A French memoir of the Holocaust shows the courage of choosing to survive

[From The New Statesman]

Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s But You Did Not Come Back is a addressed to her father and tells the story of her time in the camps – and the years after.

Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s father had bought a château in Provence; a grand place, with 20 rooms – an expensive but certain way, he seemed to believe, of ensuring that he and his children would be thought of as French. He had come to France from Poland in 1919 to find freedom from persecution, but there was no escape. In 1944 he was arrested along with his 15-year-old daughter, Marceline, and taken to the Drancy internment camp, and from there to Auschwitz. “You might come back,” he told his daughter, “because you’re young, but I will not come back.”

It was a prophecy: Szlhama Froim Rozen­berg did not come back. An official document from the French government confirmed his death – “missing and presumed dead” – following his “transfer” to Maut­hausen and Groß-Rosen. It took five more years for him to be declared finally dead – because he was not French, despite having petitioned the government for citizenship since his arrival. He was, his daughter writes, “a foreign Jew”.

Loridan-Ivens’s slender memoir is written as a letter to her beloved father. She is now 87, and lives in Paris; she made her career as an actress, a screenwriter and a director, taking the names of her two husbands because she found them more comfortable to bear – yes, even in postwar France – than “Rozenberg”. Barely 100 pages long, set in large, well-spaced type, it is devastating all the same. Loridan-Ivens writes in a plain, conversational style (the translation is by Sandra Smith, who has translated the work of Irène Némirovsky, among others) that flows as memory does, observation and recollection in balance. It can be read at a sitting; and then asks to be read again.

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