The principal objective of our trip to France was to visit Metz – the first time for my sister and I - where our mother was born in 1938 and where the family lived until they were moved away from the German border at the beginning of World War II. Ironic that they were told to leave for their own safety, only to fall victims a couple of years later to the ‘final solution’ of the Nazis and their French collaborators.
The hospital where my mother was born no longer exists, and the family home has been replaced by a new block of apartments but still my uncle was able to describe life in Metz vividly and bring it back to life for us. He showed us la lavoir where my grandmother would scrub the washing on the bank of the River Moselle, the fountain by which the children would play and the grand theatre where his mother took him and his younger brother to see ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, probably before my mother was born.
We stopped for lunch in the plaza by the cathedral (the outside of which is black from grime) choosing the local speciality of quiche Loraine. My uncle told us how he had begged his mother to buy him a quiche when he accompanied her to the market as a child but she always refused because they were not kosher. We passed a grand old church which the Jewish leaders had planned to purchase to use as a synagogue as the Jewish community had outgrown their existing places of worship... but then the war started and it never happened.
Walking up Rue de Jardins by the Cathedral Plaza my uncle pointed out where the kosher butcher and other Jewish shops had been. We passed his Uncle Aron’s house, at least where it used to be, and crossed the river on the same bridge that he used to run over to get home before the antisemitic boys from school managed to catch him and give him a beating.
It was important that I was able to visit Metz under the guidance of my uncle. Without him and his knowledge and memories the trip would have been pointless. I am so grateful to him for coming from New York at 87 years old and I am in awe of the way he walked around the city all day long in the freezing cold (did I mention how absolutely freezing it was?) – 15,949 steps according to my iPhone which was probably the cause of him being unwell for the next few days. Thankfully he has recovered now .... and I have fulfilled my obligation of seeing Metz.
More to follow.....