Page 40 - WTP Vol. VII #1
P. 40

Hiding (continued from preceding page)
She pulls back from the table. I have touched a bruise not so much about how Jews survived.”
 or an old, still tender wound. Speaking to Valerie, her gaze does not leave my face. “Pourquoi est-elle si inté- ressés par ce sujet?”
Germaine gives me a long disdainful look as if to say, We have brilliant stories of survival—Primo Levi, Eli Wiesel, and of an interrupted life, Etty Hillesum—and
I understand every word. Why is she—me—so inter- she is correct.
ested in this subject? Lifting my pen from the page, I look beyond Germaine’s shoulder at two worn chairs, their velvet apricot upholstery faded. Could they be a remnant of the days Germaine had lived in Paris with her family? I want to tell her that during the years she hid in Beaulieu, I was a child wrapping myself inside
a long blue curtain, watching my grandmother’s thick fingers part Venetian blinds to make a slit for her to peer through. It was dark outside, dark inside. In the blackout, my grandmother wasn’t looking for planes. An immigrant from a place she called Russ-Poland, she was looking for the vapor of something I couldn’t see. Something, she could. Something I was searching for now.
I want to tell Germaine that I grew up in small New Jersey towns with a German-Jewish father who in- sisted that being Jewish was no different from being Christian. I tried to believe his lie, despite the bagels he brought home for us to eat Sunday mornings. De- spite my need to erase my grandmother’s Yiddish lilt from my speech. Which I did. Small boned and wiry, whenever I entered a new classroom or a new social group, I passed until an anti-Semitic remark—Jew him down; Just like a Jew; Don’t be a Jew—loosened my tongue.
of wine and beer, a wooden table, laugher. Someone whispers, “Shh, you’ll wake the girls.”
I’m Jewish.
No, Sandy, you’re not. I am.
You don’t look Jewish.
Preparing for this interview, I’d memorized a brief time line. September 1, 1939, France declares war on Germany. Nothing happens until May of 1940 when the German army, skirting the Maginot Line, invades Belgium and marches into France. In June, France surrenders. In September, the Germans implement their anti-Jewish policies in occupied areas, stamping identity cards in red: Jew. Mass arrests of Jews with Eastern European Citizenship begin. Soon, all Jews, even those with French citizenship sew yellow Stars of David to their outer garments. Arrests and depor- tations include Jews with French citizenship. Late in 1942, Germany invades the Free Zone, ending the sup- posed independence of the Vichy government. They
Playing that hiding game, I denied an essential part of arrest Jews, French police participating.
myself. So why did I do it? I wanted to prove—still want to prove—there’s no such thing as looking Jew- ish. I wanted to say, I’m just like you. If you can’t tell, how can I be Other? So, who is a Jew? And who de- cides? And where is God in all of this?
Germaine didn’t know? Or suspect? I agree with that Spielberg interviewer, Germaine is hiding something.
Germaine may not ask these questions of herself, but I see them in her story. She was secular, yet drawn to Leo Cohn, the rabbi, the Zionist. She hid girls, hid herself. She taught those girls Jewish songs. But, I can’t distill my thoughts into a coherent question. And here is the dilemma of translation. Valerie knows English, but she does not know translation, idiom and nuance, so I say, “We know the stories of how Jews died, but
Bookshelves line a wall behind the table where we sit. Germaine is the widow of Leon Poliakov, teacher, historian, winner of the Prix Edmond Weil, the Prix du Judiasme Françgais. A leading authority on anti- Semitism, Leon Poliakov translated archives of the Gestapo. He accompanied the French delegation to Nuremberg. Proudly, Germaine gestures to Leon’s books, reciting each language into which his work
Fifteen years ago, a researcher, working for Steven Spielberg, sat at this table, probing for Germaine’s hidden story. Germaine told the woman what she was telling me. “I wasn’t frightened. I had no problem. Life was ordinary. I had a job. I did it. I wasn’t depressed. Stop telling me I was depressed.”
Again, I imagine Germaine, young, living in secret. She opens a door. Three, four, five Resistance fighters enter the kitchen, bringing with them the scent of danger, the exhilaration of escape. I imagine bottles

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