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cultural history

The Journal of Helene Berr

Helene Berr. David Bellos, trans. Mariette Job, afterword.
Publisher Weinstein Books  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 9.25 x 6.25 x 1 inches
ISBN 9781602860643
Pages/Publication Date 307/2008
Daedalus Item Code 32980
This item is not available.
Named one the "Best Unread Books" of the past decade by London's Guardian, this journal from a young Frenchwoman in Paris is a counterpoint and companion to Anne Frank's Diary, recalling largely the same period (April 1942 to February 1944) but from the perspective of an elite Jewish family that chose not to flee or hide from the Nazis. Hélène Berr also died at Bergen-Belsen, mere days before it was liberated—she may well have known Frank—but Berr, 21 years old at the start and a student of the Sorbonne, possessed a highly refined inner life and a remarkably selfless spirit. Her journal, left with the family's cook to be given to her fiancé, was finally published in France in 2008 to wide acclaim. "What a loss she was!" opined Carmen Callil in the Guardian. "Again and again she writes: 'I write to show people later on what these times are like,' and 'We must not forget.'... For two years she bore witness to horrific and tragic events, waiting with her family for the knock at the door, knowing what was to come, and writing."

"'I was abruptly assailed by the feeling that I had to describe reality,' writes Berr midway through this urgent firsthand account of the devastation of Paris's Jewish community during WWII. This journal, which begins in 1942 as the record of a young woman's intense and buzzing inner life, becomes over time a record of human suffering: How will the world be cleansed unless it is made to understand the full extent of the evil it is doing? Berr, daughter of a prosperous assimilated Jewish family, was forced to quit her studies at the Sorbonne, joined an underground network to save Jewish children, saw her father arrested and beloved friends deported.... As the noose tightens around Paris's Jews, Berr wonders if she still has the right to find momentary pleasure in reading; she questions herself for falling into instinctive, primitive hatred of Germans. Yet in one overpowering moment of rage, she rails against impassive Parisian Christians who 'crucify Christ every day.' Berr died in Bergen-Belsen in 1944, five days before the camp's liberation, but her vibrant voice—full of anguish, compassion, indignation and defiance—springs from these pages—as extraordinary a document of occupied France as Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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