The anonymous postcard that inspired the novel that touched France

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In January 2003, the mother of the French writer Ann Berest (Paris, 1979) picked up from the snowy ground of his garden an unsigned postcard from the opera Garnier and on the back four names written one below the other: Ephraim, Emma, ​​Noemi, Jacques. They were his maternal grandparents and his uncles who were killed in Auschwitz in 1942. To add to the confusion, the seal was placed upside down, a code used by the resistance during World War II to indicate that the content of the letter was false.

Who could send such a postcard and for what purpose? “I realized that life offers me a police romance,” Berest admits with overwhelming enthusiasm to Libertad Digital. The writer began an investigation that tells in card (lumen), Renaudot des Lycéen Prize, Goncourt Prize from the USA and great success in France.

“Receiving this anonymous postcard was very shocking for my mother, it shocked her and she decided to gather the whole family. She showed us a postcard, we passed it around and at first we were horrified. , about people from our family who died in a concentration camp. We had the feeling that it was a way of saying “you will be next,” the author tells us during a brief visit to Spain. “Besides, the photograph on the postcard was opera house Garnier, a very symbolic place for France because that was the place where the Nazis used to gather to listen to music. It was a symbol of the Nazi occupation. All French people have in their minds the image of the Opera Garnier with Nazi flags flying,” he adds.

With the help of her mother and a private detective, Ann began a long and painstaking investigation to trace her steps. the Rabinovich family marked by the Holocaust, from its inception in Russia to its end during World War II. “This postcard was a decisive factor for me in getting interested in my family. Also, one day my daughter came home and told me that Jews were not welcome in her school. I realized that the topic is still relevant,” he says. I needed to find the author of the postcard.

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French writer Anna Berest. | LG

The investigation in real life lasted four years, in the novel it focuses on four months in order to “avoid a long wait”, and the result is “three books in one”: “there is a historical novel that tells the fate of a Jewish family in Europe for 100 years , but it is also a crime novel with all its elements. Finally, it’s an identity search because I’m trying to figure out what it means to me to be Jewish.” Anna Berest learned that Efrem Rabinovich and Emma Wolf, her great-grandfather and great-grandfather, met in Moscow in 1919. He, a socialist engineer and an atheist, she, the daughter of a major industrialist. They left Russia in the face of relentless persecution by the Jewish community in the 1920s, the first of many escapes. This is a key question that runs through the entire book. “This family will always face the question of leave or stay.: in Russia, then in Latvia, Palestine and, finally, in France. All families that have experienced this know how hard it is to leave, especially when there are children in school who are part of the community,” says the writer.

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Members of the SS visit the Eiffel Tower in July 1940 | Cord Press

The couple ran away whenever something seemed impossible, with the exception of France, where led them to death. “This idea has always haunted me. Why didn’t they leave? I understood this when I wrote the book. France was considered the country in Europe that loved the Jews the most. in France’ They believed that France would protect them.”

Of this couple with three children, only the young Miriam survived. -the author’s grandmother-, whose foot never set foot in the synagogue again. “There was a kind of rejection of religion for various reasons. Firstly, to protect herself. Grandmother baptized her mother to receive a certificate of Christianity. This was the case with many Jewish babies. She also had no one to celebrate holidays with. religious. It was would be very painful.”

The hardest book to write

The author chooses a sober style, sometimes telegraphic and unadorned, to talk about two timelines in which her maternal grandmother carries the weight of the past and her mother the weight of the present. “My mother was the main element of my research, I talked to her for many hours. The book was a resounding success in France. my mom became a famous character. People stop her on the street because they think they know her.”

Success based on many tears. “This book was very difficult to describe. I cried a lot. There were chapters that I had to write and I was afraid to look them in the eye. I didn’t know if I could rise to the occasion,” she admits. really touched.

Being Jewish in France

In this book, Berest delves into how the traumas of the Holocaust are immortalized in the lives of contemporary French Jews. “We French are still very immersed in the war, we have very vivid memories, either because grandparents were from the resistance, collaborators, Jews, or survived as best they could. Curiosity and interest caused by the war is still alive. There is a strange phenomenon, the older I get, the closer it seems to me that the war has arrived in time, as if it were yesterday. The French want to understand what happened in each of their families. In the book, I focus on the occupation from different figures and each of the French can be recognized.

Today it is “difficult” to be a Jew in France. “There is a very passionate relationship with the Jews. There is a kind of division between philosemitism and anti-Semitism. It’s a country where people love or hate Jews, it’s very peculiar.”

Berest insists on not letting oblivion come. “During the four years that I wrote the book, very representative figures of Holocaust survivors died. I realized that this generation is disappearing. They were no longer going to talk about what they saw and experienced. Our generation has an obligation to keep talking about what happened because they won’t be there anymore.”

Ann Berest. Card. Lumen. Translated by Lydia Vasquez Jimenez. 582 pages. Price: €21.90

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