Drancy

My IWSG post is here.


Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10919 / Wisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Drancy was an internment camp in a northeastern Parisian suburb of the same name, in use through 20 August 1941–17 August 1944. It began life as La Cité de la Muette (The Silent City), a luxury high-rise, U-shaped apartment complex, among the first of its type in France.

Instead, it was taken over as police headquarters at the start of WWII, and then turned into a transit camp. An estimated 70,000 people passed through during its four years of operation.

Only 1,542 survivors were found when the Allies liberated it.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10920 / Wisch / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Over time, Drancy grew to include five sub-camps. Initially, it was run by French police, but the Germans took over on 3 July 1943. In spite of the change in command, French police continued to arrest people and bring them to Drancy.

The vast majority of detainees were Jewish, but there was a very small percentage of political prisoners. Most of the latter were in the French Resistance.

Drancy was only designed to hold 700 people, but it housed 7,000 at its height. Many survivors testified to the brutality of the French guards, and how children were immediately separated from their families.

Some Drancy prisoners were killed in retaliation for French attacks on the occupying Germans.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B10917 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Sixty-eight of the seventy-nine deportations of French Jews (with a small minority of political prisoners mixed in) set out from Drancy, starting 27 March 1942. All but six went to Auschwitz. The other destinations were Majdanek, Sobibór, Kaunas, Tallinn, and Buchenwald.

Of the 73,853 known deportees, 46,802 were gassed upon arrival. Only 913 women and 1,647 men were known to survive by 1945.

Copyright Reinhardhauke

Famous internees included artist and writer Max Jacob (who died in Drancy), Dutch painter Max van Dam, writer Tristan Bernard, choreographer René Blum, and German artist Charlotte Salomon.

After the war, survivors filed charges against fifteen of the French gendarmes who ran Drancy. Ten were put on trial, three of whom fled before proceedings began. The other seven insisted they were just following orders, in spite of the numerous testimonies about their brutality.

All ten were found guilty, though the court ruled they’d been rehabilitated by “acts of active, effective, and sustained participation in Resistance against the enemy.” Two of them were sentenced to two years of prison and five years of national indignity. After one year, they were pardoned.

Copyright Ykmyks

In 1976, sculptor Shelomo Selinger (now 89 years old), a Polish-born Shoah survivor, unveiled a three-part rose granite memorial which was two years in the making. There’s also an authentic railcar on permanent display.

Disgustingly, on 20 January 2005, anti-Semites set some of the railcars on fire and left a tract with an swastika, signed “Bin Laden.” On 11 April 2009, a swastika was painted on the remaining railcar.

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My characters Darya Koneva and Oliivia Kalvik are taken to Drancy after participating in an anti-Nazi protest in Paris in October 1942. They’re among the very small minority of non-Jewish political prisoners.

During their three weeks in Drancy, Darya and Oliivia sleep on wet straw and a hard wooden mattress, with only a thin blanket, and eat lousy rations. Drancy makes Darya long for her early years in a Lower East Side tenement.

As soon as they get the opportunity, they volunteer for transport to the mythical Pitchipoi they keep hearing about. On 4 November, their journey to Hell begins, and they discover Pitchipoi doesn’t exist. Auschwitz is referred to as not-Pitchipoi, Planet Pitchipoi, and Pitchipoi 99% of the time, both in the text and Darya and Oliivia’s speech.

When Darya’s future husband Andrey asks about this, she says it’s her way of dealing with that ugliness and evil. If she doesn’t use the real name, she won’t be confronted by cruel reality.

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WeWriWa— “Still standing tall”

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet immediately follows last week’s, and closes this section of this chapter. Soldiers from the U.S. Third Army have arrived at Buchenwald in response to several radio messages sent by the camp’s robust resistance, and two of them have given their chronograph watches to 15-year-old Kálmán and 14-year-old Móric.

Móric has just announced he doesn’t feel well enough to keep standing, and lowered himself onto the ground. As the youngest and most slightly-built member of their original group of twenty-four, he’s survived so long because the older boys took care of him. Kálmán surreptitiously carried Móric on his back during the homestretch of the march to Buchenwald, and when Móric became too sick and weak even for the boys’ brick-laying detail, their Communist Kapo hid him in the typhus ward.

Virdzsi (VEER-jee) is Kálmán’s brother Virgil, named after the great Roman poet. As it turns out, Virgil may have survived after all.

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“That’s okay.” Kálmán knelt beside him and put his arm around Móric. “You’re still standing tall and strong.  The Americans came in time to save us, and as soon as we’re well enough to travel, we can go home and start planning our immigration to Palestine.”

“It won’t be easy to go back into the world.  I don’t think we’ll ever be normal again.”

Kálmán put his other arm around Móric and rocked him back and forth. “It never is easy to go from one extreme to another.  Like Virdzsi’s namesake said, ‘The gates of Hell are open night and day; smooth the descent, and easy is the way; but to return, and view the cheerful skies, in this the task and mighty labor lies.’”

Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia, Jean-Baptiste Wicar, 1790–93

When Kálmán’s family was taken to the Abony ghetto last May, one of the items strewn across their front yard was his mother’s gold-leaf, illuminated Aeneid, fluttering open to a passage about how everyone’s final day is fixed. When Kálmán returns home, that book is one of the items given back to him by some Catholic friends who went around recovering and hiding as many things as possible from their Jewish neighbors before they were plundered by enemies.

WeWriWa—A very meaningful gift

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when 14-year-old Móric tried to give his chronograph watch from a soldier to his 15-year-old friend Kálmán. Kálmán refused it, and then another soldier gave Kálmán his own chronograph watch.

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“Thank you very much.” Kálmán put the watch around his left wrist and buckled it on the innermost notch. “I haven’t had any personal possessions since last June. This ugly uniform, my ragged blanket, and my beat-up bowl don’t count. We weren’t even allowed to have names.” He indicated his tattoo.

Móric let go of Kálmán and eased himself onto the ground. “I’m too dizzy to stand anymore.”

WeWriWa— “I don’t need my watch either”

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when one of the U.S. Third Army soldiers arriving at Buchenwald after the prisoners liberated themselves gave 14-year-old Móric Heyman a very nice chronograph watch.

Zaki is Móric’s oldest brother Zakariás. In September 1944, he and Móric’s other older brother Viktor were chosen to go on transport as mechanics. Zakariás entrusted their friends with the care of his little brother, and said he’d never be able to face his mother in the other world if her youngest remaining child were murdered.

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“Thank you very much.” Móric took the watch and extended it to Kálmán. “You deserve this more than I do, since if not for you, there’d be no me.  I wish I could give it to Zaki, but he might not be coming back.”

“You must keep it,” Kálmán insisted. “I’d never take your presents away from you.”

The freckled soldier removed his own chronograph watch, which had a platinum face and brown leather band. “You can have mine.  I don’t need my watch either.  It can’t give you back all you must’ve lost, but it’ll probably make you feel a little happier.”

WeWriWa—A liberator’s gift

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes from Chapter 20, “Remnants Rescued,” of The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, set during April 1945.

Kálmán and Móric are the only two boys left of the group that set out from Jawischowitz in January. Apart from two who escaped and another who was left behind at Mauthausen, everyone else has perished. The end of the road was Buchenwald, whose strong resistance immediately put them into a boys’ brick-laying detail. Their two remaining older friends insisted on working in the quarry with the other men, and weren’t as lucky.

The sickly Móric was hidden in the typhus ward by their Communist Kapo, and Kálmán insisted on joining him. Shortly afterwards, the camp resistance sent messages to the U.S. Third Army, killed their remaining guards, and liberated themselves. Now the soldiers have arrived, and Kálmán begs them to help Móric.

“We’ll bring doctors and nurses here as soon as we can, and give you whatever food we have,” a freckled soldier said in German. “You boys will be very well taken care of.”

“We’re not boys, we’re men,” Móric said softly.

The freckled soldier smiled at him. “How old are you fellows?”

“I’m fourteen, and he’s fifteen.”

A leathery-skinned soldier took off his gold-faced chronograph watch with a black leather band, and extended it to Móric. “You deserve this more than I do.  Don’t try to refuse it.  You deserve a lot more than just a watch after what you went through, but this is the nicest thing I have to give you.”