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L’aube à Birkenau by Simone Veil

with David Teboul

2019, Les Arènes

The title translates "Dusk at Birkenau", but no English version seems to be available (although Kindle has a Spanish version).

This moving book, with beautiful and unique photos, is based on David Teboul's interviews with Simone Veil. It is dedicated to Albert Bulka, aged 4, who died at Auschwitz after being deported along with 34 other children from the Izeu Children's Home in France. Simone Veil, her mother and sister were on the same train.

The Sorrow and the Pity

I was surprised at Veil's opinion regarding the French documentary film The Sorrow and the Pity (Le Chagrin et la Pitié). She was shocked by the film's depiction of the town of Clermont Ferrand (near Vichy) as pro-Collaborationist, with an almost non-existent Resistance. She remembers, on the contrary, seeing cases of many people, not only Jews but also Resistants, who had been shot or deported, precisely from Clermont Ferrand. (Paraphrase): The French are depicted as bastards and cowards, while on the other hand, a former SS officer who had acted in the region is shown in an almost positive light. Rarely are any acts of solidarity shown. When the film came out in the cinema, it was a great success and received much praise. “People seemed absolutely euphoric at the idea that their parents had all been horrible people.” (128)

The Kaddish will be said at my grave (Le Kaddish sera dit sur ma tombe)

The Panthéon, July 2018

The Kaddish is an important Jewish mourning prayer. Because of the Holocaust, Simone Veil, although not religious, considered her Jewishness to be indissociable with who she was. Veil died on 30 June 2017. She is one of only five women in France to be honored with burial at the Panthéon in Paris. Her memorial ceremony opened with a recording of her voice, saying "Le Kaddish sera dit sur ma tombe."


What does being Jewish mean?

Translation of the last page of L'aube à Birkenau (281)

Born and brought up in an old French family, I was French beyond question.

Religion was totally absent from our family life, my parents were agnostic as were their own parents. So what does being Jewish mean for me or for them?

For my father, I remember especially that Judaism was linked to the knowledge and culture Jews had aquired over the centuries, in times when few had access to them. They had always remained the people of The Book, in spite of persecution, misery and wandering.

For my mother, Judaism was more linked to her attachment to the values Jews had always fought for throughout their long and tragic history: tolerance, respect for others, and solidarity.

They both died as deportees, my only inheritance the humanistic values Judaism represented for them.

It is impossible for me to disassociate this inheritance from the ever present, even obssessive memories of six million Jews exterminated for no reason other than that they were Jewish.

Six million which included my parents, my brother and many of those close to me. I cannot separate myself from them.

That is reason enough that, until my death, my Jewishness is imprescriptible.

The Kaddish will be said at my grave.

Simone Veil

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