Page 42 - WTP Vol. VII #1
P. 42

Hiding (continued from preceding page)
another man, Guido steals her away. Benigni’s antics are hilarious. He is slapstick; he is poignant; he is Charlie Chaplin and the Marx brothers. The year is 1939.
 Five years later, the Germans arrive in town. By now, Guido and Dora have a son, Giosue. Soldiers force Guido and Giosue into a cattle car. Refusing to leave her family, Dora boards the same train. At the death camp, guards separate Dora from Guido and Giosue. Would this have happened? Wouldn’t the child have gone with his mother or to his death?
As we speak, Valerie, Germaine and I, Germaine re- members a day when she sewed money and letters into the hems of the girls’ skirts. The Germans are everywhere. The house is no longer safe. Caretakers move the children to another house, then to another, what Germaine calls flying camps. This is an iconic story, safe houses that are no longer safe, money in hems, and now that story is here in this Parisian living room. Germaine does not believe the children suffered or were sad. Going to sleep in the evening, they asked her to kiss, kiss, and so she kissed.
Guido hides Giosue in the men’s barracks, sneaking him food. He tells Giosue the camp is a game. Quiet boys who hide from Nazi guards win points. Giosue must earn a thousand points. If he does, he will win a tank, a real tank. When Giosue asks about the other children he saw when he arrived, Guido tells him those children are better at hiding. Giosue believes his father’s lies. At the end of the war when the Americans are near and the camp breaks into chaos, Guido hides Giosue in a sweatbox, explaining this is the final move in the game. When an American tank liberates the camp, Giosue climbs out. There he is, a small boy, facing a gigantic tank and thinking he has won the game.
Valerie sets her tea cup down into her saucer without sound. “Germaine met a young man,” Valerie says. “He was a fighter, very handsome. He lived seventeen kilo- meters from Beaulieu. They married. He wasn’t—how do you say—not very nice. He found others. She had
Sitting in the car after the movie, I yank my seatbelt across my lap. “How could he do that, make a comedy about the Holocaust? Nobody won that game. Not the dead, not the survivors.” What am I saying? It wasn’t a game. For years we couldn’t talk about what hap- pened. For years those murders had no name.
“More than simple pleasure, naches
is the joy a child gives a parent, a grandparent, and like most Yiddish words, naches squiggles out from under definition.”
Dick backs out of our parking space, shifts into drive. “Maybe there’s another way to look at the film.”
three children one born in 1942, another in 1943, the third in 1944. He left her.”
 “There isn’t. There can’t be. There is no way Guido would have gotten away with all that. There’s no way that child would have survived. And what of those who didn’t. Where is Benigni on them?”
A breeze blows in the opened window, touches my neck. Married to a Resistance fighter who was not Leon. Returning from missions, her husband impreg- nates her three times. He makes love to other women. He leaves for good. No wonder Germaine has closed certain doors to memory.
“It’s not real,” Dick says. “That’s the point.”
“You’re right. That is the point.”
Not wanting to inflict pain—I’m not a brave interview- er—I drop the subject and ask Germaine to tell me about a single day she remembers, vividly.
I sulk all the way home, refusing to consider my hus- band’s words until this moment when I am sitting at my computer, writing and thinking about Germaine Poliakov and the world she created for those girls in Beaulieu, combing their hair and teaching them songs. Perhaps, she created a world for herself, too. And what of my own game—passing?
She talks of the final months of the war when German soldiers were moving toward Normandy. Nervous and edgy, they shoot, wildly. Pregnant, carrying her baby in her arms, holding her oldest child’s hand, dragging her along because that child is not yet steady on her legs, Germaine races for woods. She hears a shot. Again, she

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