Hélène Berr

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Hélène Berr (27 March 1921 – April 1945) was a French woman of the Jewish faith, who documented her life in a diary during the time of Nazi occupation of France. In France she is considered to be a "French Anne Frank".

Life[edit]

Hélène Berr was born in Paris, France, a member of a Jewish family that had lived in France for several generations. She studied Russian and English literature at the Sorbonne university. She also played the violin.

The entrance to Bergen-Belsen

She was not able to pass her final exam at the university because the anti-Semitic laws of the Vichy regime prevented her from doing so. She was active in the “General Organization of Jews in France” (Union générale des israélites de France, UGIF). On 8 March 1944 Hélène and her parents were captured and taken to Drancy internment camp and from there were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp on 27 March 1944. In early November 1944 Hélène was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died in April 1945 just five days before the liberation of the camp.

Diary[edit]

Hélène Berr began her notes on 7 April 1942 at the age of 21. At first the horrors of anti-Semitism and the war do not show in her diary. The landscape around Paris, her feelings for one young man, Gérard, and her friends at the Sorbonne are the topics of her diary. In addition to her studies, the reading and discussion of literature, and playing and listening to music comprise a significant part of her social and cultural life. She falls in love with Jean Morawiecki, who reciprocates, but ultimately decides he must leave Paris to join the Free French in late November 1942.

In her text, which has many literary citations including William Shakespeare, John Keats and Lewis Carroll, the war initially appears at most as an evil dream. But little by little she becomes more conscious of her situation. She reports about the yellow badge that Jews were ordered to wear and notes the expulsions from public parks, the curfews and arrests, as well as the abuse against her family members and friends.

Yellow badge made mandatory by the Vichy regime in France

The actions directed against the Jews become harsher and more painful to all, but the Final Solution itself is never made explicit to the public. Because of this, Berr, who does much volunteer work with orphans, initially finds it impossible to comprehend why women and especially children are included in the deportations to the camps. She hears rumours about the gas chambers and complains about her fear of the future: "We live from hour to hour, not even from day to day." A deported Jew tells her about the plans of the Nazis. The last entry in the diary is about a conversation with a former prisoner of war from Germany. The diary ends on 15 February 1944 with a citation from Shakespeare's 'Macbeth': "Horror! Horror! Horror!“ [1]

Publication[edit]

Berr ordered her notes to be released to her fiancé Jean Morawiecki after her death. Morawiecki later followed a career as a diplomat. In November 1992, Hélène Berr's niece Mariette Job decided to track down Morawiecki with a view to publishing the diary. He gave the diary that consists of 262 single pages to Job in April 1994. The diary has been stored at Paris' Mémorial de la Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Museum) since 2002.

The book was published in France in January 2008. The Libération paper declared it as “the editorial event at the beginning of 2008”[2] and reminded the readers of the lively discussions about the book of Jewish Irène Némirovsky. The first print of 24,000 copies was sold out after only two days.[3]

Exhibition[edit]

Opening of the exhibit "Hélène Berr, A Stolen Life - Exhibition from Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris France", was held at the Alliance Française d'Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia USA, on Wednesday, 22 January 2014, at 7:00 PM. Speakers included the Consul Generals of France and Germany, Directors of the Alliance Française and the Goethe-Zentrum as well as the Executive Directors of the Memorial de la Shoah, Paris and the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust.[4]

See also[edit]

Literature[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Macbeth Act ii Scene 3
  2. ^ „Ce sera l’événement éditorial du début de l’année 2008.“, La vie brève, Liberation, 20. Dezember 2007
  3. ^ DER SPIEGEL (German) No. 3/2008, p. 94
  4. ^ http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e8fmapxf18dc8d4c&llr=zk8sv7bab

Journal by Hélène Berr, translated by David Bellos, published by Quercus October 2008, ISBN 978-1-84724-574-8