A very delicate biography of a common but very talented Jewish Girl in the Paris during the war. It describes the routine of life: family, studies in the Sorbonne and leaves the many impressions of a vibrant city even at the start of occupation under the fascist heel. Descriptions slowly start to veer off towards a darkened much more solitary city where nobody any longer feels safe, Loss of routine, the sense of danger on every corner, the festive life of the German elite, the constant menace of the Gestapo lead toward a foreseen denuement. If one wants to feel how it was living during the war years in Paris, this is a book to read.
Helene Berr - an assimilated French Jew - started writing a journal during the German occupation in April 1942 when she was 21 years old. Her family was well-to-do and she studied at the Sorbonne. She was intelligent, cultured, and sensitive, had many friends, and loved life.
For a time her life under the Germans remained fairly normal. She continued to visit friends and the family's summer place in the country, read English literature, and played violin at small recitals. She fell in love with a young man and wrote of her passion for nature and poetry.
Things started to change for her when Jews were ordered to wear the yellow star. She began to feel different from other people and thought about fleeing to the south of France where it was supposedly safer for Jews. However, she couldn't bring herself to act in what she considered a "cowardly" way and decided to remain in Paris.
She wrote about the roundups of Jews and their transfer to transit camps like Gurs and Drancy - and from there, somewhere to the east. Many of her friends were snatched off the streets and deported with no notice whatsoever. At this point she helped out at a Jewish aid organization, taking orphaned children for nature walks and working at the group's headquarters - until the Germans closed it and the children were deported.
Her last entry in February 1944 reads: "Horror. Horror. Horror." She was deported and sent to Auschwitz and later to Bergen-Belsen. By chance, Anne Frank, the famous diary writer, was there at the same time. Helene contracted typhus (also like Anne) and died after a beating a few days before the camp was liberated.
Helene Berr's journal is unique and moving and deserves to be widely read. Her voice sounds almost contemporary and in the first part of the book she writes often and intensely of her ideals, loves, and hopes for the future. Later, after the raids begin, her entries are about helping the children and watching her friends disappear. Her journal shows what it was like for French Jews under the Nazis - something less written about than the killing fields in Poland - from the gradual erosion of civil rights to street arrests and final deportation to an unknown, tragic destination.
I have read many books and studied about the Holocaust, but this is the first one I have read that is about conditions in France. Helene Barr graduated from the Sorbonne and was an extremely bright, sensitive and accomplished young lady. Her writing is so beautiful. One does not find writers today who write as she did. It like reading poetry. Her vocabulary is extensive and her writing shows it unlike the writers of today who can only use words that five or six letters in them. What a loss to the world that she died so young and so brutally at the hands of the Germans. The French Jews were like the German Jews who felt they were Germans first and nothing would happen to them. Many waited and waited until it was too late to leave France and Germany. When she finally accepted the facts, she stayed to help save the children and to document what the Germans were doing to the Jews. She was truly an amazing young woman and I liken her to Channa Senash. .for her bravery. Channa composed some beautiful songs while waiting to die at the hands of the Nazi's in prison in Hungry. There is so much to learn from her Journal and I hope you will read it even if you know the whole story and it's ending. It is rare to read a book written so beautifully, by someone who grew up in what was then thought of as a kinder age. Living in wealth, with wonderful friends and family. An idyllic life that turned into a tragedy as many stood idly by. We are so lucky that the journal was found, translated and written, as she gave her life for it.
Helene Barr's journal is a remarkable piece to read alongside The diary of anne Frank.because Helene was allowed to live in Paris without hiding. the slow erosion of rights and everyday pleassures is noted, but she continues to study at the sorbonne and then works with Jewish orphans. Only very slowly do she and her influential family realize the danger they are in.
This book was recommended to me by the Owner of Paris Walks, a very good way to see Paris. It is well worth reading.
I loved this book--Helene Berr was a beautiful writer living in a time of horror. Her desire to see good in people did not allow to comprehend what horror mankind can inflict on one another. It was great to read a diary from the French perspective and from one who was so well educated. I am not as familiar with the French Occupation so this really helped me to understand what life was like for the Jews in Paris.
As Jews,we grow up with The a diary of Anne Frank. The Journal of Helene Berr is just as important. Unlike Anne Frank,Helene Berr was a college senior at the Sorbonne,and from a wealthy family. Her journal is completely relatable,and has a timeless feel,except for the fact that we all know how this will end,she could be our contemporary. She writes out her feelings ,at times using literary allusions. ,at times. This is an important journal,and should be read. Especially with the white supremacy movement supporting Donald Trump. This could easily happen here.
It is a different way to read about those dark days through the eyes of a very intelligent young woman just starting her life. Keeping track of all the characters was a challenge but not a distraction.