Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

History must not repeat itself. But it is.

I have a new book in the editing phase right now, but that's not important. The story it tells, however, is extremely important.

Once upon a time, there was a Jewish girl born in Erfurt, Germany. When she was five years old, her family decided to flee to Belgium, because they thought it would be far enough. They had family there. Later, they were all forced into refugee camps in the south of France. The family was separated, reunited, separated, and reunited again. And then the roundups came in Nice. A police officer who knew they were sending the Jews to their deaths gave any parents a choice: leave your children here, and an NGO will come to pick them up. They'll have one more chance at survival. This girl was left behind with her younger brother. She never heard from her parents again. 

The children managed to get to an Italian relative, a high-ranking diplomat who was secretly brokering the armistice between Italy and the Allied forces in neutral Vatican City. When news of the armistice broke early, the children were forced to flee into a remote Ligurian village with the diplomat's butler. They spent the final two years of World War Two sheltered there by Italian Catholics through countless raids by and firefights with German soldiers. And they survived. 

After the war, the girl, now a teenager, moved to Paris. 

She still lives there today. 

And I got to meet her. 

This was a difficult and perplexing meeting for me. I'm a young woman from the United States. That war was not on our soil. (We haven't had one on our soil since...a long long time ago in a seceding country not so far away.) My grandparents were too young to enlist; my great-grandparents were too old. I've never had a one-on-one conversation with a veteran, let alone a survivor of the Holocaust.

And yet, I had been writing this woman's story, in her voice, for three months before meeting her. What other questions could I ask? I didn't have many left, so I just let her talk.  And I learned more.

This woman lost everything in her life, multiple times. Her home, her parents, then her life's work in middle age. Her best human and non-human friends in the same week, just last year. She is saddened and burdened by all of this, yet she keeps living. She speaks no words about the unfairness of life, she does not complain about how hard it all is. There is just a moment of silence and reflection to accept such things, and then life continues. She is quite the formidable force.  A force of normalcy.

And yet her heart aches, because the world is not changing. It is not learning from her story, nor from the millions of others like it. Hitler and the Nazis killed Jews, and cripples, and gypsies, and homosexuals. Anyone who wasn't like him. But that same thing kept happening. And is still happening, in Syria, in Africa. 

These stories must be told, loud and clear and over and over again, until such things, such atrocities, stop happening. 

So I will be a storyteller. Otherwise, I just feel helpless.