FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld  

 
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Queen Victoria's prime to babies born behind French barbed wire, appeared on the lists. Some of these families were deported together. Others were split so that children separated from their parents were forced to make the horrific journey uncomforted by loved ones. "In spite of our own domestic happiness," Serge wrote in his preface, "we often wept when confronted with the images which loomed from these lists full of children's names."

Though primarily meant as an act of "piety and homage" to the victims, the Mémorial also functioned as legal evidence. Its text explicated the deportation machinery in France, named its German operatives and French collaborators, and catalogued their official telegrams and internal memos. Introduced at the Cologne trial, this book was consulted by the judges and helped to convict the three defendants, Lischka, Heinrichson, and Hagen. Long after assuming they were quite literally "home free," this trio went to jail.

The Mémorial, published in an American edition in 1983 and now out of print, seemed definitive to all but Serge Klarsfeld. He resisted requests to reprint it, choosing, rather, to build on it and further advance the restoration of memory. The result is the book in your hands. The world knows the face of Anne Frank. Here are the faces of 2,500 children, under age 18, all but a tiny fraction soon to be killed. There's a depthless quality to the children's memorial. No matter how often I open it to a random page, it seems there's always a new face, solemn or smiling, that I'd missed, as from a luminous spring burbling up from a dark source. Each time, with the same fragile optimism, I out check convoy number, hoping it's a later one from 1944, allowing for the slight chance that the child survived if he or she was old enough to be selected for slave labor. Far more likely, the convoy falls in that dreadful summer and fall of 1942, following the mass arrests of Jews in both Occupied and Vichy France, when more than half of these children were deported. From that time, almost no child survived.

A cold silence once enveloped Vichy's crimes. It would be broken, Serge Klarsfeld once predicted, by the actions of the sons and daughters of deportees. That silence, early on, was total. Consider the publication in 1947 of Our Vichy Gamble, by William Langer, Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University. In this major study of the U.S.-Vichy diplomacy, not a single mention is made of the state's anti-Jewish laws, arrests, incarceration, and delivery of victims for deportation, nor even that Vichy had a commissioner of Jewish Affairs. Jews do not exist in Langer's portrayal of Vichy. It is a long way from that vacuum to the publication of this book.

It is invidious to single out any one image from the children's memorial for attention. Still, I must point to one that strikingly shows how incomprehensible was the prospect of Holocaust to Jews in France. It's the Kogan family's 1941 New Year's card from Paris, featuring a photo of baby Marceline and offering the wish that 1942 will be a "good year." How to imagine that it would be the year in which Marceline and her mother would be arrested, deported, and murdered at Auschwitz?

The Klarsfelds have always placed an emphasis on the deported children. To me, that emphasis was puzzling. Why single any group when all met the same end? Then I became a parent, as the Klarsfelds already
    
   

FRENCH CHILDREN OF THE HOLOCAUST

A memorial
Serge Klarsfeld

 
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