When I arrived in Paris last Saturday for a short break in an apartment off the Rue Monge, I looked through the packed bookshelves for a suitable novel to read. I chose a book by Cara Black – her first novel as it happened – an AimÃ©e Ledur investigative novel entitled ‘Murder in the Marais’.
Historically, the Marais had been the Jewish Quarter of Paris. It starts on the right bank of the Seine opposite the Notre Dame. I say “historically” because today the area is one of the city’s main gay districts, packed with designer shops. During the Nazi occupation the area was systematically cleared of its Jewish inhabitants – young and old – who were sent to the death camps. Needless to say, few returned. The Cara Black novel harks back to those terrible days.
Last Monday I saw reports in the media depicting the Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations that had taken place on the Sunday. Suddenly the events described in the book hit home.
I have great difficulty imagining a mass of six million people: the number of Jews who perished in the Holocaust. How does one begin to make sense of a figure like that, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of disabled, freemasons, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies and countless others who were also butchered?
The largest crowd I have ever been part of was the 100,000 who crammed into the old Wembley Stadium for the 1966 World Cup Final. It is said that one and a half million children were butchered by the Nazis. You would need to fill 15 old Wembley Stadiums to recreate that figure. For the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust, you would need to multiply the 1966 crowd by 60.
Then on Thursday the reality of the Holocaust was brought to bear in a most chilling way. As I walked along the Rue San Jacques, I passed an austere looking building. On the wall was a simple plaque with a small bouquet of flowers placed there by the City of Paris on Holocaust Memorial Day. It was a memorial to the children of the school, who during the German occupation, “were innocent victims of the Nazi barbarity with the active complicity of the Vichy Government. They were exterminated in the death camps.”
A tragedy indeed. Yet that is not the full story. The building is still used as an infants’ school to this day. As you read the plaque you can hear the sound of young children at play: today’s infants or the ghosts of the past? If you time your arrival right, you can see the children being dropped off or collected by their doting parents in much the same manner as they were around 70 years ago.
Now you see the reality of the Holocaust. Not the six million dead but the small, innocent children taken from this place and sent to the death camps.
Now you fully understand the horrors of the Holocaust. It is there before your very eyes.
I have no shame in admitting I stood by the plaque with tears in my eyes.
“Ne Les Oublions Jamais”Tags: Europe
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by David Eade