Helene Berr’s bad dream

May it never happen here. Not that it ever could, of course.

But it did happen–the nightmare of having some political evil start as a trickle of disturbing news reports that are too close for comfort, then turning into, over a two-year period, a slow plague of arrests that send folks to the black hole.

You heard about Joe? the guy at work, or Shawna who lives down the street; you have a class with him, or you had lunch with her last week. Or god forbid it should ever happen to anyone in your family.

But then it did. They took Helene’s father away, put him in a detention center at a place called Drancy, near Paris, very near where the Berr family lived, even though–even though–their home was in the very shadow of a famous world landmark–the Eiffel Tower.

And even though he was an important man in French industry– a smart, hard-working, successful family man with a major corporation.

It was a surprise–the rude suddenness of it–the arrest falling upon someone so close to home, a member of your own family.

But then, history is filled with such as this.  Not in America, of course, except on tv.

In this true story, you see, the powers-that-be had determined that Raymond was not religiously correct, or maybe not ethnically correct.

The bad dream had started with someone who lives down the street, someone you know casually and you see every now and then, once a week somewhere–at work or school–someone who is a friend of a friend, or a friend of an enemy.

Next thing you know, they get arrested, for no good reason, arrested for not being religiously correct, or ethnically correct, whatevah, u try to fugeddaboudit.

This happened in France, a civilized country of reasonable people, in 1942-44. Since then, it has happened in other places. Before that, it happened in many places. It didn’t start in Germany. Maybe it started in Russia, or Spain 500 years ago, or Babylon 2500 years ago or even before that.

Right now it is happening somewhere. But not in America, of course. Maybe Syria, or Somalia or North Korea, or Egypt or

Helene Berr’s Journal tells the terrible tale of Nazi-occupied France; it is the frightening testimony of one very sensitive, very smart twenty-something girl whose blooming life was forever arrested by the occupying evil. The nightmare is a long, slow slide on a slippery slope of political oppression that you knew in your bones was coming but were afraid to really deal with. It took a couple of years to fully develop. But when it finally did come–you’ve heard of Auschwitz, right?

Yes, it did happen. These things happen, because this is the human race we’re livin in.

This book is not for you who want to be perpetually entertained.  All comfortably-numb online and cable-ready enticements will end someday. Then what happens? Maybe you oughta find out what happens.

No, this book is more like education, although Helene’s recollections of unjust, irrational events as they alarmingly unfolded, are very tender, painfully prosaic in their stabbing truth, like a Dante’s inferno, or Cable’s descent into hell on 500 channels.

Sadder, but wiser, will you be if you read it: The Journal of Helene Berr, translated and commented by David Bellos, published 2008 by Weinstein Books.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

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