Monday, March 7, 2011

When Memory Comes by Saul Friedlander, first published in French in 1978, published in English in 1979, reissued in 2003

"There is so much that is fascinating about Saul Friedlander's life, it is hard to know where to begin or how, even, to define him. Historian. Teacher. Author. Policy-maker. Survivor. It is the last, in fact, that defines all the rest." from a feature article written by Roberta Wax published in UCLA Magazine, Fall of 1999
Saul Friedlander, noted historian of the Holocaust and winner of a MacArthur “genius” award in 1999, wrote this memoir about his early years while living in Israel, Born into a totally assimilated Jewish family in Prague in 1932 four months before Hitler took power, he remembers the solidly comfortable, cultured middle class life his family led until panic set in as Hitler rose to power and his parents tried to escape over the Hungarian border. But they soon realized they would not be better off in Hungary, so they went back to Prague.

The desperate attempt by his parents to find a safe place continued. They fled to Paris in 1939; they wanted to go to Palestine but there was a wait of a year, and they didn’t have the proper papers. They stayed in Paris until the war broke out at which point they fled to Neris-les-Bain, a spa town in central France full of hotels with Jewish refugees in similar circumstances.

In 1942 when foreign Jews in France started to be rounded up, in an attempt to save their son, Freidlander’s parents placed him in a Catholic boarding school where, at the age of ten, he took on a new name and was baptized. He had a very difficult time adjusting to a whole new way of life and the disappearance of his parents was traumatic. But after a health crisis – the nuns told him he nearly died – he developed a new frame of mind and became a devout Catholic. He seriously considered becoming a priest.

When the war was over and his parents didn't return, a priest mentor talked to Friedlander about what had happened to them. It was at this point that Friedlander found out all about the war; he had no idea what Auschwitz was. He now understood the implications of his having been born a Jew and he immediately took back his real name.

 Friedlander became an ardent Zionist after being sent to a Zionist camp at Lake Chalain. He writes that it gave him a sense of community and purpose, and he subsequently added two years to his age so that he could join Betar, the youth group affiliated with the Irgun led by Menachem Begin. The youngest refugee aboard, he sailed to the new state of Israel on the Altalena, a ship loaded with arms, ready to defend Israel. He ends his memoir with the drama surrounding the arrival of the Altalena, and his eventual sailing into port where he would start the next chapter of his life.

Friedlander does not tell his story in strictly chronological order. Much of the retelling of his early years is deliberately interwoven with illustrations from his later life in Israel. When he is writing in 1977 about World War II, he thinks back to the 1973 Yom Kippur War and how much the trauma of that war changed Israelis. He continues to make many links between the conflicts and wars in Israel and the feelings of being under siege, the yearning for self-definition and peace that Jews have felt many other times in their history.

To read an interview with Friedlander in Der Spiegel, click here.
To read more about the arrival of the ship the Altalena, click here.

Gustav and Cecile Glaser
    Elli Glaser, daughter of Gustav and Cecile; married Hans Friedlander;
        Pavel (Saul) Friedlander – son of Elli and Hans; married to Hagith;  author
            Eli, David, and Michal – children of Saul and Hagith
    Paul, Hans, Willy – sons of Gustav and Cecile

Aunt Martha – relationship not clear

Prague, Czechoslovakia
Rochlitz, Germany
Lemberg, Galicia
Nira, Israel
Beit Itzhak, Israel
Shaar Hefer, Israel
Ben Shemen, Israel
Natanya, Israel
Bubenec, Prague, Czecheslovakia
Paris, France
Montmorency, France
Neris-les-Bains, France
La Souterraine, France
Montucon, France
Rivesaltes Concentration Camp, France

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