Shattered Crystals - Colloquium Diary


This was a free day. At our request, in the morning Odile took Norbert, Marianne and me on a specially arranged private tour. Norbert wanted to see the OSE home of Mas Jambost, where he spent four weeks before leaving for America in 1941, and I wanted to see Le Couret Chateau, another OSE home deep in the Limousin countryside, where my mother became the cook in the fall of 1941, after my sister Ruth and I left for America as part of the Quaker transport.

Le Couret is located on a two-lane highway; the house is well set back from the road. Today it is used as a place of rest and recreation for the children of members of the French Railway Association. The impressive stone gate at the entrance was erected in the 17th century. We were unable to go into the house as the caretaker was away, but could walk around the perimeter of the grounds (photo). I thought of my mother bringing down 20-year-old magazines she had found in the attic and burning them to start kitchen fires and vividly felt her presence. I tried to imagine her life in that house, struggling to provide meals for the children in a time of desperate food shortages.

Le Couret is surrounded by mountains, and it was there that my parents hid, living rough, in August and September of 1942, to evade the Vichy French gendarmes who had come to Le Couret with an arrest warrant. Could I have done what my parents did when Resistance workers told them it was their only option? Standing in that place on a cold, wet October day, I was in complete awe about what they had done and endured.

We drove on to La Jonchere, the village nearest Le Couret, from which my father and mother had on occasion taken the train on errands to other villages or Limoges. Though the railroad station has a derelict feel, the village is immacutely clean and appears untouched by time, featuring a butcher who shuns packaged meat, a bakery from which villagers carrying long unwrapped loaves emerged, and a small outdoor produce market. There is also a small stone building housing a very clean free public toilet.

Our next stop was Chateau Mas Jambost where Norbert spent four weeks prior to leaving for the U.S. In 1941 it too was in the countryside, but today, Limoges has expanded and the Chateau is now in a residential area of the city. It has become a nursing home, to which we were denied entry for fear we might upset the residents. The spacious grounds are exquisitely maintained (photo). Norbert walked around the building and recounted his arrival there. For an unknown reason, as a not-very-tall 14-year-old, he was chosen to drive a horse-drawn carriage from Montintin to Mas Jambost loaded with the belongings of the children who were being transferred there. He remembers the journey vividly and has no idea how he managed the drive, having absolutely never been on or even near horses.

In the afternoon Norbert, Marianne, and I browsed and shopped in Limoges’ china shops, visited an outdoor market where we bought crepes for our lunch, and generally wandered about the city. In the evening we attended the French-Israeli Association dinner, where a number of awards were made to people who had worked for improved relations between the two nations. The speeches were in French and exceptionally long, but it was an opportunity to get to know our fellow attendees. Among them were two in particular: One was Ines Vromen, a charming and attractive woman currently living in Nice, who was a hidden child during the war and as an adult, with fluency in five languages, became a simultaneous translator. The second was Christian, the tall, elegant, ebullient son of Count de Monbrison, who provided a home for 40 Jewish children during the war. Christian had answers to everything in France that we wanted to know. Through his help Marianne got in touch with someone who lives in the Dordogne village where she spent time during the war, and after the Colloquium he drove her and Norbert most of the way to the village, with a stop and tour of the castle his father had owned.

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