Francine Christophe is a lady, if you look at her picture, not only beauty, but also plenty of grace and serenity. You wouldn't never guess from a pic, that this lady experienced the horror of the Holocaust. But she did.
Her book, L'Enfant des Camps
written with Pierre Marlière is a shocking but at the same time precise, vivid account of the years of her Holocaust. Francine has had the luck of not having lost his parents; her mother was captured with her and both of them were never been separated.
When she was arrested with her mother, she tells, she was learning "le tables de moltiplication" and she was at the number 5. When she returned home, three years later, in 1945, all the rest of the children knew them, while she didn't, but the trauma remained and she hasn't never been in grade of been quick with numbers.
Yes, because as Francine remarks in this book, there is not a day that she doesn't remember what it meant Berger-Belsen and the other camps where she stayed in, two times at Drancy, the first time "better", the second time horribly, because in the camp there weren't anymore French french soldiers but SS and horrible kapos.
In theory Francine and her mother couldn't be deported because in family there had been soldiers prisoners of war. But they have been. The main priviledge they had was receiving mails, and sometimes his father wrote them long letters. Once reunited, that poor man couldn't recognize anymore his wife. He had left a florid lady, and now he had in front of her someone unrecognizable, with typhys.
It's impossible to forget an experience like that one, because there wasn't anymore anything of human in the treatment reserved to Jewish people and the rest of humanity nazists didn't like, writes Francine.
Francine changed several camps, but till she remained in France, although there wasn't always a human treatment, (but sometimes people were gentle) she was still in the mood of singing. It would have been impossible singing in a place like Berger-Belsen.
When still in a french camp she composed a little song that it is now preserved in the Memorial dedicated at the victims of the Shoah. Her mother preserved in fact the paper with the words written by her daughter.
That trains: Francine is not shy in telling what was going on in the trains where they were deported. From the beginning you felt a nauseabond smell, because, obviously before their deportation other people had suffered the same pain that had experienced Francine and her mother; treated like beasts, they had to pee and make poo directly there; once arrived at destination they were all dirty, tired, but the horror was just starting.
In a camp when they received their little food, they discovered a dead rat; in Bergel-Belsen Maurice, a friend of Francine waited everyday with impatience that one of the kapo of SS finished to eat his cheese; he had discovered that that SS had the habit of throwing away the rind; the kid discovered it and everyday was waiting for it. It was something.
The mother of Francine in the camp of Berger-Belsen had also kept away some chocolate. "I will give it to you if strongly indispensible" she said her once. Then, one day they discovered a lady who had had a baby in the camp. She was a little tiny baby; that lady was starved, was emaciated, and didn't have any strength for helping her baby. So Francine's mother decided of presenting the chocolate at that lady: Francine agreed. What I found absolutely moving and wonderful was what happened many years after this episode. The baby survived and at some point Francine organized a meetings for people interested in the Holocaust, but also of course for survivors and their families. During this first meeting, a lady donated her some chocolate. "I am the baby of the girl you and your mother have helped in the camp."
There are still and there will be always many fears in the mind of Francine: she can't watch horror movies, or movies containing any sort of violence.
She can spends hours to see the pictures of the corpse of people dead in her camp, the one of Berger-Belsens or other ones, because, she underlines, that "that one has been my childhood", and that ones were the people with her in the camp. Maybe she hadn't never met them, but they were part of what she was sharing with them.
Francine strongly avoid movies containing strong messages of violence, because she experienced what it means and obviously no one would want to live anything like that, also if fictionally.
Francine has a big fear of the night, and once, when she watched on TV the concert organized for the arrival of the New Year, I imagine the one of Wien, an air of Richard Strauss called Schnell, to her meant to be again transported in the camp, where the SS used that word, that meant billy, or trancheon.
Many are the hidden traumas, like this one that can return on surface prepotently and abruptly in the existence of a survivor.
The return in the real life hasn't been simple for Francine. She also experienced a lot of big problems; diarreah and dysentery, typhus, the poor conditions experienced, meant to her big big problems at the teeth, cystitis, and many other kind of health problems derived by malnutrion, cold and extreme conditions experienced by her body.
Malnutrion reached dramatical proportions. When the SS understood that the end was close, they didn't mind anymore of feeding these poor people; to them, specifies Francine we were numbers not anymore people.
So one day, Francine while was walking noticed a corpse and a man on this corpse. She run away, disgusted.
People tried for their survival every possible escapism, also that one.
Francine saw wagons of corpses accumulated close to them: you can't forget that innocent people can be treated like that, and that they can die because of the dishumanity of other human beings.
Francine is optimistic regarding our times. The Second World War was born because of a general turmoil not yet sorted out at the end of the First World War, but what it was wanted by all the European Countries, in particular France and Germany, was establishing a new order of things; the creation of Europe means preserving another event like the one seen in the 1940s but also presenting peace, stability and freedom to the folks of these countries.
That's why Europe is important and it is a value that we must treasure so badly. New generations, adds Francine doesn't know what it means a lack of freedom (maybe we are experiencing it because of the covid-pandemic, but surely we hadn't never lived a limitation of freedom or massive departures, before.) In the past it wasn't like that.
The goals reached now in terms of peace, freedom of expression and freedoms of every sorta are good fruits born because of the atrocities of the past; so it's important to preserving the memory, looking always to the future with a smiling attitude and gratitude; these free lands where we live in decided to change for better after the horror experienced in the latest world war conflict.
In Berger-Belsen Francine lived in the Camp of de l'Etoile, of the Star, and with them there were jewish of many countries and different ethnicity; it meant that no one understood the other ones; yes, there were examples of jewish people who could understand and speak several languages, but for example Francine didn't know yiddish at all; there was a sort of competition of the various people of different countries in the camp and also in this way, Germans wanted to put hate between them.
But Hitler didn't invent the anti-semitism remarks Francine: it transformed that hate in a mostruosity.
The latest train that they caught had to explode, but thank Lord they were saved by Russian soldiers and set free. Forever. A freedom, the one of Francine that meant to her, a survivor, the constant, frequent visit at schools of every genre, for telling what happened to her. No one can knows if survivors don't tell.
Once she said, she was invited at Hannover and an israelian lady told that she screamed most of the time during the night because of the SS. Another flash, a big hug with that unknown lady and the idea, they were also invited to dinner, of spending some time in solitude in her bedroom, with few food. They prepared a superb dinner at the restaurant, but at few meters of distance there were the dead people disappeared abruptly during the war; while she had to eat; eating...An impossible dream in the camp, pains experienced for the lack of food were the msot tremendous and diversified ones; Francine passed from physical to psychological torments.
Jewish people, adds Francine had been totally absorbed by the french community; they are part of the social tissue of France: they are proud of been francais, french, they fought, as the relatives of Francine did, in the french army. It was shocking what happened to them.
A book that everyone must read!
I thank Editions Grasset for the physical copy of the book.
Anna Maria Polidori