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A time to reflect

This weekend is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. A time to reflect on the past 12 months and ask for forgiveness, in order that you can begin the new year with a clean slate. Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the High Holydays and, for many, it may be the only time of the year when you go to synagogue.

This year there are, of course, many restrictions. Synagogues are only open to a very limited number of people in accordance with social distancing rules. Singing during the service is not permitted, neither is the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn). Thank goodness we can still eat honey cake!

We accept these constraints because they are for everyone, in sharp contrast to the racial laws brought in by the Nazis during the Second World War. In 1940 my grandparents in France were allowed to use a space in the town hall of Poitiers to pray with their Jewish community during the High Holydays. At the end of the service the rabbi announced the Statut des Juifs, the new law brought in on Rosh Hashana robbing Jews of many of their human rights such as working in a profession and going to the cinema.

In 1941 more racial laws had been announced including the prohibition of celebrating the Jewish High Holydays. My grandfather offered their secluded farmhouse to the Jewish community. Every piece of furniture was removed so that everyone could fit in. Each room was packed, even the staircase was full of people. The children (including my mother, aged three) stayed outside. The adults prayed and wept. No-one knew what was coming, but they knew it would be bad. Of the one hundred people inside that farmhouse for the High Holydays in 1941, only five – including my mother - would survive the Holocaust.

If you have read The Young Survivors you will know that I write these events in my story. They are an important part of history and should never be forgotten.

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