The memoirs of Holocaust survivor Saul Friedländer

Cover00Daphne Merkin at Bookforum:

Somewhere a child is being hidden. The time is mid-July, 1942, and the first great roundup of Jews—more than thirteen thousand foreign Jews in all, including four thousand children—has begun in Paris, to be followed by more arrests days later in the unoccupied zones. A small boy—"born in Prague at the worst possible moment, four months before Hitler came to power," he recalls in the memoir he will grow up to write—has been living for two years in Néris, a resort town in France known for its waters, with his parents. Before this, the family has been continually on the run, trying to flee across the Hungarian border by car before discovering that the Germans had already occupied Hungary, and then settling in Paris, where the father, once vice president of a large German insurance company in Czechoslovakia, studies to be a cheesemaker and the mother a beautician. They have learned to keep their heads low, in hopes of going undetected by the glare of the Nazi searchlight. The boy has grown up in the assimilated context of the Central European Jewish bourgeoisie: "We observed none of the rules of life that Orthodoxy laid down, celebrated none of the holidays, respected none of the customs." The first song he was taught when given piano lessons was a funeral march played in the German army and performed at ceremonial occasions during the Third Reich.

The boy, whose name is Pavel—it will be changed to "Paul" when his family escapes to France—is an avid reader, devouring Jules Verne, Karl May, Jack London, and a novel of Pearl Buck's, The Patriot, that his mother is reading.

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