Two More Interesting World War II Personal Stories (3 cents)

Odette Meyers has taught French literature at a number of California universities and colleges.  Not surprising, because she grew up in France, immigrating to the United States when she was a teenager, with her parents and younger sister.  She has published her story, “Doors to Madame Marie”, in 1997 (University of Washington Press).

Born in Paris to Jewish parents who had come to France to escape antisemitism in Poland, she grew up a somewhat precocious child in the City of Light, an impoverished but fulfilling childhood destroyed by the coming of the German Nazis.  Her father was drafted into the French Army and taken prisoner by the Germans.  For a long time it was not clear whether he was still alive.  To protect Odette, her mother had arranged that she was given false papers and sent to a country town where she was to be raised as a young Catholic French girl.  Her mother apparently also survived in Paris on false papers.

The story of Odette’s life as a young Catholic girl in a very provincial town, and her return to post-war Paris, reunited with her parents (secular, not religious Jews), but still at some level thinking of herself as Catholic.  The story of Paris and its treatment of its Jews before, during and after the war, as well as the tale of those who did not survive the war.  And the story of Odette’s relationship with Madame Marie, her childhood apartment building concierge.  All this makes fascinating reading, and gives the reader a different perspective of a young Jewish child during the 1940s in France.  Recommended.

An even different perspective comes from David E. Feldman’s “Pilgrimage from Darkness”, the story of Asher Eder, formerly Oskar Eder.  Eder, as a young man and a non-Jewish German raised in a small Bavarian town where Jews were non-existent, served in the German Army during World War II as a pilot and trainer, although somehow he didn’t see combat.  While the war was still going on, he met some members of the Polish resistance and, with a few other German officers, wound up supporting the underground.  He was never caught.  After peace came, he practiced law for a short while in Hamburg, but it wasn’t for him, and he began a lengthy spiritual quest, in Europe and for a long period of time in India.  One thing led to another and he found himself in Israel, a place he did not expect to visit, and he became surprisingly interested in things Jewish, changing his name from Oskar to Asher, studying and eventually converting.  When this book was written, he was acting as a tour guide in Israel (he still may be, although his years would be catching up with him).  The book was written by someone who took one of his tours, guessed that he wasn’t born Jewish, and, over tea, asked him his story.  Also recommended, the book was published by the University Press of Mississippi (why not?) in 2004.

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