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In “Dear Country of My Childhood” Hélène Gutkowski (France, 1940) gathers the moving story of Jewish survivors who, as children and adolescents during the Nazi occupation in France, were protected from the persecution of that regime by families and institutions and were able to emigrate to Argentina and restart their lives.
The work, published by Libros del Zorzal, gives voice to those who in that tragedy that occurred during World War II saw their parents who were victims of terror, girls who cleaned latrines for protection and food; or to those who for a long time imagined that their father had survived the war, until fifty years later they confirmed that he had died in an extermination camp.
Some of this drama grazed Gutkowski's story, but as she says she was “lucky” because she did not lose her relatives: “In this kind of catastrophes sometimes luck is a miracle,” she says, and says that at the age of two and for sure her parents handed her over to a Catholic marriage, while she was two years old and for sure she was handed over to a Catholic marriage, while they fled to the south of France - free from Nazi occupation - and two years later, when the war ended, they met again.
His story is part of a new book where he narrates his arrival in Argentina in 61 to marry an Argentine son of Poles, he advances in an interview.
When were you aware of the death of children and adolescents during Nazism?
- Hélène Gutkwoski: I think to this day I find it hard to understand that there were a million kids dead: I say it, I repeat it when I speak in schools, in interviews, but internalizing it is very difficult. Children were the main target of the Nazis because the so-called final solution was to end the Jewish race.
One of the testimonies in the book says that the Nazis were afraid of madness and contagious diseases. What reflection does that statement deserve when the action of Nazism could go unhinged any human being?
- H.G.: I think that the human being they targeted was reduced to the category of cockroach, rat or spider; by some psychological procedure they did not see in their victims a human being like them, because they believed in the superiority of the Aryan race, then the others were inferior and within the lower ones there were more inferior ones, which were the Jews. I think that thought protected them from madness because it must be crazy to do what they've done. When the Germans were in Russia and the industrialization mechanisms of death had not been outlined, there were German soldiers who couldn't stand what they saw and many committed suicide and others had to be removed from the ranks because they couldn't stand killing 100 people one after another. That is why and for reasons of “economy” the gas chamber was invented, which was a cheaper, faster procedure and almost did not leave traces.
Another episode that struck me was that of the Polish Jew who ignored the advice of those who told him to leave France before the Nazi advance and ended up deported. Were there many cases of denial?
- H.G. : The immigrants who had arrived in France in the 1920s or 1930s had placed great hopes in that country, not only in the economic but the ideals of equality, freedom and fraternity of the French Revolution, then they could not believe that they would become unfaithful to their own philosophy or conception. Only about the end of the war did we know what deportation was, that word did not exist in the vocabulary, nor was there talk of death camp, gas chamber, mass graves. Until May 44 no one could believe that those people who disappeared were going to gas chambers, thought they were arrested and went to concentration camps where they were punished or lacked food.
The book is also at the heart of people who helped save children and risked their lives in helping others.
- H.G.: What we have left for survivors is to be able to talk about the saving gesture because there were many people in every country that helped, and because without that help they would have come to exterminate a people. This is my battlehorse because I was saved in this way, like my companions, and I think it is an example to give to the new generations: to instill them that even in the worst conditions we have to look for ways to help others. There were saviors who committed themselves at risk with their family and there were small saviors, if I may be allowed the term, because they gave roof a night or a piece of bread, or a document; chains of saviors that were indispensable for the salvation of many of us.
Publication Date: 19/08/2019
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