Brigitte Bardot Puts up a Fight

When I’m in France I like to read the weekend edition of ‘Le Figaro,’ a fairly centrist daily newspaper which has interesting supplements and articles. It enables me to improve my understanding of French language and culture as well as keeping me au courant with current events and political trends in France and elsewhere.

In the main part of the paper of 9 August my attention was drawn to a full-page advertisement placed by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation and headed by the clarion call (in French): ’11th August 2019 – “Aid el-Kebir,” Day of Sorrow and Blood.’

What followed was a long and detailed diatribe against the fact that thousands of sheep were going to have their throats cut under appalling conditions. The ad continued by assuring readers that this year, once again, the Foundation run by BB, as she was once known, would be on the spot to prevent this happening. How they proposed to do this was not made clear, but it was obviously a cause which the Foundation was seeking to combat with all its might.

But as I read on, I realized that the object of BB’s wrath was not solely the ritual sacrifice of sheep to mark a Moslem festival but also the daily slaughter of cattle and sheep in what was defined as their ‘terrible suffering in abattoirs throughout France.’ The advertisement was at pains to point out that fifteen European countries had banned the slaughter of animals which had not been stunned beforehand. BB and her foundation demanded that the concessions accorded to ‘cults’ be rescinded.

This puts me in a difficult position. I know that the ritual laws ordaining that meat which is permissible to Moslems, known as ‘Halal,’ require that animals be slaughtered in a certain way, and that this practice is widespread throughout France. I also know that the Halal ritual slaughter requirements are very much akin to the ritual slaughter which makes meat ‘Kasher,’ or permissible to be eaten by observant Jews (of which I am not one). Does BB mean that Judaism, too, is a cult?

So what it boils down to is that BB’s foundation is waging war against any practice involving the slaughter of animals for food that does not involve preliminary stunning by electrical means. Obviously, the laws determining what would define permissible slaughter for food in the Jewish and Moslem religions were devised long before electricity was discovered. Thousands of years ago, those slaughtering practices were considered to be as humane as possible.

But times have changed, and it is commendable that the slaughter of animals for food is now undertaken in a more humane way.

. To me, as a non-religious Jew, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect the various religions to move with the times and accept the innovations that modern technology can provide if this makes the whole process less cruel. Let’s face it, slaughtering animals for food can never be the most humane act, but it doesn’t look as if the whole world is going to become vegetarian any time soon, so it’s a situation we are going to have to live with for the foreseeable future.

The ad concludes by calling on the French government to cease tolerating an intolerable situation. What are the chances that anything will be done? Very few, I’d say, considering the large and vociferous Muslim population in France, and in Europe in general.

(Sorry, no pics of BB then and now. Both too terrifying.)

A Trip to Troyes

 Several years ago I was told that I really ought to visit the French town of Troyes (pronounced ‘Trois,’ like the number three in French), since it is a charming mediaeval town. It is also the birthplace of Rashi, the great twelfth century commentator on the Bible and the Talmud, whose is known by the acronym of his full name, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki.

Finally, after many years of spending our summers in France, we finally managed to make the trip to the east, going towards the border with Switzerland, to the Champagne region, where Rashi lived (1040-1105). Having read Maggi Anton’s trilogy about Rashi’s daughters (he had no sons), I was especially curious to see what the place was like.

I was not disappointed. The old part of Troyes is indeed charming, with its half-timbered, or even full-timbered, old houses, some of which seem to be about to collapse, while others are in a relatively good state. Many buildings date back to the twelfth century, and some are still in use as private residences, restaurants, or cafes. Some contain institutions of various kinds, such as the Rashi (spelled Rachi in French) Institute and Cultural Centre, or the Museum of Ancient Tools and Musical Instruments. Everything is within walking distance, and the open, tree-shaded squares are full of restaurants and cafes, a veritable tourist’s paradise.

The town is a mixture of ancient and modern buildings, with stores such as H&M and Etam in the street adjacent to the narrow ancient roads where Rashi and his contemporaries once walked. I didn’t see a McDonald’s, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one there somewhere. The town has expanded into the surrounding countryside, so that the vineyards that allegedly were once tended by Rashi and other local vintners have been supplanted by commercial and industrial buildings. Nonetheless, the drive there took us through beautiful French countryside, which may well have remained unchanged since Rashi’s time.

In addition to the building that commemorates Rashi, Troyes has other sites of interest. The town has several ancient churches, and its enormous cathedral, which also dates from the twelfth century, is one of the grandest I have ever seen. Its Gothic architecture is beautifully preserved, and its stained-glass windows are on a par with any to be found in Chartres or elsewhere. Outside the cathedral is a plaque that was installed there in 1929 to mark the five hundred-year anniversary of the visit there by Joan of Arc. The plaque declares that in 1429 Joan arrived in the town, accompanying Charles VII en route to Reims, and that the townspeople spontaneously acknowledged him as their legitimate king in that cathedral.

In addition to a plaque in French and English explaining who Rashi was and what he did, a black plaque is affixed to the wall outside Maison Rachi, where Rashi’s bouse once stood, stating in gold letters (in French): “The French Republic pays its respects to the victims of racist and anti-Semitic persecutions, and of the crimes against humanity committed under the de facto authority of the so-called ‘Government of the French State’ (1940-19944). We will never forget.”

I had wanted to conclude our visit by drinking a glass of champagne as I toasted Rashi, but somehow it didn’t work out.

 Maison Rachi1

‘What Language do I Dream in?’ by Elena Lappin

 

As a bilingual speaker of Hebrew and English as well as having some knowledge of French and German, I was intrigued by the title of this book. But the beginning is something of a surprise, as the author starts by describing a dramatic phone call which changed the course of her life and shook the very foundation of her knowledge of who she was and where she came from.

Speaking in Russian, the person at the other end of the line told her that the man she had known as her father all her life was not her real father, and that the man who had fathered her had been an American living in Moscow working as an undercover agent for the Soviet Union.

At that point the author starts to describe her life as a child growing up in Czechoslovakia, with her mother and the man she thought was her father but who, it later transpired, had married her mother when Elena was two years old, and had taken the two of them to live with him in Prague. Sincce both her parents had grown up in Russia, it was Russian that was the language spoken in their home. However, Elena’s early years and initial education were all in Czech, and that was her first and main language, or so she thought.

Interweaving stories and memories of her happy childhood in Prague, with occasional visits to her grandparents in Moscow, Elena relates how she immersed herself in Czech literature and culture, and how she appreciated and loved the ancient city of Prague itself. Thus it came as quite a shock to her at the age of sixteen when her parents moved to Hamburg, requiring them all – parents, Elena, and her younger brother Maxim – to learn a new language. Elena’s father worked as a translator and for him in particular the transition was not an easy one, but he was able to find work in a factory, translating technical texts and marketing material from German into Russian.

Like many Jewish families from eastern Europe and Russia, Elena’s family originally came from a small village in Ukraine, eventually gravitating to the city of Moscow. Much later in her life she discovered that most of her grandfather’s family had emigrated to the USA in 1914, just before the Russian Revolution, and that most of them had prospered there. Her paternal grandfather was the only one who had returned to the USSR together with his wife, and had made his life there.

The transition to a German-speaking environment was not easy for Elena, but she apparently adapted well to the language and the different attitudes and outlooks of her fellow-students, and even embarked on her undergraduate studies at the university of Hamburg. However, she found the atmosphere and subject matter (linguistics) unappealing, and decided to move on, ending up in the USA. In the course of her high-school studies Elena had applied herself to learning French and English, even spending time as an au pair in France and England, so that her knowledge of several languages enabled her to work in translating, editing and other spheres associated with publishing, as well as to continue with her linguistic studies.

After getting married and having children, Elena and her husband spent several years in Canada and the USA, eventually settling in London. It is from there that she has conducted the extensive genealogical research that has enabled her to trace the trajectory of her family across continents and cultures. The final segment of the book details how Elena has pursued the complex history of her family by combing through various archives and research sites, including that of the FBI, which held a dossier on her grandfather.

Most of the book is written in a lively and entertaining style, though I must confess I found the final segment somewhat tedious. But without a doubt, the author has made the most of her checkered linguistic history, and is still unable to decide which language she dreams in.

Things You See in France

It seems that no matter where one roams, we Brits still hanker for the taste of home. And although for each one of us those tastes may vary, the sum of hankering adds up to a general yearning which cannot be denied. And so it came about that somewhere in the depths of rural France, in a village so small and insignificant that it does not register on the GPS navigation built into our very modern rental car, we came across the British Market Stall. Within the rather unprepossessing walls of what was apparently once a barn attached to a large house are shelves stacked and stocked with all the goodies for which British palates yearn.

 Thus, our astonished gaze encountered extensive supplies of genuine Heinz Beanz (spelt thusly on the sky-blue tins), Birds’ custard powder, cream crackers, genuine Scottish shortbread, as well as fruit cakes (both with and without icing), and an enormous fridge stocked with classic British cheeses, sausages, and many other goodies. You can even find genuine curry powder, as the curry has become the staple food of most of the British population, as well as digestive biscuits, Hobnobs, and many other items intended to delight the expat Brit in self-imposed exile in the alien fields of France.

 The welcoming owners, Cris and Andy, who also run a gite (self-catering B&B), do a weekly run in their truck to the UK to stock up on all the foodstuffs which their customers crave, and are even prepared to try to meet any special request that may be presented to them. Just to enter their establishment and encounter one’s compatriots and hear the accents of ‘home’ is an enjoyable and heart-warming experience in itself.

 

 

Most mornings, in order to buy the fresh baguette which is an indispensable part of our French breakfast, we have no choice but to drive to the next village, some ten kilometers away, and frequent the local boulangerie-patisserie, where baguettes are ranged in rows and an eye-watering assortment of little cakes lurks beneath the glass-fronted counter. But at the entrance to this village one is confronted by a large and rather imposing statue of a sphinx. No, we’re not back in Egypt, but rather passing the studio of a local sculptor. Nonetheless, it is at first startling but then almost reassuring to find this echo of the ancient past guarding the entrance to a French village. Whatever next? one wonders. By now we have become accustomed to the sight, but it did come as something of a shock on our first sighting of it.

 

Since France is the country of culinary delights, it is incumbent on anyone staying for any period of time in the country to partake of its delicacies. Our excursions to local restaurants generally provide us with a reasonably-priced but not very exciting ‘plat du jour’ which, while enjoyable, does little to titillate the senses. This was not the case, however, when we ventured a little further afield, to a restaurant called ‘Le Viaduc.’

Set in wooded hills and overlooking the viaduct built in the 1890s by none other than M.Eiffel himself, the restaurant is a very different proposition from the run-of-the-mill eating establishments to be found in the region. Simply to enter the restaurant is to experience an aesthetic shock, with flower arrangements on the tables, and a spectacular view from the panoramic windows of the wooded hills and the viaduct, on which a train still runs daily. The tables are set with loving care and even each course of the ‘menu du jour’ is an aesthetic as well as a culinary delight. The ‘pièce de resistance’ was the dessert, which combined a tartelette bedecked with seasonal fruits and a delicate strawberry sorbet, all arranged on a plate which in itself constituted an artistic achievement. It seemed a shame to eat it, but it certainly was delicious.

 

‘A View of the Harbour’ by Elizabeth Taylor

I bought this book, which was originally published in 1947, through Bibliophile, a company which buys remaindered books of all kinds in bulk, then offers them for sale at greatly reduced prices by means of a monthly journal containing summaries of each book, which is sent out to subscribers. I always enjoy reading its contents, and have often succumbed to the temptation to buy one or more of its wares.

I cannot deny the fact that the name of the author intrigued me. But this is not the Elizabeth Taylor the famous film star but a very English, very skillful, writer who describes life, manners and mores in Britain in the period just after WWII. About a year ago I wrote here about another book of hers, ‘Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont,’ describing life in a seedy London hotel which serves as a retirement home for genteel English ladies whose ‘golden years’ are less golden than they might have been expected to be.

The present book looks at a very different mixture of characters: the various inhabitants of a seaside town on the English coast, and the interactions between them. Here, too, the little world the author portrays is revealed to us in all its colourful variety, both social and psychological. In fact, one could say that were Jane Austen to descend from on high and resume her humorous and perceptive accounts of the interior and exterior lives of individuals living in post-war Britain, she might well have written this novel.

All the niceties of middle-class English life are portrayed here in language that flows easily and without pretentiousness, giving the reader an account of life as it is lived in a small town, with all the provincial prejudices, preservation of the proprieties, friendships, courtships and even decline and eventual death that are characteristic of any small, enclosed society. While the narrative jumps from one character to another, the reader is exposed to insightful comments, sometimes affectionate, sometimes sardonic, but always entertaining.

Certain characters come more vividly to life than others, and the author obviously bears a particular affection for frumpish Beth, whose domestic life is governed mostly by the life of her imagination as she writes yet another novel, and is totally oblivious to the relationship between her beautiful, elegant friend and neighbor, Tory (Victoria), and her husband. The relationships between children of various ages and classes and their parents are also described with a sensitive eye and pen.

Above all, though, it is the ever-present sea, with its harbour, fishing boats, seagulls, the changing rhythm of the waves, and lighthouse that dominates everything, bringing the inhabitants of the town together and forming a common bond between them.

 

Humans Without Borders

A chance remark made by one of my fellow-pupils in the weekly German-language class I attend in my neighbourhood retirees’ club aroused my curiosity. Thus I learned about the activities of a group of Israelis who have made it their mission to assist Palestinians whose children require advanced medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. Like the other members of the volunteer organization known as Humans Without Borders (HWB), two or three times a week my fellow-pupil, Tuvia, who today looks more like a geriatric hippie than the bank manager he once was, goes to one of the military checkpoints around Jerusalem (e.g., Kalandia or Bethlehem), picks up a Palestinian child, with one or two accompanying parents, and drives them to one of the Israeli hospitals where they are treated for one of the various diseases that afflict the young Palestinian population. Apparently, because of the high rate of intermarriage in Arab families the proportion of children suffering from renal diseases is particularly great. The hospitals involved in the Jerusalem area are Hadassah, Sha’arei Tzedek and Augusta Victoria, and on an average day there are some twenty or thirty journeys to and from hospitals.

Thus, a child can undergo dialysis or chemotherapy, treatments which are not always available in the Palestinian hospitals. Sometimes they recover and sometimes they do not, and the cases which are unsuccessful are invariably very distressing for all concerned, including the Israeli drivers, who develop an attachment to ‘their’ clients and their families. Tuvia proudly showed me a photo he had been sent of a baby born to a Palestinian family after the death of the child he had been driving to and from hospital for some time. Tuvia has a B.A. in Arabic language and literature from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, so communicating with his ‘clients’ is not difficult. In most cases the families know basic Hebrew, and can thus overcome the language barrier.

Naturally, a project of this kind involves considerable organization and coordination. When the association was originally founded in 2002 by Canadian immigrant Larry Lester the coordination on the Palestinian side was implemented by Gamila Yafit Biso. Today, however, all the arrangements are made by means of various messaging apps. HWB is a non-government, non-political charitable organisation, and has some 200 volunteers from all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society as well as from the world community. The costs of medical treatment are paid by the Palestinian Authority.

In addition to transporting Palestinian children in need of advanced medical treatment in Israeli hospitals, the key aims of the organization are to visit and support the children and family members during hospital treatment, secure medical devices for use by the children in their homes and provide practical support to these families and communities in their daily lives. A similar organization is based in the Tel Aviv area, with many more volunteers, who are often called upon to collect children from the Erez crossing to Gaza and bring them to hospitals in Israel.

HWB also organizes fun days and picnics for the children and their families, whether as a day on the beach or outing to a swimming pool, with food and entertainment laid on. HWB believes that it is every child’s right to grow and develop in a caring and supportive environment, and is committed to enhancing the safety and well-being of Palestinian children and their communities. By promoting direct, friendly contact between Palestinians and Israelis, and through its efforts to brighten the lives of the children and ease the anxiety of their parents, the organisation contributes to the fostering of greater mutual respect between the two sections of the population. The organization is a recognized charity, and donations may be made through the New Israel Fund.

(This article first appeared in the August 2019 edition of the AJR Journal)

Old Bag, New Bag

Travel broadens the mind, they say. However, one of the less delightful aspects of travel is making sure you haven’t forgotten anything. I’m not talking only about essentials such as passport, documents, etc., but rather about the myriad other objects you have to have about your person to cover every, or almost every, possible contingency, mishap or disaster that may befall you on your travels.

Like the MoominMom, I generally have a fairly capacious handbag (what our American cousins amusingly call a ‘purse,’ which in my UK parlance is reserved purely for cash money). But since travel involves so many more of those potential misfortunes, the resulting increase in essential items requires a proportionately larger bag. After all, how can any self-respecting wife, mother or woman leave the house without an ample supply of dry and wet tissues, liquid for washing hands, spare underwear, basic makeup requirements, notepad and enough pens to make sure that at least one always surfaces when you thrust your hand into the darkness within to find one? Not to mention the secret zip pockets a bag must have for other utility items of sanitary hygiene, sticking plasters in case of accidental cuts and bruises, pills against headaches or other unidentifiable aches and pains, lists of medicines and/or addresses (OK, I’ll admit that in this day and age the smartphone can take the place of some of those lists, but the battery might run out at just the crucial moment, so it’s best to have a paper backup), chequebooks and, of course, two actual purses (for money), one for the currency of the country you live in and one for that of the country, or countries, you’re visiting.

And that’s not everything, but I don’t want to bore you quite to death. My story goes as follows: I used to have a large, white leather handbag for travelling, with dividers, pockets, zip compartments et al, but it eventually fell apart, and I invested a rather large sum of money on a genuine leather capacious black bag which looked as if it would fit the bill (see photo). However, when I started out on my latest journey, the black bag failed the ultimate test. It did not close neatly with a zip, but hung open, displaying its innards to all and sundry, and exposing my multiple weaknesses for all to see (and potentially take).

The situation required urgent remedy, and I decided that I would keep an eye open for an adequate substitute while in France, and to hell with the cost. To my delight, at the very first ‘brocante’ in the nearby village in rural France I came across a stall manned by a cheerful African gentleman displaying colourful bags of some woven fabric. A colourful woven bag had not been contemplated previously, but it suddenly seemed like a good idea (see photo). Upon inspection, the innards of the largest one proved to have a wealth of dividers, compartments, zip pockets and, best of all, a hearty-loooking zip to close the whole thing up to my satisfaction. After parting with the very reasonable sum of twenty euros, the bag was mine, and when put to the test easily ingested all the contents of the big black bag, which now languishes in hideous solitude. Sorry, old bag, but this old bag now has a new bag.

 

‘The Art Thief’ by Noah Charney

Right until the end the reader is kept guessing as to the identity of the art thief behind the convoluted series of disappearances and reappearances of forged and genuine paintings. The two paintings at the centre of this novel are ‘White on White,’ by Kasimir Malevich, a Russian avant-garde painter, which was stolen from the Paris premises of the Malevich Society, and the ‘Annunciation’ by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the seventeenth century painter, which was stolen from a church in Rome.

The events described in the book take us from a distinguished art scholar to an expert on security systems, the bidding process at Christie’s and the policing systems and methods of Italy, France and the UK. That’s all well and good, but how are we supposed to keep track of the various comings and goings of the stolen pieces of art, interspersed with ‘clues’ provided by obscure biblical verses? And why would a thief want to provide clues to the whereabouts of the missing art pieces? Not only that, but why on earth should one forged   replica be painted over another, and what does it all mean?

In my view the often pretentious style of writing in this book and the scenes and situations portrayed simply provide the author with an opportunity to show off his knowledge of art history, security systems and other aspects of the high cost of art in the world today. In between all this, the reader is required to exercise a little bit of linguistic detective work to decipher the occasional conversations in Italian and French. What for, I hear you ask. You may well ask. I think this is all part of the author’s need to show off his knowledge, which is admittedly extensive, of the various subjects.

The portrayal of the characters involved also leaves much to be desired. The bumbling, overweight French detective is more concerned with the food on his plate than finding the missing art work, and the lugubrious British detective does not bring a lot of credit to Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Department, though we are given an interesting insight into his private domestic life and the depressing way of life of the ordinary Londoner. Its all so depressingly stereotypical.

All in all, this book could have contained the seeds of an interesting story, but instead it gets involved in ever-more-complicated tricks and attempts to obscure the trail. I have a sneaking suspicion that the author had his eye on having the story somehow picked up by Hollywood. If it does I hope some scriptwriter manages to sort out the story line to get it to make sense.

Not Getting Any Younger

 

Although in my mind I’m still the eager, naïve 22 year-old who came to Israel to work and study (and get away from the depressing climate and weedy men of the UK), I have to face the fact that time has not passed me by. I’m constantly getting messages from my body telling me ‘that’s enough,’ ‘time to sit down for a while,’ ‘don’t overdo things,’ and especially from my back, which is taking its revenge on me for having neglected it for all these years.

While at school I avoided gym and physical exertion of any kind, in my forties I started exercising and have continued to do so on an almost daily basis ever since. It may have helped as I still have the use of my arms and legs, which is something to be thankful for at my advanced age (76), but the messages from my body keep coming thick and fast.

I do what I can to assuage my miserable muscles. When I start an intensive cooking session, e.g., on a Friday afternoon when my entire family (15 in all) is coming for dinner I enclose myself in a special back support belt (I always think of Abraham ‘girding his loins’ when I put it on). I have a special high chair in the kitchen so that I can sit at the sink when I peel and cut vegetables. I saw it at a friend’s house and immediately demanded one for myself. This entailed my other half taking a trip to a part of Israel which we had never visited before, but he came back with the precious object, and it has served me faithfully ever since. And in order to follow the instructions of the physiotherapist whom I consulted about my back pain I rest for twenty minutes in between half hour cooking sessions. Approximately.

If that were all, I could consider myself fortunate, but I’m afraid that my mind seems to be developing a mind of its own. It has taken to deciding what is important and what is not. Hence, I managed to find myself on holiday abroad without such basic essentials as toothbrush and sunscreen. But I console myself with the thought that those things can easily be bought at the nearest pharmacy, which is not the case with regard to prescription medicines and a disk-on-key with essential material, which has been known to happen.

There was a time when going on a journey overseas was a hazardous affair, involving tearful departures and the possibility of untoward events. Today, however, most people seem to think there’s nothing to it. They hop on a plane and fly off to all kinds of exotic and unfamiliar destinations without batting an eyelid. For me, however, it involves getting out my packing list and checking it time and again. And still I forget things. I have worked out the reason why this happens (too many things to think about), but that is no consolation. My mind as well as my body is showing signs of wear and tear. I’m beginning to wonder whether it isn’t perhaps time to just give up, stay at home, put my feet up and take up knitting.

‘The Journey Back From Hell; Conversations with Concentration Camp Survivors’ by Anton Gill

Although published thirty years ago, this book is at least as relevant today as it was when it first appeared. As the survivors of concentration camps grow old and die it is more important than ever today to have their memories and first-hand accounts on record.

These in-depth conversations were held with individuals who experienced one or more of the Nazis’ concentration camps. Although the author is not a trained psychologist,. he has managed to gain the survivors’ confidence and elicited from them detailed accounts of the mental and physical ordeals they underwent, giving them in their own words, without unnecessary embellishment or analysis. As we read these accounts we feel that we are hearing their genuine voices as they speak openly and honestly about their experiences in the camps. These accounts are often preceded by descriptions of life in the ghettos or in hiding before capture and transport ‘east.’ In many cases the concentration camp experience is rounded off with a forced march, the infamous ‘death march’ (of which there were many) to another camp or undefined destination, as the Germans sought to escape the advancing Allied forces.

The first third of the book comprises a detailed historical account of the circumstances around the establishment of the concentration camps, the way they were built, and the method of their functioning, in all their horrific and inhuman detail. The research that has obviously gone into this section of the book is impressive in its attention to the specifics of the running of the camps as well as the results of psychological studies of survivors.

Several hundred individuals were interviewed, mainly in the UK, the USA and Israel, and each and every one had a unique tale to tell, even though certain elements of their ordeal remained consistent between them. All in all, it makes one wonder at the capacity of the human being to endure suffering, both physical and psychological, and adapt to the most monstrous conditions.

Almost all the survivors attribute their survival to sheer luck – having been in the right place at the right time, or not having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many, if not all of them, saw close relatives being taken away or abused, and then comes the laconic phrase “I never saw them again.” In only one case is an interviewee reported as having burst into tears. The brutality and dehumanizing processes endemic in the camps, with senseless forced labour as well as work on behalf of the German war effort, beatings, endless roll-calls and systematic starvation meant that in many cases people were unable to grieve or express any emotion at the time. Some people said that they were able to grieve only after liberation, and one person says how pleased he was to find himself crying at a funeral some time afterwards. Another described being amazed to the point of laughing at the sight of a funeral for a single person, with a casket, flowers and somber music, after having seen piles of bodies cast aside like so much trash.

Not all the interviewees were Jews. Members of the French, Polish and even Italian resistance movements who had been incarcerated in camps were also asked to share their memories. Their experiences may have been slightly less horrendous than those of the Jews, but they were still subjected to forced labour and starvation diets. They were less likely to be sent to the gas chambers, however. Nonetheless, they did not escape the emotional and physical scars of their time in the concentration camps.

Family ties or those of friendship often helped people to endure and to simply stay alive in the camps rather than just giving up, becoming a ‘mussulman,’ and losing the will to live. In many cases the association with others from similar backgrounds or who came from the same country and shared the same language formed a bond of fellowship, which helped them survive the ordeal. The sense of a shared past has also caused many after the war to seek out the companionship of others who have undergone the camps, attesting to their sense of alienation from anyone who ‘wasn’t there.’

Some survivors found religion, while others rejected it. In the final event, what seems to have got them through the terrible ordeal was a combination of chance, physical and mental fortitude and small lapses in the efficiency of the Germans’ dreaded killing machine.