Sixty years after growing up a French child of Jewish parents who were born in Eastern Europe, wanting to honor his parents, Michlin searched memory and historical archives to write this memoir. Daunted by the poverty and anti-Semitism of Eastern Poland, Michlin’s parents had tried to emigrate either to the United States or to Palestine, as they had relatives in both places. Not being Zionists, they had scant interest in going to Palestine even though the United States had begun to limit the number accepted for immigration. Michlin’s cultivated mother opted for France where her brother lived. This is where the author was born and where, for several years, the family lived a free and delightful life. His parents sought to totally integrate into French life, retaining very little, if anything, of their Jewish identity or religion. Still, his mother was denied citizenship because she did not fit into the various categories of acceptance; she was of ‘no interest to the nation.’ Although Michlin’s mother wanted him to study medicine, his father had insisted on his learning how to do something with his hands. This is what saved the author’s life in the camps. His skill in engineering enabled him to belong to a special privileged cadre of prisoners who worked for the Siemens plant. After surviving the war, Michlin lived for a brief while in his family’s bare apartment in Paris. The memories of his parents haunted him, yet he could never speak of his experiences with the childhood friends with whom he was reunited. Ultimately he emigrated to the United States, studied and spent most of his life working for IBM. He has written a veritable case study on the fate of ordinary Jews, those modest people without wealth, connections, resourcefulness or courageous Christian friends. In an Afterword, Zeev Sternhell provides a valuable critique on France’s hypocrisy, and the anti-Semitism that culminated in the Vichy government and the French Catholic Church’s support of its policies.
Marcia W. Posner, Ph.D., of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, is the library and program director. An author and playwright herself, she loves reviewing for JBW and reading all the other reviews and articles in this marvelous periodical.