I left Finchley (north of London) on Thursday morning, October 14th , in a torrential downpour. At the Finchley Central tube station, I took one step down the first flight of stairs with my new airplane carry-on size suitcase, when a young man took it from me and carried it down to the platform where my train had just pulled in. The pattern was set - not the train pulling in, the carrying problem. Young men and in one case a young woman carried my suitcase up and down every flight of tube, metro, and railway stairs but one on the entire trip.
The tube trip took 45 minutes and I arrived at Waterloo station at 10:10. Within an hour I was settled on the Eurostar in my window seat and table that I had requested. The Eurostar was very comfortable, but the free coffee we got on our trip to Paris in ’97 is history.
I was 10 years old when I lived in Limousin in 1940 and 1941 during the Second World War, but I have almost no memory of that year. Although I expected to visit Chateau Montintin, the OSE home where my sisters and I had lived and my parents had worked, I had no hope of recovering the memories of my time there. So why was I going? I think I went for my mother, who died in 2001. Had she lived, she would have been two weeks shy of her 100th birthday at the time of the colloquium. Even though those war years in France were desperately difficult years that left her with nightmares even in the last year of her life, I’m sure she would have wanted to go, as she was eager to go to the first reunion of OSE children in Los Angeles in 1989. She would have wanted to share her experiences and her memories. I had no memories but I wanted, at least, to see all those places she talked to me about, which became the basis for “Shattered Crystals,” the book I wrote based on her memories.
On the Eurostar, I looked out the window a lot. In France, I thought of our father travelling this same route from Calais to Paris after his risky and fortunately miraculous escape in December 1943 from the forced labor camp where inmates were building a sea wall to ward off the Allied invasion. He made it to Paris with lots of help from the many sympathetic working class French who were his fellow passengers and who shielded him from the Nazi train inspectors.
I encountered lots of stairs in the Gare du Nord and on the Metro I took to Gare d’Austerlitz, and lots of helping hands. You still have to push a button to open the doors of the Metro carriage. The best part of the Metro trip was going above ground to cross the Seine. Unexpectedly, I found a sobering sight outside Gare d’Austerlitz, a plaque recalling the deportation of thousands of Jews from this station in 1941 and 1942, among them 4,000 children (photo).
The train to Limoges was definitely not as comfortable as the Eurostar. To begin with, there was no heat on the train. In October 1943 when he was arrested yet again, my father was on a train travelling through Limoges, as Mother and a woman OSE Resistance worker urgently pleaded with him to escape the train to Drancy and Auschwitz by climbing out through the window of the toilet. He couldn’t do it. The window was too small. The toilet windows are still too small. The French countryside for the first two hours was flat and dull. The train was ice cold. Though the temperature inside the train didn’t, the scenery greatly improved during the last hour; I guessed we were travelling in Limousin.
At last after travelling for almost ten hours I arrived in Limoges, 400 kilometers south of Paris. The station is called Limoges Benedictins and is covered by a huge dome built in 1929. I was met there by Odile Pommier, who was in charge of generally looking after us. She drove me to the Hotel Mercure, a hotel very near the station where a number of other people attending the Colloquium were also staying. Among these was Norbert Rosenblum, whom I’ve known since we were children in France in 1940, and his wife, Marianne. They live in Los Angeles and we hadn’t seen each other in more than a dozen years.
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