Page 41 - WTP Vol. VII #1
P. 41

is translated, “espagnol, italien, allemand, English, japonais. These shelves hold a pair of brass candle- sticks—a ubiquitous presence in Jewish homes—and family photographs—babies, children, adolescents, adults, and I feel as if I am watching time pass through generations. Germaine points to a photo of a sensitive looking man with a large nose, large ears, and eyes that look inward. “Leon,” she says, her gaze lingering.
vacant apartment.
 Clearly, she misses him.
Valerie pushes her black-framed glasses onto her nose. She is a short, full-breasted woman with curly blond hair and pooling brown eyes, smiling now, as she speaks. “They had nothing to eat, so Leon buys food. The rabbi says, ‘Not this food It’s not kosher.’ On Yom Kippur Chneerson wants to blow the shofar.” The ram’s horn.
Leon Poliakov worked with the Resistance. Was he one of the young men knocking softly at that door in Beaulieu? Germaine talks to Valerie, and I am lis- tening, trying to understand. I haven’t asked a ques- tion in three or four minutes, and I have a distinct
“An immigrant from a place
she called Russ-Poland, she was looking for the vapor of something I couldn’t see.”
“Leon says, ‘There is no way you can blow the shofar.’
feeling I have lost complete control of this inter- view, if I’d had any control to begin with. Finally, Valerie asks if I “know” Rabbi Zalman Chneerson. I recall a Schneerson who is—was?—a big deal Has- sidic rabbi in Brooklyn, but what does he have to do with Germaine’s story of caring for Jewish orphans in Vichy France?
A moment of levity inside a cloud of doom. A story of Leon’s cleverness, his triumph. Yet, the story is so much more, touching on that essential question: What does it mean to be Jew? For some the shofar must sound. For others silence works, too.
Valerie says, “Leon helped the rabbi escape.”
In “The Meaning of Homeland,” an essay from Under the Blazing Light, Amos Oz says, “I am a Jew and a Zi- onist.” Oz, an Israeli writer, is not religious. No revela- tion. No faith. According to Oz, a Jew is person who calls herself or himself a Jew or one who others force to be a Jew. “A Jew, in my unhalachic (not according to the law) opinion,” Oz says, “is someone who chooses to share the fate of other Jews, or who is condemned to do so. ~
This is diversion. But, not wanting to be rude, I listen.
In early September of 1943, the Italians changed sides and made a pact with the Allies. Assuming they would be safe, twenty-five thousand Jews fled to Nice, only to fall into a German trap. After rounding up six thou- sand Jews, the Nazis deported them to Drancy, then
Leaving a movie theater with Dick, my husband, one night in 1998, I am furious. We have just seen the award winning film, Life is Beautiful, which Roberto Benigni wrote and directed, and in which he also starred. Here’s the story. Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian waiter romances Dora, a wealthy aristocratic young woman from a non Jewish family. Dora meets Guido, suddenly and unexpectedly, when he falls from a hayloft into her arms. Although Dora is engaged to
to the East, which meant certain death. At that time, Leon and the rabbi had been working together to save Jewish children, moving them along ahead of the Nazis. Nice was a mistake. With much difficulty, Leon managed to procure trucks. Hiding the children under empty cardboard boxes in the trucks’ open beds, he smuggled them to a safer place. At the end of Sep- tember, still in Nice, Poliakov and Chneerson hid in a
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“Chneerson says, ‘On Yom Kippur I blow the shofar.’
“Leon says, ‘Wait. Promise, you’ll wait until I return.’
“So, Leon goes to the railroad station and he checks the...”
Valerie gestures with her hand. “How do you say in English horaire?” I shake my head. She goes on. “Leon goes back to the flat. He shows the rabbi a paper (ah, schedule), and he says to the rabbi, ‘You can blow
the shofar here and here.’ So when the train goes by Chneerson blows.”

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