Sunday, February 3, 2013


When I arrived on a week’s break in an apartment off the Rue Monge in Paris last Saturday I looked through the packed bookshelves for a suitable novel to read. I chose a book by Cara Black – her first as it happened – an Aimée Ledur investigative novel entitled ‘Murder in the Marais’.

Historically the Marais has been the Jewish Quarter of Paris. It starts on the right bank of the Seine opposite the Notre Dame: I strolled its streets and its ancient alleys, a one time ghetto. I say historically because today the area is a major Gay quarter packed with designer shops. I am sure there is still a Jewish presence but the fact is during the Nazi occupation during World War II the area was systematically cleared of the Jews – 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.

Then on Monday I caught up in the media about Holocaust Memorial Day having been commemorated on the Sunday. It took me by surprise but suddenly the true events of the book hit home.

However I have a problem with the Holocaust in converting such a horrendous period of history into reality. Let us say six million people perished in the Holocaust – the majority Jewish but also the disabled, freemasons, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies and others. How do you make sense of a figure like that?

The largest crowd I have ever been part of was the 100,000 who crammed in to 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 15 packed old Wembley Stadiums to recreate that figure. For the six million who died during the Holocaust you need to replicate the 1966 crowd by 60.

Then on Thursday the Holocaust was brought in to total chilling reality. 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 Day. It is a memorial to the children of the school, who during the German occupation between 1942 and 1944, “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 infant’s 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 these mites 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”

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on February 7 2013 and in other publications)

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