That Other Otherness
My husband ET and his mother spent the war in France where they hid with false papers and it wasn’t until 1945 at the age of seven that ET, who went by the name Jean Claude, discovered that he was really Edmond Maurice, and what’s more, that this refugee gardener who bicycled down from Holland was really his papa and that, for whatever meaning the disclosure could possibly contain – he, le petit Edmond et toute sa famille were Jews.
We are wading our way back from the family wedding in New Jersey in a blinding downpour when ET declares an urgent desire to see the film Sarah’s Key. I’m surprised as he never wants to see films reconstructing the nightmarish story of Occupied France.
ET and his mother Madeleine missed the July, 1942 round-up of Parisian Jews by a matter of hours. They were living in the genteel Hotel Regina on the Rue de Rivoli facing the Tuileries Garden when the hotel concierge tipped off my future mother-in-law. He told her that “people like you” should not remain in Paris that night. Madeleine was able to find a friend to drive her and her three-year-old child to safety in the suburbs just in time.
Sarah’s Key which stars Kristin Scott Thomas tells the horrifying story of one little girl whose Jewish family wasn’t so fortunate. Along with some thirteen thousand Jews, they were rounded up by the French police on July 16th 1942, locked into the Velodrome d’Hiver in inhuman conditions before being shipped by rail to Auschwitz for extermination.
I wonder why ET chooses to follow up his alienation at an Orthodox Jewish wedding with a vivid and wrenching reminder of the other otherness that nearly cost him his life. I decide not to ask. As we sit down to dinner in a favorite restaurant on the Upper West Side, there is no let-up in the downpour.