(Please order my forthcoming memoir, The Silk Factory: Finding Threads of My Family’s True Holocaust Story.)
When you tell on someone, it’s usually a bad thing. But there was something great that my father never talked about. But why?
My father, a German Jew – probably more German than Jewish in his everyday life, but 100% Jewish to the Nazis – fled Germany with his wife Hilde and their young son Walter. First to Holland, then Belgium. Arrested in Belgium, they were deported to France, to the Gurs resettlement camp, from where tens of thousands of Jews were sent to Auschwitz and other camps where they were murdered.
But a strange thing happened in Gurs: instead of being forced to live in that unsanitary hellhole, where people literally died by drowning in the mud on the way to the latrines, he was taken in by the mayor of neighboring Meillon, Paul Mirat. Indeed, Mirat was very active in helping not only my father but many others get out of that camp – as well as from another nearby camp, Saint-Cyprien.
Mirat allowed my father and his small family to live in his house – and encouraged residents of this village of 600 people to welcome some 2,000 refugees into their homes as well. (Let that sink in for a minute: 600 people allowed more than 2,000 strangers to dwell among them.)
But I never heard about this. My father never talked about it to me, and neither did my mother, who lived into her 90s. Why the hell not?
It’s only by coincidence that I found out about it at all,. Later, I found a poem written by my father, “Was ist Meillon” that I think helps explain it.
In this poem, he writes:
what is Meillon? a quiet little speck
in the department of Basses Pyrenees
and yet when I look around…
I realize there’s something more.
Later in the poem, he writes:
This nest of farmlands
Is fatefully linked to all of our lives
And may have more to give us all
than we can recognize today.
What Meillon is?
The answer eventually becomes obvious; we’ll nod as we sip our tea,
“Yes, yes, Meillon, a quiet little speck
in the department of Basses Pyrenees.”
And nothing more.
In other words, we’ll say nothing of this place other than to note its beauty.
But why? Why not proclaim its greatness, the greatness of the people, the incredible generosity of spirit?
I think I know the answer: that no one could possibly understand what the place meant to those who lived through it, and that it’s better to be silent than to be misunderstood.
This silence is something I discuss in my forthcoming memoir, The Silk Factory: Finding Threads of My Family’s True Holocaust Story.
You can pre-order at the fantastically low pre-order price of $2.99.