An interview with Nahar Books founder and editor in chief Reuven Miran on the book:
Far Away at the End of the World I Have a Mother:
Short Testimonies of Jewish Children
A New Book Published by Nahar Books, 2010
Translated from the French by Shai Sendik
Edited by Reuevn Miran
The book Far Away at the Edge of the World I have a Mother contains dozens of moving excerpts from journals and letters written by Jewish children who were separated from their parents and placed in hiding during the Holocaust. The large majority of the texts are addressed to parents whom the children have never seen.
Reuven Miran, editor in chief of Nahar Books, came across a larger book–which was published by French radio in 2002 and which contains 800 testimonies of children–on which Far Away at the Edge of the World is based. Of these, he selected excerpts and had them translated into Hebrew in order to introduce Israeli readers to this widespread phenomenon that characterized Vichy France. On the one hand, the French government cooperated with the Nazi occupation, and in many instances its emissaries displayed excessive enthusiasm by enforcing Nazi laws in parts of southern France that were considered part of “Free France,” without the Germans even instructing them to do so.
Of the 72,000 Jewish children living in France on the eve of the war, 60,000, or 75 percent, were saved. Such a percentage was unheard of in other countries in Europe. Even in Holland, which was considered to have been a friend to the Jews, only 10% were saved. Miran explains how in some cases entire towns mobilized themselves to hide Jews, and how many monasteries across France took in children whose parents had been sent to their deaths.
“Israelis are unfamiliar with this side of France,” explains Miran, “and it was therefore important for me to assemble the children’s testimonies in the form of a book. Not all those who saved children did it for altruistic reasons. Many were paid a great deal of money by parents who were sent to their deaths. Others took advantage of the children to do housework and work in the fields. There were also cases of abuse and sexual exploitation, but the fact of the matter is that tens of thousands of children remained alive.”
When these children grew into adulthood, they founded an organization in France that commemorates the period and those who saved them. A similar organization also operates in Israel. It was these organizations that gathered the material in question and worked to have them published.
Why did it take so many years?
“For decades, explains Miran, “French officialdom denied what happened in France during the war. Due to the immense shame and humiliation of the French stemming from their betrayal of the lofty values on which the Republic had been built, the Fourth Republic, which was established after the war, disassociated itself from the Vichy regime and did not regard itself as its historical continuation. The French tried to erase the past and to deny responsibility. Even President François Mitterrand, who was a friend to Israel, refused to apologize and to acknowledge the French government’s responsibility for suffering caused to Jews during the war. It should also be remembered that he himself held an official position within the Vichy regime. Actually, it was Jacques Chirac who, in an historic speech in 1995, first acknowledged the Vichy government’s responsibility for the expulsion of France’s Jews. By doing so, he debunked the myth, which all his predecessors had worked to cultivate, that most of the French were activists and supporters of the resistance and opposed the Nazis, and that the Nazis alone were responsible for the fate of French Jewry. This relatively recent interest in the period of the war resulted in new studies and the publication of a large number of books on the subject.
Tell us about Nahar Books and the decision to publish the book of children’s testimonies.
“The goal of Nahar Books is to express the silenced and repressed voices of minority groups and those who are suffering, voices that have been either physically destroyed (as in the case of the Native Americans and African Americans in the United States, for example) or suppressed for years. The voices of these children–who fell victim to the war for which they were not responsible and who experienced terrible personal suffering, the demise of their childhood, and a sense of loss that accompanied them for the rest of their lives as a result–are important voices to make heard.”
“Approximately half of our books are translations from the French, and it was therefore natural for us to publish Far Away at the Edge of the World I have a Mother,” explains Miran, who was also born in Europe toward the end of WWII. Nahar Books is currently considering a number of other French language Holocaust-related titles for translation into Hebrew.
The book is recommended for teaching students in general and young students in particular about the Holocaust. It expresses the children’s innocence and authentic emotions, their destroyed worlds, and their incomprehensible ability to survive, in a manner that is unique to children and that arouses instant identification.
“When I learned to read at age five or six, the words ‘death to the Jews’ appeared on the walls. Those were the first words I ever read,” recounts Franka.
Sylvie writes: “At the dawn of my existence I had a mother and a father and wonderful hours devoid of fear, after which came all the rest of my life.”
“Mother,” asks Simone, “how can I make peace with the fact that you will never again hug me in your arms?”
On the day of liberation, Tony explains, “we were all young elderly people…We did not know the meaning of the words tranquility and calm. Nonetheless, we sang and danced.”
Far Away at the End of the World I Have a Mother – a touching, very different kind of book on the Holocaust.
For more details or to order a copy of Far Away at the End of the World I Have a Mother, contact Nahar Books at:
Or visit Nahar Books website: www.nahar.co.il