The other day when I was preparing to leave for Paris, with our friend's daughter Natacha, I went over to Annie's to say good bye as I usually do before going somewhere. I have said goodbye to Annie over the years many times while venturing to Paris and beyond. But this time Annie said, "I have only been to Paris once: I was twenty-five." It surprised me, but then Annie has traveled to many other places so I assumed that between family, work, her age and other travels, that Paris happened to be a one time deal and nothing more.
Photo source listed below.
Photo source listed below
Kathy B., a blog reader/friend of Tongue in Cheek, asked in the comment section, "Why had Annie traveled to Paris that long ago day? Wasn't that during WWII?" Kathy B.'s comment got me thinking... as soon as I came home I asked Annie if when she went to Paris it was during the second world war?
It is funny how one thing can lead to another. How we can have something right in front of us, under our noses so to speak, and not give it a second thought. Then out of nowhere, something triggers something, and that which is right in front of us, small and unassuming, or deep and painful, comes up and surprises us as if it has been hiding in the dark recesses of a cave in the middle of nowhere.
Annie's story of why she went to Paris when she was twenty-five did just that. What she told me about her travels it coincided with what I was reading at the time: Sarah's Key.
Annie's tale and Sarah's key opened a passage that left me searching to know more, wondering how such horrific hatred could engulf so many people at the same time? How fear can save us, yet lead us to an ugly truth about ourselves.
Annie told me that her Aunt and Uncle had been rounded up in the massive raid in Marseille's Panier district, lead by the Nazis and fueled by the French police, in 1943. Her Aunt and Uncle were Greek Orthodox, who lived, and had a successful business in the Panier. Though that did not matter, as tens of thousands others were also rounded up and taken to prison in no other name but hatred, injustice and cruelty.
Annie's Aunt and Uncle were taken a camp in Hyeres, before taken to a holding camp next to Paris, were her Uncle was directly deported to the death camp in Germany. Never to be seen again. Her Aunt, later said, "The French police knocked on our door ordering us to take an over night bag and to follow them. We told them we were not Jewish but Greek Orthodox, that we were Royalist not communist, showing them our papers, but it didn't matter. Our neighbors, who were Jewish, heard the commotion, their teenage son climbed on to the roof fortunately escaping, though his parents did not."
Annie's parents bought tickets for her and her older sister to go to Paris to see if they could "save" their Aunt and Uncle. Annie said they had heard that some people were able to "save" their family or friends if they went to the holding camp near Paris with baptismal records of those held. Annie went with her older sister to Paris. Her Aunt and Uncle had been gone for over a month.
I asked her if she was scared. That didn't the raging war cause her to fear for her life while she took the train (over twelve hours long) from Marseille to Paris. Let alone go to the holding camp outside of Paris certainly aimed for the concentration camps frighten her?
As Annie told her Aunt and Uncle's story I was awestruck at Annie's wisdom, her courage, her practicality... her faith, her love for her family... for everything true, for life.
Annie simply said no. She said, "I went because my parents asked me to accompany my older sister. I left my baby with my family. When we arrived in Paris, my older sister made me stay at a friend's home because she said it was too dangerous for both of us to go to the holding camp. It was known that often if you went to "save" someone, or argue about what was happening, at the holding camp they could take you too. It wasn't sure that you could "save" anyone, let alone yourself. My older sister was strong and brave. She said I couldn't go with her, she said I had done enough by coming with her, and besides I had a baby at home and she did not have any children. My sister refused to let me go with her."
Annie stayed in Paris a few days and returned home alone. Her sister followed a few weeks later with her Aunt.
Their Aunt was never the same. She lost everything; her husband was dead, her home was destroyed, their business ruined, the Panier, her neighborhood, razed by bombs ... plus what she had seen and experinced in the holding camp. She was left with her body, soul and mind, and the love of her family.... but she was never the same.
Today marks the 66 years of liberation from world war two, in the village that Annie lives.
Mémorial des Camps de la Mort
Between the Esplanade de la Tourette and the Fort Saint-Jean, in a WWII blockhouse.
Memories of Marseilles under the Occupation. Roundup of Jews. Evacuation and destruction of the Old Port. Resistance actions and bombings. Comments on Nazisme and the French State.
Open: June-Sept 11h-18h; Oct-May 10h-17h; Closed: Mondays and holidays
Tel: +0491 907 315