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—Silence leads to bad things

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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 Darya Koneva told off a racist soda jerk and showed the number on her arm as evidence of what happens when ugly racial prejudice gets out of control. Being an American Christian didn’t save her.

Darya, the four younger Kalvik sisters, and their godbrother Dmitriy (who’s also Darya’s future brother-in-law) are now trying to find another place to eat. Viivela is the youngest of the sisters.

Darya is shaking as they walk back down the street, and has to be supported by Dmitriy and Ilme.  She can only imagine the full extent of this bombing will be covered deep in the back pages, in tiny stories, just as the reports of Nazi atrocities were.

“I haven’t seen you that gutsy since you came home,” Viivela says. “I’m glad you stood up to that racist bitch.  Bad things happen when too many good people stay silent.  At least this time you won’t be arrested for disagreeing with the party line.”

“Do you want a Central Park vendor, or would you prefer to try another diner and ice-cream parlor?” Dmitriy asks. “I don’t feel the same way about the Japanese as you do, but I don’t think it was right either to throw a bomb on so many women and children.  I’ve never called them Japs or Nips.  I guess you think I’m a coward for never correcting anyone using those words, particularly when one of my girls told me to kill lots of them when I’m in combat.”

Kengo Nikawa’s watch, forever stopped at 8:15 a.m. on 9 August 1945

Dmitriy recently completed the V-12 Navy College Training Program in Berkeley, which his godmother felt would buy him some time away from combat. A few days after this, he’s heading off to the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Cornell for the V-7 program. By the time he completes the program and earns a commission as an ensign, the war is over.

Ilme, the fourth of the five Kalvik sisters, is only a few days older than Dmitriy, and his milk sister. Her mother nursed them together, because Dmitriy’s blood mother wanted nothing to do with raising a baby. Dmitriy considers his godparents his real parents, since they raised him while his mother was busy running her fashion business.

WeWriWa—All citizens of Planet Earth

Warning: Contains a few racial epithets, though this time they’re used to speak against racism. I don’t like writing or reading certain words (the K-word in particular), but sometimes they have to be used for the sake of being true to a certain character or historical era.


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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 two of Darya Koneva’s friends expressed some very unpopular opinions about the humanity of the Japanese civilians killed in Hiroshima.

The soda jerk responded with more racist comments, and said all the Japanese needed exterminated before they produced more “vermin.” This strikes a very raw note with Darya, after her experiences in occupied Europe.

“That’s exactly how the Nazis described Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs,” Darya says, her voice shaking. “And by the way, they’re called Japanese, not Japs.  That word is as ugly as nigger, kike, or Papist.  We’re all children of God and citizens of Planet Earth, even if we don’t all look, speak, or believe the same way.”

“You should be arrested and executed for treason,” the soda jerk calls as Dmitriy turns to leave and holds the door open for his dates.

Darya rolls up her left sleeve as the Kalviks are filtering out. “I already have been arrested and tortured for supposed treason.  This is what happens when ugly racial prejudice gets out of control.  My American citizenship and Christian identity didn’t save me.  I suffered alongside many good people whose only crime was to be born Jewish or Gypsy in a land controlled by people convinced of their sub-human status.”

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Darya and her best friend Oliivia, the oldest of the five Kalvik sisters, were supposed to only spend a year abroad at a lycée in Paris, but they were trapped by the Nazi invasion and occupation, and ended up finishing their secondary education in France. Upon graduation, they were accepted to the Sorbonne, but Fate intervened again and kept them away from university degrees.

Darya and Oliivia were arrested for participating in an anti-Nazi protest in October 1942 and taken to the holding camp Drancy. They volunteered for transport to the mythical Pitchipoi as soon as they could, little realizing the journey of horrors that awaited them. Several days after they were deported, one of their friends in the French Resistance came to Drancy to try to secure their release.

More than a few American (and British) citizens ended up in concentration-camps, not just Jewish POWs. Their stories aren’t well-known, in large part because the powers that be were loath to publicly admit they’d failed to rescue their own citizens.

WeWriWa—Unpopular opinions

Warning: Contains racially-offensive but historically accurate language and sentiments. It wouldn’t be realistic if all my WWII-era characters had humane, progressive views towards the Japanese, or stopped at “only” referring to them by racial slurs. Historical writers have to accurately depict another time and place, even if that includes depicting attitudes and language one otherwise condemns.


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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 20-year-old Mireena Kalvik decided to speak up and express sympathy for the civilian casualties in Hiroshima. The soda jerk is horrified by both Mireena’s comments and the follow-up comments from her identical twin Milena.

The soda jerk speaks first, and then Mireena responds.

“What are you, a Jap sympathizer?”

“No, I’m the daughter of a proud Socialist who raised me and my siblings to think for ourselves instead of mindlessly following along with what the media tells us to believe.  The people who died were made in the image of God just like you and I.  Didn’t you see what happened in Europe because of the Nazi belief that some people are sub-human and don’t deserve life?”

“Don’t try to bring up Pearl Harbor,” Milena says. “That was a tragedy, but it was a military base, not a city full of innocent civilians.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“Their civilians are just as monstrous as their soldiers,” the soda jerk sneers. “The women will just breed more monsters, and the children will grow up to become rapists and murderers or breeders of more villains.  They need to all be exterminated before their monstrous race produces even more vermin.”

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This final comment catches Darya’s attention, and finally compels her to speak up.

According to a 1944 opinion poll, 13% of Americans were in favor of exterminating all Japanese. A lot of this prejudice was due to the fact that the Japanese were so much more “other” in comparison to the Germans, who at least had a familiar religion, physical appearance, and Western cultural heritage.

In spite of all this open, matter-of-fact anti-Japanese sentiment, there were rare instances when the enemy was humanized. The 1945 James Cagney film Blood on the Sun treats all the Japanese characters, even the antagonists, as multi-faceted human beings instead of racist caricatures and automatic villains.

WeWriWa—Mireena speaks up

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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 a little bit after last week’s, when 20-year-old Darya, who just returned to America after the end of the war in Europe, said there must’ve been a lot of civilian casualties when Hiroshima was bombed.

The soda jerk and a girl nursing a banana split responded with some very ugly, racist comments about the Japanese, such as calling them sub-humans without feelings. The first one in Darya’s party emboldened to voice an extremely unpopular opinion is 20-year-old Mireena.

Out of all five of the Kalvik sisters, Mireena is the one most created in the image of their radical mother Katrin. Even Mireena’s identical twin Milena isn’t so bold.

Darya tugs on Dmitriy’s arm. “Can we please go right to the zoo?  I’ve lost my appetite.”

“It’ll make us look odd if we leave so suddenly,” he whispers back. “Don’t tell anyone what you might really be thinking.  They might spit in your food.”

“You shouldn’t be rejoicing over the deaths of God knows how many innocent people who just happened to live in Japan,” Mireena says loudly. “Civilians aren’t military or government.  They had nothing to do with this war, and if they supported it, it just means they were misled by lots of propaganda.  Don’t you think the Japanese are sub-humans simply because so many cartoons, movies, newsreels, posters, and news stories have told you to feel that way, over and over again, for so many years?”

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Things start going from bad to worse for Darya’s party after this comment.