Where Memory Leads Buy from other retailers

Publication Date: Aug 4, 2020

304 pp


List Price US: $9.99

ISBN: 978-1-59051-810-6


List Price US: $16.99

ISBN: 978-1-63542-049-4

Trim Size: 5.25 x 7.90 x 0.93 in.

Where Memory Leads

My Life


How do you say “aubergines” in Hebrew? I’ve eaten hundreds, maybe thousands of aubergine dishes in my lifetime, particularly in Israel, and suddenly the word for it was gone. Strangely enough, the American English term surfaced immediately: eggplant. But never mind the English, it was the search for the Hebrew word that kept me awake. It was our last night in Paris. A few days earlier, in October 2012, we had celebrated my eightieth birthday. Tomorrow we’d be on our way back to L.A. At dinner we had a salade d’aubergines in a small restaurant close to the hotel and now, well past midnight, my wild chase continues. I notice that my wife has somehow half woken up. “What’s the salad we ate last night called in Hebrew?” In her half sleep, Orna manages to whisper, “Hatzilim.” Of course, hatzilim! What a relief! Now I can finally fall asleep. Damn it! What was the English word that had come up so easily? Oh yes: eggplant. That’s probably how the Dutch felt when they drained off seawater and secured a further patch of land: a victory against nature! Starting a book of memoirs with an episode of memory loss may seem like a joke. It is not; it is a real situation that nonetheless can be dealt with, as I will explain at the end of this prologue. Thirty-eight years ago, I published When Memory Comes, a memoir about my childhood and adolescence, focusing on my early life in Prague, the war years in France, adolescence in Paris, and my departure for Israel in June 1948. Some short glimpses of later years were included, up to 1977. In these pages, I turn to events that I hardly mentioned, or, in most cases, did not mention at all, between my return as a student to Paris in 1953 and the year preceding the publication of the early memoir, 1977. Then the narration goes on to this day (2015). As this text frequently deals with my reactions to and, sometimes, my involvement in public events, I opted, for the sake of clarity, to keep to an essentially chronological narrative. It so happens that the main clusters of events that I shall evoke indeed followed each other; thus, the text tells of a sequence that took place in real time. First come the years of apprenticeship, in which I move from place to place, from country to country, in search of an identity and a calling. The second part deals with Israel, at the very outset, then from about 1967 — when I started teaching in Jerusalem — to the early 1980s and, less intensively so, in the subsequent years. Germany follows, from segments of my early life to this day, but mainly as I experienced it during the eighties. The fourth part turns to life in the United States. No life progresses along such neat divisions, and issues dominant during one stage may carry over to all that comes thereafter. In this memoir in particular, the main issues — possibly less so regarding the American experience — are interwoven throughout. In short, these divisions represent temporary accentuations of one central issue during a given period, accentuations that are often narrated within the context of the minute incidents of everyday life. This book shows the influence of the Shoah (the Holocaust) on my personal life and on my reactions to Israel, Germany, and ultimately America. And, as the narration progresses, it also increasingly centers on the writing and teaching of history, particularly the history of the Holocaust, the essential work of my life. Thus, the writing of that history and, in my case, the unavoidable relation of memory to history is a recurring theme in each of the succeeding parts, even the first one. Beyond this central theme, by dint of circumstances, I became deeply involved at times in places and issues that continue to attract intense general interest; they are presented here from a subjective perspective, but as openly and candidly as possible and from as detached a viewpoint as I can manage. I also intend to share with the reader my doubts, debates, and regrets about this or that attitude or decision and, finally, the false starts and the right intuitions inherent in the history-writing process. I started writing these reminiscences after my eighty-first birthday, under the constant threat of some loss of memory. At my age, though, long-term memory is present, usually with added clarity, while the short-term past fades away at times. I have kept written traces of some recent events and integrated them into the text; it helps, but, all in all, they are only a tiny part of it, mere ripples on the course of the later years.

Part 1
Changing Places

Chapter One

“Dear Sir, when this letter reaches you, I will have left Paris for Palestine . . .” Thus began the letter I sent to my guardian, Isidore Rosemblat, in the early days of June 1948. You will probably be astonished, but don’t worry: I am with a group of Betarim [members of the right-wing Betar, the youth movement linked to Menachem Begin’s semiclandestine Irgun], entirely safe. Mainly, don’t alert the police or any other organization of the kind; it would only create additional problems and be of no help as, when you get this news, I will already be on the ship. Don’t worry about what my uncles may say as, before you even write to them, I shall be with them and I am sure that they won’t be terribly displeased. Let us now turn to concrete matters: I took with me, in my backpack, all my linen as well as my gray suit, my beige suit, and the leather jacket. Before leaving, I carried the yellow suitcase, the briefcase, and the textbooks to a friend who will return them to you as soon as possible. I must also ask you to send word to the lycée to inform them that I am leaving the establishment and that I am not presenting myself for the baccalaureate [the first part of the final high school exam, taken at the end of the eleventh grade]. Thus everything will be settled. I will send you a long letter as soon as I arrive; I would have liked to say goodbye and thank you in person for all you have done for me but I was worried about the possibility of some obstacle to my departure. In any case, don’t consider it as ingratitude on my part. While waiting to see you again in Palestine, I kiss you affectionately, Paul* PS (very important): Please do pay my third quarter boarding expenses as, otherwise, they will not return 1 pair of sheets, 2 shirts, 2 underpants, and 2 pairs of socks I left at the lycée. On June 5, two days after I had written that letter, the principal of the Paris Lycee Henri IV (where I was a boarder) wrote to my guardian: Sir, I regret to inform you that young Friedländer, a boarder student in First A [eleventh grade, classic] surreptitiously left the lycée yesterday at 4:30 p.m., using the exit of the day students. According to our investigation he intends to join the Jewish forces in Palestine. Please excuse my reminding you on the same occasion that the April–June quarter has not been paid. Please accept . . . P. Camenen, Principal
News travels fast.

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