Kati Mar­tons most recent book, Paris: A Love Sto­ry, is now avail­able. She will be blog­ging here for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing all week.

Now that I live part-time in Paris, I explore the city’s com­plex and some­times dis­turb­ing rela­tion­ship to toward its Jew­ish cit­i­zens — which giv­en my own Jew­ish her­itage, feels per­son­al to me. In Paris: A Love Sto­ry, I probe this aspect of the city which most tourists miss.

In Paris, life and death, beau­ty and vio­lence are for­ev­er col­lid­ing. I take the rue de Pois­sy, a pic­turesque, cob­ble­stoned street with stun­ning win­dow­box­es that spill over with gera­ni­ums, toward my home. At num­ber 5, I pass the Ecole Mater­nelle. Like all French schools, it flies the French flag. But this nurs­ery school also fea­tures a gold let­tered, black mar­ble tablet, which stops me in my tracks. To the mem­o­ry of the chil­dren – stu­dents of this school,” it states, deport­ed from 1942 — 1944 because they were born Jew­ish. Vic­tims of the Nazi bar­bar­i­ty with the active com­plic­i­ty of the Vichy gov­ern­ment. They were exter­mi­nat­ed in the death camps. Let us nev­er for­get them. Octo­ber 52002.”

Fac­ing the Ecole Mater­nelle is a recent­ly ren­o­vat­ed Bene­dic­tine monastery, which occu­pies most of the block. It is spa­cious, airy and well scrubbed. I won­der now, did the monks inside the beau­ti­ful monastery hear the bleat of the siren that sig­naled the approach of the Gestapo to col­lect the chil­dren from the school across the street? Did they see the black uni­formed SS and their Vichy agents lead the chil­dren from the nurs­ery school to the wait­ing van? Why didn’t the monks hide the chil­dren in that cav­ernous Abbey? I hes­i­tate to knock on the school’s mas­sive front door, though I’d like to know more about the children.

I return in the late after­noon. A teacher is lead­ing a group of stu­dents into the monastery on a school field trip. Across the street, moth­ers are pick­ing up their chil­dren from the nurs­ery school. The front door is ajar. I walk in. Inside the vestibule, there is anoth­er black mar­ble tablet. Eight boys,” it says, from this school were exter­mi­nat­ed in the Nazi death camps. Albert Aronow­icz, age 7, was the youngest, and Baruch Tuch­bard, age 16, the eldest.” Did the school call the par­ents’ of Albert and Baruch and the oth­ers, to inform them they weren’t com­ing home that evening? Or had the par­ents already made the same jour­ney themselves?

As I con­tin­ue my deep­er explo­ration of Paris, I am sud­den­ly aware of these black mar­ble plaques, and their sad mes­sage. There are over three hun­dred of them in the city, most of them erect­ed since 2000.

For a long time, the French blamed the Nazis for what hap­pened to French Jews. And yet, as ear­ly as 1940, the French Vichy gov­ern­ment defined Jew­ish sta­tus, bar­ring Jews from all state jobs, includ­ing teach­ing. Vichy France pub­lished 168 laws gov­ern­ing Jew­ish life.

Dur­ing the 1998 World Cup finals, I learned what a ten­der sub­ject race is in France. France’s vic­to­ry set off an explo­sion of cel­e­bra­tions in Paris, with wild­ly exu­ber­ant crowds pour­ing into the streets , kiss­ing strangers, and honk­ing their horns until the ear­ly morn­ing. It was unlike any­thing I have ever wit­nessed in New York. How won­der­ful,” I enthused to my French broth­er-in-law, to see this mul­ti­cul­tur­al team.” For, indeed, the French soc­cer team, led by the leg­endary eth­nic Alger­ian cen­ter field play­er, Zine­dine Zidane, was the very por­trait of a rain­bow coali­tion., We do not remark on such things,” my broth­er-in-law chid­ed me. They are all French.” This is nation­al pol­i­cy and you will not find offi­cial French sta­tis­tics on race or immi­gra­tion. It would run counter to the found­ing prin­ci­ple of la Republique: the doc­trine of assim­i­la­tion. From the time of the Rev­o­lu­tion, Protes­tants were giv­en equal sta­tus in Catholic France, as were Jews and the chil­dren of immi­grants. Of course, the black mar­ble plaques tell a dif­fer­ent narrative.

Vis­it on Wednes­day as Kati Mar­ton con­tin­ues her explo­ration of Paris’s rela­tion­ship to its Jew­ish citizens.