Jewish Memories by Lucette Valensi and Nathan Wachtel
Collective memory: a living, breathing gift from the past, less fragmentary than the recollections of any one individual, more personal by far than "history." The authors of Jewish Memories saw in the large numbers of Jews who migrated to France during the twentieth century the chance to retrieve a past that might otherwise be lost forever. Through dozens of interviews, they listened to men and women talking of their lives and the places they came from, and found an almost uncanny resonance of individual voices with one another. Individual memories became part of a shared memory, projecting major themes of the Jewish tradition—exile and the sense of loss, the duty to remember, and the transmission of Jewish experience to the next generations.
Hélène H. tells of dropping the all-important family teakettle during a terrified race to escape skirmishing soldiers. Charles H. talks about the innocent love he shared with a non-Jewish girl who studied with him. Anna D. describes her wordless reunion with her wounded husband after World War II. From communities now disappeared, scenes of home and family life, occupations, happy times and holidays reinforce one another, and we can feel the painful nostalgia for a kind of existence no longer possible.
Two distinct but parallel sets of memories run through the narrative, that of Sephardi and that of Ashkenazi Jews, all of whom found their way to France. They arrived from Tunisia, Turkey, Poland, and Russia, from poor and well-to-do families, almost always driven from their homes by difficult circumstances, often with their most recent memories filled with horror and tragedy. The desire to remember it all and to pass it on to others who will also remember shines from every page, and makes this book as memorable for general readers as it is valuable for anthropologists, sociologists, and historians.
Hardcover book 1991