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Book details
  • SubGenre:Cultural, Ethnic & Regional / General
  • Language:English
  • Pages:160
  • Paperback ISBN:9781667883298

From Vichy to Jerusalem

A Memoir of Hiding and Coming of Age

by Jacques Maurice Lévi

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Jacques Lévi intended the manuscript of this book simply to be a gift of memories to his 3 sons and their families. Thankfully, he took the comments of some early readers to heart, that his life story might "resonate with others"…, with a wider audience. This story begins with Germany poised to annihilate its own and all European Jewry. Germany invades Poland in 1939, France and the Low Countries by May, 1940. World War II is underway, and the Holocaust is coming. The Vichy regime forms in southern France in July, immediately passing anti-Semitic laws that send the family into hiding. Jacques Lévi weaves his parents written and oral recollections and his child's-eye memories into an intimate, honest, compelling memoir of the war years, his coming of age, and passage to adulthood. His is as much a spiritual journey as a passage from fear and terror to salvation and to a life well lived.
The first chapter of Jacques Lévi's "From Vichy to Jerusalem" sets the stage and outlines the historical context of his first 3 years of life. Soon after he is born, Walter and Hilde (his father and mother), refugees from Hitler's Germany, have to reckon with Germany's invasion of France and the inauguration of a collaborationist Vichy regime in Southern France. Fears quickly escalate as anti-Semitic Vichy laws go into effect. Jews who sought refuge in France from Germany are among the first to suffer; they are persecuted and interned in French camps, sending the Lévi family into hiding. The family owes its survival to righteous individuals and families who kept their secret, who helped them live, and kept them safe. Jacques' story includes childhood memories of this time, fleshed out with the help of his parents' memories. He speaks of his growing understanding of the Holocaust history, against the backdrop of war and cruelty and terror in which his life unfolded. Even as he faces his emergent understanding of France's participation in the Holocaust, Jacques is quintessentially French for most (if not all) of his life. He retains his love of French culture and literature even after emigrating to Israel. Of events after coming out of hiding and the war's end, Jacques tells how his mother and father experienced a true liberation, the freedom from terror and the freedom to begin life anew, which they did in Lyon, France. Jacques is soon at an age when he can, from his own memories, detail his early school experiences, describing his friends and teachers (complete with class pictures). Jacques fills us in on his relationship with his Mom and Dad and their family friends. Those relations are sometimes tense, especially with his father, especially so as he makes decisions (or as decisions are urged upon him) about life after high school. The tensions follow him through higher education at a prestigious school in Paris, and beyond. Nevertheless, it is through his schooling and school friendships that his awareness of the contradictions between being Jewish and being French slowly come into focus. It is then that he begins to reevaluate France, to find and appreciate his Jewish roots. This leads him to a wish to know more about Israel. This leads him to meeting his wife-to-be, her family and, to life in Israel. None of this is without tribulations, which Jacques confesses with great honesty. He takes us though these latter years to their denouement.
About the author
This book is in fact, my autobiography, so permit me to excerpt a few facts from the first chapter. "When I entered this incomprehensible world, France was living its last days of peace and freedom… Europe was on the eve of a formidable storm, the strength of which no one could yet foresee…, neither its duration nor consequences. The upheavals that occurred in Europe since Hitler had come to power six years earlier, especially in Austria and Czechoslovakia, must have worried my parents… The violence of the anti-Semitic storm that had descended on the Jewish communities of these three countries at the same time as the savagery with which Austria and then Czechoslovakia were annexed to Germany should have convinced them to leave Europe at the beginning of 1939. Easy to say. Mum was already pregnant with me, responsible for her parents and for her own grandmother (in her eighties)… We were well and truly trapped." The first part of my story is thus, one of survival in hiding from the Vichy regime intent in finding and transferring Jews from their own camps to Hitler's. The second part is of the recovery of life in postwar France, of my childhood and of my coming of age in a France troubled by her failure to acknowledge her past. The third part of my story is a tale of falling in love, starting a family of my own, and of emigrating to Israel.