsfelds' actions against Nazi criminals, their parallel and equally astonishing publication record is not so well known by the public. Yet, for over 30 years, Serge Klarsfeld has written or produced dozens of original books, meant to be tools of explication, evidence, and memory. Some document Nazi crimes, some point fingers elsewhere by revealing the contents of hard-won official files. A prime example is Vichy-Auschwitz (written by Klarsfeld and published in 1983 and 1985 in two volumes by Fayard in Paris), which tells the story, with meticulous documentation, of the role of the Vichy government in the Final Solution in France. The Calendrier de la Persécution des Juifs de France (written, edited, and published in 1993 by Klarsfeld in France) is a deceptively compact, yellow-covered tome in which the day-by-day recounting of the Holocaust as it unfolded in France becomes a universe of suffering even before the transport of the victims to Auschwitz. One book which manages to stand out even within the Klarsfeld canon is Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers (published in 1989 by the Beate Klarsfeld Foundation in New York). This oversized work, reprinting German blueprints and correspondence concerning the construction of the killing apparatus, counters the perennial lie that the gas chambers were not big enough to carry out genocide. Author Jean-Claude Pressac, once a Holocaust doubter, was converted to a believer after several study trips to Auschwitz.

In the autumn of 1979, I flew to Paris, on assignment for the New York Times Magazine, to cover the impending trial in Cologne of those three top Nazis who'd been active in France. After the overnight trip from New York, I'd hoped to adjourn with the Klarsfelds to a café for a chat over a restorative cup of coffee. But, arriving at the couple's office, then on the Rue de Rivoli, I found a more pressing task at hand: Amidst much bustle, Beate was preparing to hand deliver to Paris newspapers copies of a large book, about the size of the Manhattan telephone directory, that was fresh off the press, Le Mémorial de la Déportation des Juifs de France ("The Memorial to Jews Deported from France"). Seeing Beate weighed down by her load, I could no longer think of lounging in a café and instead offered to help her on her delivery rounds while Serge remained behind, preparing for the trial. Only later did I examine the Mémorial. What I saw, even after having perused numerous Holocaust narratives, had a revelatory impact. Here were the 76,000 names of Auschwitz-bound Jews, listed by train convoy and identified by last name, first name, date of birth, place of birth, and nationality (or lack of one if stripped of citizenship). Whole families, from grandparents born in
    
   

FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld

 
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