Three Generations Away

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 – Prompt:

Go back three generations and tell us about where your family lived.

I was born in Paris, France.
My father was born in Paris, France.
His mother too.
My mother was born in Algiers, which at the time of her birth was a French department.
Her mother was born in Toulouse, France and her father was born in Algeria.

Algeria is more mysterious to me because I never visited, and also because the country changed so much after it became independant, in 1962.
My family had already left the land, earlier, already in 1953 or 1954 before the war there started. The land they owned was seized, and certainly all the hard work my grandfather labored there got lost, but certainly not his kindness, his patience and all the memories he left me, even if he passed on when I was very little.

Alger Pointe Pescade

My grandfather was a tanner, and I still have a satchel that I used when I went to grade school that I was told he made (I supposed he prepared the leather for it, but had it made by a maker). I am very fond of leather, its smell, its feel. I also have my grandfather’s desk. Actually, I am writing on it right now. I don’t know how old this desk is, but it must have been built more than a century ago…

On the contrary, my father’s family lived in a place that I am very familiar with.
I have walked the street they lived many times, and passed it driving even more.
I have looked at the door, a typical heavy Parisian black door, but I have never passed its threshold.

My grandmother was arrested by the Gestapo and deported as a Jew in 1943. She never returned home.
certif  arrestation  Thérèse

On April 27, 1946 the building caretaker, wrote this note to certify that my grandmother had been arrested on July 30, 1943 at her place of work and never reappeared nor gave any news until that day.

This piece of paper probably entitled my father to some rights. Eventually, my grandmother was declared “dead for the motherland”.

I wear her wedding band. Because she was divorced at the time, she was not wearing it, and this is the only memory I have left from her, that I carry all the time with me. Inside the wedding ring there are her initials and her estranged husband. LH TG: the first two initials happen to be also mine. There is the date May 17, 1925. I can hardly take it off my finger now.

The desk and the ring are part of my surroundings, and they keep reminding me of those who are not here anymore, and places and stories I barely knew, and certainly never lived. They have a lot of power though, and they do shape who I am.

See the other posts of the series:

Generations

Random facts about my judaism

Generations

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Monday, June 3, 2013 – Prompt:

How many generations can you go back in your family?  What do you know about your oldest ancestors?

On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a Sephardic Jew and his name can be found in Chronicles (Chr I, 23-11) which kind of makes me pretty vain about it (being able to say that you trace my Yiddishkeit back to the Tanach, who would not feel a little proud about that anyway?). My maternal grandmother was coming from a prominent Lorraine family (ashkenaz) and they were already settled in Paris, France when citizenship was granted to the Jews right after the French Revolution(9/28/1791), so you can trace her family in the civil official registars back in 1792.

Random facts about my judaism

These are facts that I seem to have known always.
They are part of my family’s folklore, and being aware of the “mixed” origin (part sefardic, part ashkenaz) came later in my knowledge, when I became really interested in what my Jewish heritage was. Because it was not something that I remember being important when I grew up.

Obviously, generations before WWII did not mix up as much as they did after.

It feels like many generations lived in the same place for a very long time.
For instance in Paris.
And often in the very same area of the city, too.

Then, some of my ancestors, who were from Russia at the time of the czar, were probably forced to leave, as antisemitism was fierce and often deadly, but what transpired from the family folklore was never stories of pogroms, but rather the fact that this particular ancestor was a peddler, a very typical activity for an askenaz Jew of that time. I wonder what language he spoke when he made it to Eastern France, and if this is where he founded a family, or had left one behind.

Captain Dreyfus at the time of his rehabilitation
I know more about my great-grand-father from my maternal side, who had been a Colonel in the French army at the time of the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1906). For those not familiar with French history, there had been a war between France and Prussia (at the time) prior to that period, and my family (that part of the family) was already established as Parisians, where the war had created a famine. The family folklore says that they had to eat rats for protein. I do not know if it was true or a myth. What I remember is my grandmother boasting about it for her father like if it was heroic. Seems pretty intense rather. But I am sure it was also a way not to speak about politics, which had been such a painful and sensitive topic. It definitely shaped a lot of our political sensitivities and outrage.

On the paternal side, I know of the ancestors who had to opt for the French citizenship: there was a time when residents of Alsace and Lorraine where caught up in territories claimed back and forth between Germany and France. They chose the French citizenship, because the Jews could have it. And they seemed to feel happier in France: there even was a saying “As happy as God in France”, because Napoleon was favorable to the Israelites, and obviously they were supporting him back.

Folkloric stories seem to stop at the beginning of the XIXth century for me.
My imagination goes back much further though, and I sometimes have very vivid visions of the village my ancestors would have lived in back in the XIth or XIIth centuries! These memories were created by my readings, of course, and a propension to invent or believe that it comes from memories passed in the genes, who knows after all?