Ear­li­er this week, Kati Mar­ton wrote about the French Jew­ish fam­i­ly the Camon­dos and Paris’s black mar­ble plaques. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

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 my Paris neigh­bor­hood, I am dis­cov­er­ing France’s his­toric fear of out­siders. Indif­fer­ence to the fate of those not inside their cir­cle is the under­side of the French pas­sion for pri­va­cy, for la dis­cre­tion. A coun­try that has expe­ri­enced mul­ti­ple inva­sions and a cat­a­stroph­ic loss of life in World War I has low expec­ta­tions of human­i­ty – and an under­stand­able fear of les etrangers – strangers. C’est nor­male,” accom­pa­nied by a gal­lic shrug, is an expres­sion I hear often. Even death in mid-life is deemed nor­male,” some­thing to accept and live with. In New York, death is not nor­male.” It is a shock­ing intru­sion into life — a fail­ure. No one in hyper­ac­tive Man­hat­tan wants to be remind­ed of mortality.

Here in Paris, every block tells a tale, and cau­tions the vis­i­tor against undue opti­mism. The past – and death — is so present in Paris because every neigh­bor­hood has some sort of a mon­u­ment to the two mil­lion men – two out of every nine – lost in World War I. Every step for­ward is fol­lowed by one back­ward – the ancient stones of my neigh­bor­hood seem to say. I am remind­ed of that as I sit in Le Café Metro, on the place Maubert. Léon Blum, elect­ed Prime Min­is­ter in 1936 was the first Jew to hold that office. He was dri­ving through place Maubert, where I am sip­ping my café au lait, when a group of right wing thugs tried to over­turn his car. Did any­one sit­ting on this ter­race move to inter­cede? Blum was arrest­ed by the Gestapo. He sur­vived Auschwitz, but his broth­er René did not.

What would have hap­pened to Paris had its cit­i­zens resist­ed the Ger­mans more force­ful­ly? Would it have shared Budapests fate – with every major build­ing and mon­u­ment bombed? It’s a dev­as­tat­ing thought: Notre Dame pul­ver­ized like Coventry’s cathe­dral? Still, Vichy is a name uttered with shame and as rarely as pos­si­ble by the French. 

My rever­ie is inter­rupt­ed by a young man with a shaved head who leans over from the next table at the Café Metro to ask, Can you rec­om­mend a good sushi place near­by?” He has an unmis­tak­able Hun­gar­i­an accent, so I answer in Hun­gar­i­an. Again, I cir­cle back to the scene a Parc Mon­ceau. Will this expo­sure to the Oth­er — a Hun­gar­i­an skin­head look­ing for sushi in Paris — be enough to douse the next erup­tion of hate? 

Kati Mar­ton is a Hun­gar­i­an-Amer­i­can author and jour­nal­ist. Her newest book, Paris: A Love Sto­ry, is now available.