Star Crossed: A True WWII Romeo and Juli­et Love Sto­ry in Hitler’s Paris

  • Review
By – October 30, 2023

Annette Zel­man dreamed of becom­ing an artist. When she was accept­ed into the pres­ti­gious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, she was on her way to turn­ing that dream into a reality. 

The year before, she had moved with her par­ents and sib­lings from Nan­cy, the city of her birth in east­ern France, to Paris. Now, at age nine­teen, she ful­ly embraced the city: she was enrap­tured by the café scene and excit­ed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties sud­den­ly open to her as part of her new, avant-garde way of life. At the same time, she was a seri­ous stu­dent, throw­ing her­self into her art, explor­ing sur­re­al­ism and Dadaism, and even enjoy­ing jazz, free-verse poet­ry, and oth­er con­tem­po­rary arts out­side the class­room. She became a famil­iar pres­ence at the Café de Flo­re, whose reg­u­lars includ­ed Simone de Beau­voir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone Signoret.

Young, beau­ti­ful, tal­ent­ed, and smart, Annette also fell in love. It was an excit­ing time to be alive.

But it couldn’t last. The year was 1941, Paris was occu­pied by the Nazis, and Annette was Jew­ish. Soon, she could no longer attend Beaux-Arts. There were cur­fews and increas­ing restric­tions, fol­lowed by roundups and deportations.

With naive opti­mism, Annette was con­vinced that she was exempt, or that she could at least maneu­ver her way around any con­straints. For one thing, Jean Jau­sion, the Catholic man with whom she was in love, was the son of a respect­ed doc­tor who hob­nobbed with the Paris Nazi elite. Sure­ly he could, and would, pro­tect her.

Both sets of par­ents were opposed to the rela­tion­ship, but Annette’s fam­i­ly grad­u­al­ly gave way and accept­ed Jean. Jean’s fam­i­ly appeared to do the same for Annette — but that was their decep­tion. And here­in lay the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers, which deter­mined the tra­jec­to­ry their sto­ry would take.

In 2020, authors Heather Dune Macadam and Simon Wor­rall inter­viewed Annette’s nine­ty-two-year-old sis­ter, Michele. They viewed her col­lec­tion of Annette’s let­ters, paint­ings, and draw­ings, which only came to light decades after the war. It wasn’t a lot of mate­r­i­al; but, as Michele stressed, It is so impor­tant that the world knows Annette’s story.” 

Macadam and Wor­rall agreed. Incor­po­rat­ing their own research, as well as the accounts of many friends and acquain­tances, they have pieced togeth­er the sto­ry of Annette, whose short life end­ed in 1942

Annette’s sis­ter want­ed this book to serve as a memo­r­i­al. It is that and more. Rather than focus­ing sole­ly on a young woman’s trag­ic death, it takes care to fill in the details of her viva­cious life.

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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