Page 39 - WTP Vol. VII #1
P. 39

 France has not yet fallen. Nor have the deportations on her forehead. He has a prominent nose, a receding begun. When they do, they will mean certain death. hairline. He wears glasses, and he bears an uncanny
resemblance to my father. I’m so taken with what I see, I photograph that photograph.
Now, all these years later, at this table, Germaine pops a bright pink raspberry macaron into her mouth, and she chews, mouth open.
Later, I will find that same picture in an archive of the United States Holocaust Museum. The man is Leo Cohn, and he is bending toward Noemi, his daughter,
a child of three or four. Cohn has come to the house
in Beaulieu to teach religion and music. A passionate Zionist, he also prepares young French Jews for aliyah, return to the homeland. Cohn plays the piano and
Carrying those macarons with me on the Metro, I pre- sented them when I arrived. Looking at the box, tied with a lavender ribbon, Germaine nodded her approv- al. I’d bought the macarons at Laduree. Not to be con- fused with those other macaroons, heavy, dense and stringy with coconut, these confections have names like orange blossom, cherry blossom and strawberry poppy, and they are ambrosia.
the flute, and like Germaine, he sings bass, and I will wonder if Leo Cohn and Germaine sang duets. During the War, Cohn travels widely, distributing false papers, escorting children across Swiss and Spanish borders. Under his guidance, five hundred children will reach Spain. Surprisingly, Franco becomes the Jews’ friend. Fearless, Cohn boards trains in cities and towns where the Gestapo hunt down Jews. On May 17, 1944, in
In Germaine’s apartment, where she has lived for more than thirty years, the furniture is well worn. Plants sit on bookcases and on window sills, peace
the Toulouse railroad station, his luck runs out. The Gestapo stop him.
“Germaine does not like her life in exile. Nor does she want to think
single word. “Déportés.”
Germaine’s gaze lingers on his image. Obviously, she is fond of this man. Then, slowly and softy, she says a
I try to imagine daily life at the children’s home. Most about leaving.” likely, Germaine and the three other caretakers taught
 lilies, ivy. On a side table, a purple orchid blooms. Sitting back in my chair, I expect to hear tales of harrowing escapes, of near captures, of slick moves, of life so heightened the hairs on the back of Ger- maine’s neck bristled nearly constantly. Instead,
she tells me of combing lice from the girls’ hair, of mending their clothes, of teaching music, songs she learned when she was a Girl Guide in Paris, Madame Gordin her leader.
lessons: math, history, geography. They taught sewing, cooking and music. Did they go for walks in the coun- tryside? Sit on benches and watch the Dordogne River flow past? Shop in the boulangerie? Did Germaine know what was happening outside of Beaulieu? What did she know of the children’s parents? When had she learned of the deportations? The camps?
Germaine opens an album filled with newspaper clip- pings and with photographs. On the table, loose photos are strewn like playing cards. All are pictures from those War years, girls with braids or wild unruly hair, girls with their hair parted left, parted right, all smiling into the camera. Pictures of the caretakers.
As Valerie translates, Germaine shakes her head, “No, No, No.” Only Madame Gordin, who had been to Germany, knew what was happening. And Madame Gordin told no one. A telling phrase, “been to Ger- many.” Secrets escaped. Like the children. But some- thing in Germaine’s story is not adding up. She fled Paris. Her family left Brive, then scattered. She was in hiding, for no one in town knew or was supposed to know these orphaned children were Jewish. And what of the adults who lived in the house? I imagine men and women knocking, softly. It is night, and they are returning from missions. Perhaps, delivering messag- es. Perhaps, fighting with an underground unit. How could Germaine not know these things?
In one, two young women and two young men, flank a third man. All sit on a bench, holding or sharing books. The men wear berets and tallit, prayer shawls. All are studying Torah. Distracted, the man in the center bends toward a young child, his cheek resting
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