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Chatting with Laurence

A couple of weeks ago someone showed me a blog post they came across which featured the photo from the front cover of Denise Holstein's book - the one of my mother on the steps of the Louveciennes children's home circa 1944. The blog was in French but my eldest daughter helped translate the bits I couldn't make out myself and we learnt that it had been written quite recently by Martine Brust-Szwarcbart who had been in the children's home too but whose brother had gotten her out in January 1944, months before the rest of the children were taken and sent to Auschwitz.

We contacted the author through the blog and her daughter Laurence replied to say that her mother doesn't have a computer or speak English so she would be happy to talk to us on her behalf.  So I called Laurence and we had the most wonderful conversation.  It really was like speaking to an old friend, as if we had known each other for years.  It turned out that both our mothers were born in Metz in 1938 and only weeks apart.  Their families were relocated to different places when the war began, but both girls ended up in the same children's home.

Martine was not in the group of children which Denise Holstein looked after but I think it is likely that she and my mother played together as they were a very similar age and there were only around forty children in that home.  How brave of her brother, André, to get her out.  He was only 15 years old but managed to sneak his six year old sister out through a small door at the bottom of the garden, hide in the cinema for the rest of the day as he knew that the soldiers would be looking for them once alerted that the girl was missing, and then get a train to Lyon where they had family to help.  He hid his sister in the overhead luggage compartment on the train, covered only by a coat.  André went on to be a prize-winning author (André Schwarz-Bart) whose novel The Last of the Just was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1959.

After we had compared notes on the similarities of our mothers' lives, Laurence and I chatted about our own lives:

"Where do you live?" I asked her.

"In a suburb outside Paris."

"Oh my goodness, are you ok?"

"Yes, why?"

"Because we see such terrible news about antisemitism in Paris."

"Oh.  Well maybe in the centre of Paris but we are fine here where we live.  Where do you live?"

"In a suburb of London" was my reply.

"Oh my goodness, are you ok?"

"Yes, why?"

"We see such terrible things about London and antisemitism on the news here."

"Well there have been a few incidents but we are fine where I live" I reassured her.

And then we both had to laugh (the alternative was to cry!).  The conversation lasted over an hour and we promised to speak again and hopefully one day meet up.

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