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The Journal of Hélène Berr (2008)

by Hélène Berr

Other authors: Mariette Job (Editor), Patrick Modiano (Preface)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3641951,288 (4.11)21
The joyful but ultimately heartbreaking journal of a young Jewish woman in occupied Paris, now published for the first time, 63 years after her death. In 1942, H©♭l©·ne Berr, a 21-year-old Jewish student at the Sorbonne, started to keep a journal, writing with verve and style about her everyday life in Paris--about her studies, her friends, her growing affection for the "boy with the grey eyes," about the sun in the dewdrops, and about the effect of the growing restrictions imposed by France's Nazi occupiers. Humiliations were to follow, which she records, now with a view to posterity. She wants the journal to go to her fianc©♭, who has enrolled with the Free French Forces, as she knows she may not live much longer. She was right. The final entry is dated February 15, 1944, and we now know she died in Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, within a month of Anne Frank and just days before the liberation of the camp.--From publisher description.… (more)
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    The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (guurtjesboekenkast)
    guurtjesboekenkast: Zowel Hélène Berr als Anne Frank zijn Joods en hebben een dagboek tijdens de oorlog geschreven. In 1945 zijn zij allebei aan tyfus overleden in het Duitse concentratiekamp Bergen-Belsen.
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» See also 21 mentions

English (12)  French (6)  Italian (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
A remarkable diary. It seems that there are so many holocaust books now that there is nothing new to be learned, but of course there is.

You might call this the French Anne Frank, but it isn't really. Helene Berr was French, lived in Paris, from a privileged family. During the German occupation of France she wrote this diary. It may seem astounding that her everyday life was not much different during this time than it had been before. She went with her family to their country estate frequently, to picnic, to relax. She continued to attend classes at the Sorbonne, even though as Jew she was limited in the courses of study she could take officially. She had friends, including some who became more than friends.

But she wasn't ignorant of the pain of others. She was aware that bad things were happening to Jews elsewhere and to other "classes" of Jews within France. Her father was a prominent citizen, initially exempt from seizure. As time went on, more and more people are taken, some to a nearby prison and some directly "deported". Helene did not know exactly what went on when people were deported. She seemed to have some idea that they were imprisoned for things that they had done, however slight the offense, and that they simply had to do their time. She heard of many deaths but she was not, it appears, aware of the concentration camps.

She worked as a volunteer at an organization the was formed to help Jews find their relatives or provide help with other problems. This organization was sanctioned by the German occupation as a way, it seems, to make the citizens believe all was not as bad as it seemed. However, secretly the organization found homes for Jewish children in non-Jewish families, many of them in the country and villages outside Paris. Thus a great many Jewish children were spared the fate of their counterparts who did not receive this help.

Over time Helene's family became increasingly aware that the net was drawing closer to them. They had chosen to live their lives as close to normally as possible. To escape to the "free" zone was considered cowardly (it wasn't all that free anyway). Helene in particular was less concerned about her own safety than that of others.

The diary provides a view from a a different perspective than most. It is well written, quick to read, yet of course horrifying because we know what's coming. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
Although I read this book in French, it is available in English translation and I highly recommend it. My reaction is best summarized by the French word bouleversée, which means deeply moved, utterly distressed, shattered. Although I abhor any manipulation of my emotions on the part of a novelist or filmmaker, the experience of reading this young woman's journal was quite different. Perhaps it comes down to the authenticity of witness and her commitment to recording what she was thinking, experiencing and seeing as a young Jewish woman in a Paris subjected not only to the nightmare of occupation but also that of collaboration, as well as complicity in the form of passivity, indifference, & the closing of eyes and shutting of doors to the suffering of others. At the same time, there are many who take great risks, who act selflessly and with compassion. The journal begins just as Jews in France are ordered to wear the yellow star in public and as Hélène meets fellow-student Jean Morawiecki for the first time, the young man who will become her fiance: a love story truncated by the war (Jean leaves Paris to join the French forces in North Africa) and matured within the context of increasingly harsh restrictions imposed on Hélène. The pace of arrests and deportations picks up. First, it is the foreign Jews who are taken, then all Jews. Finally, there is no longer any safe zone, no Free France, no protected status anywhere.
Certain passages, certain of Hélène's thoughts regarding her decision to remain in Paris (not entirely her decision, since she was living with her parents throughout) and not try to escape made me think of Simone Weil, particularly certain references Berr makes to her reading of the teachings of Christ. But unlike Weil, Berr isn't obsessed with self-abnegation. And, so, her concern for the suffering of others, her refusal to turn away from that suffering, which is also hers, is both more palatable to me and more heroic. Early on, she writes "Because, even in suffering, liberty is a consolation."
Hélène's arguments with herself over staying or leaving fuel a longtime obsession of mine with this question. She resists abandoning her official life (French intellectual, student at the Sorbonne, accomplished musician) for an unofficial one. She resists accepting the identity being imposed on her by History, that of the victim and of the one apart, an identity assigned by way of an attribute (the word "Jew"). To acknowledge the label Jew, to wear the yellow star, to obey the Nazis' increasingly insane and unjust laws becomes both an act of capitulation and one of solidarity. And, it is from within this fraught and contradictory space that Hélène thinks and acts. The question she wrestles with is whether it is more courageous, more "right," to stay or to leave. In any case, it is clear that she feels she cannot leave as long as her parents and other loved ones stay. For her, compassion, being "with" in suffering, is more important than saving her own life. It remains unclear whether there were realistic opportunities for Hélène and her family to flee--at first, many deportees were apprehended attempting to cross the border into the "free" zone; later, after Germany occupied all of France, escape would have been even more difficult. Hélène doesn't discuss the possibility of hiding in Paris except when toward the end, after repeated warnings of raids, her father decides that they won't spend nights in their own home and instead take refuge in the homes of their housekeeper and other friends. It is after a night when they fail to do so and instead remain at home that they are apprehended, detained and, finally, deported to Auschwitz. After evacuation to Bergen-Belsen in November, 1944 , Hélène, sick with typhus, is murdered by a guard in May, 1945 just 5 days before liberation of the camp.
The utter absurdity of having to make impossible choices brings to mind a nightmare I once had: "I’m waiting in a car for an explosion that is set to go off in a garage in front of the car. This seems to be a group suicide, with a male “leader.” I don’t know how I became involved in this, but my adult son is also in the car, seated in the rear. A toddler with a mop of black hair is cavorting around nearby. We try to shoo him away from the car, but he doesn’t understand and is playful. Suddenly, I jump out of the car, grab the child and run. As I run uphill away from the car, the toddler morphs into a still hairless infant. I reach the limit of my uphill flight and turn to the right, hoping that I’ve gotten far enough away from the car to save the child from the blast. As I contemplate how to get through a neighbor’s hedge, I hear an explosion go off behind me and realize, horrified, that my own son has remained behind me in that car."
( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
This book falls short of five stars not because of its author, but rather the editors who did not nearly footnote enough the large cast of characters and the backstories which are contained between its overs. ( )
  anieva | Jun 2, 2013 |
Really 3-and-a-half stars for this one. I did enjoy it, it was a quick read, and there were a couple of really pithy passages that I would like to copy into my own journal. ( )
  cat-ballou | Apr 2, 2013 |
Stunning. Truly a descent into Hell. I practically fell in love with this woman as I was reading her thoughts. Only lost half a star because the editorial background was not enough for me -- not even sure more would have been enough... ( )
  ShaneTierney | Nov 1, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hélène Berrprimary authorall editionscalculated
Job, MarietteEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Modiano, PatrickPrefacesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Franklin, CeciliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaas, MarianneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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1942
Mardi 7 avril
4 heures

Je reviens... de chez la concierge de Paul Valéry. Je me suis enfin décidée à aller chercher mon livre. Après le déjeuner, le soleil brillait: il n'y avait pas de menace de giboulée.
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The joyful but ultimately heartbreaking journal of a young Jewish woman in occupied Paris, now published for the first time, 63 years after her death. In 1942, H©♭l©·ne Berr, a 21-year-old Jewish student at the Sorbonne, started to keep a journal, writing with verve and style about her everyday life in Paris--about her studies, her friends, her growing affection for the "boy with the grey eyes," about the sun in the dewdrops, and about the effect of the growing restrictions imposed by France's Nazi occupiers. Humiliations were to follow, which she records, now with a view to posterity. She wants the journal to go to her fianc©♭, who has enrolled with the Free French Forces, as she knows she may not live much longer. She was right. The final entry is dated February 15, 1944, and we now know she died in Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, within a month of Anne Frank and just days before the liberation of the camp.--From publisher description.

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