Page 38 - WTP Vol. VII #1
P. 38

 The year is 1939. Germaine Rousso, twenty years old, walks along a street in Brive, a town four hun- dred and eighty-two kilometers south of Paris. Afraid of bombs, her family has fled the capital. In Paris, Ger- maine and her sisters had formed Le Trio Rousso with Germaine singing la bas, the bass. The trio had just won a contest, but instead of giving them the promised contract to sing on the radio, management paid them off. Rousso, her last name has a strange spelling for a French citizen: R-o-u-s-s-o. Noticeable.
As a child, Germaine belonged to the Eclaireurs Israel- ites, Jewish Scouts, an organization with the usual scouting aims—to empower girls and teach them val- ues: honesty, fairness, courage and compassion with
sensible. She is what the French call formidable, extraordinary, mighty, smashing. Madame Germaine Rousso Poliakov does not speak English. I speak lim- ited French. We talk through Valerie, my friend and interpreter; yet, I understand, immediately, Germaine will be the woman in charge, telling the story she wants me to hear. She stretches a bare arm along this dining room table and leans in. “At home she is lost,” Valerie says. “She thinks maybe with Madame Gordin, she can have a life. Show herself. Be somebody. Maybe, she wouldn’t mind taking care of young girls.”
a Jewish kicker: preventing total assimilation. When Hitler came to power and German Jews poured into France, the Eclaireurs Israelites played a considerable role resisting the Nazis. Leo Cohn, teacher, musician, Zionist and leader in the Jewish Scouts, was one of those who came to France. Later, he’d meet Germaine.
I imagine the family, all eating supper when Germaine tells them her news. It is as if I can see her father lowering his wine glass to the table, as if I can hear his voice, telling his daughter she’ll do no such thing. Ger- maine does not like these arguments. She is not good at them, but she is determined. “I’m going to Beaulieu to help Madame Gordin manage girls,” she says.
Someone calls her name. Who could that be? Germaine knows no one in Brive. She turns to see Madame Gordin, her old scout leader. Astonishing. How can
that be? She is here. They kiss, kiss the French way. Madame tells Germaine about a house she is managing in a Beaulieu, a small village on the Dordogne River about thirty kilometers southeast of Brive. Every day, more and more girls arrive from Germany. Jewish girls. Hardly listening to this talk of refugees, Germaine tells Madame about the Trio Rousso, her disappointment, her ennui. Madame says, “Germaine, I need you to help me manage these girls. Please, come to Beaulieu.”
Her mother pauses, fork in the air. “Please, listen to Papa.”
Germaine’s family is large, her mother, her father and seven siblings, all wondering whether they will stay
in Brive or move on. But to where? Germaine does not like her life in exile. Nor does she want to think about leaving. Perhaps, too, she has left a young man in Paris, but telling me her story, all these years later on this September day in 2011 inside her flat, a fourth floor walkup in Maissy-Palaiseau, twelve kilometers south of Paris—Germaine does not say.
She refuses to think of danger or of war. She wants a life. “Madame Gordin needs me.”
Her sisters and brothers burst out laughing. Germaine pulls herself up tall. “Laugh all you want. I’m going to Beaulieu.”
Vibrant in her periwinkle blue V necked jersey dress, Germaine looks twenty years younger than her ninety- two years. Her lipstick is watermelon pink lipstick,
her hair auburn. Her earrings are clip-ons, her watch
Her mother touches her arm. “Please, Germaine, don’t do this.”
A tall boy with an upper lip that curls, her brother smirks. “I can just see you making beds.”
Germaine pretends she isn’t bothered, but her brother is correct. She doesn’t make her bed or pick up her clothes. She hates housework. She takes a breath. “I want to do this.”
“Germaine, a house with Jewish children,” her mother implores. “Think of the danger. If something happens, how will you leave?”
“Of course, she needs you,” her father says, firmly.
Her brother stands. “Me? What do I want? I’m leaving tonight, joining the Royal Air Force.”
She looks down at her mother’s fingers, the deepening circles around her knuckles. “I’m sorry, Mama.”
SanDeLL MorSe

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