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Paris under the dark shadow of the Nazis

A young Jewish woman describes life during the occupation in her newly published diary. She died in a German concentration camp.

January 13, 2008|Elaine Ganley | Associated Press

Accounts of life at the Drancy camp, which Sabbagh collected in "Lettres de Drancy," are "full of hope," he said, whereas "Helene Berr knew, said in her journal, that there was a large dark passage awaiting her."

Berr's final entry, on Feb. 15, 1944, closes with, "Horror! Horror! Horror!"



Excerpts from Helene Berr's diary

From "Helene Berr Journal," as translated by the Associated Press:

June 8, 1942

On the first day she was forced to wear the yellow star to distinguish Jews:

"My God, I didn't know this would be so hard. I was very brave all day. I held my head high and looked people so straight in the eyes they turned away. But it's hard. . . . This morning, I went out with Mother. Two kids in the street pointed at us saying, 'Hey? You see? Jewish.' "

Oct. 10, 1943

On the reason she recounts her daily life:

"I have a duty to accomplish by writing because people must know. Each hour of the day the painful experience is repeated, that of noticing that others don't know, that they don't even imagine the suffering of others and the evil that some inflict on others."

Oct. 30, 1943

On encountering German soldiers in Paris:

"Place de la Concorde, I passed so many Germans! with women, and despite my wish for impartiality, despite my ideal . . . I was swept by a wave not of hate, because I don't know hate, but of revolt, nausea, disdain. These men, without knowing it, took the joie de vivre from all Europe . . . . And in this moment of disgust there was no consideration of my special case, I didn't think of persecutions."

Nov. 1, 1943

"I am not afraid of death now because I think that when it is before me I'll no longer think. I will know how to remove from my mind the idea of loss, as I know so well how to forget what I want."

Feb. 15, 1944

"Why . . . does the German soldier whom I pass in the street not slap me, not insult me? . . . They don't even see the illogical incomprehension there is in holding the Metro door for me and maybe tomorrow deporting me."

The English-language edition of the French book will be translated by David Bellos of Princeton University for Britain's MacLehose Press.

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