From April 1942 to March 1944, Helene Berr, a recent graduate of the Sorbonne, kept a journal that is both an intensely moving, intimate, harrowing, appalling document and a text of astonishing literary maturity. With her colleagues, she plays the violin and she seeks refuge from the everyday in what she calls the "selfish magic" of English literature and poetry. But this is Paris under the occupation and her family is Jewish. Eventually, there comes the time when all Jews are required to wear a yellow star. She tries to remain calm and rational, keeping to what routine she can: studying, reading, enjoying the beauty of Paris. Yet always there is fear for the future, and eventually, in March 1944, Helene and her family are arrested, taken to Drancy Transit Camp and soon sent to Auschwitz. She went - as is later discovered - on the death march to Bergen-Belsen and there she died in 1945, only five days before the liberation of the camp. The last words in the journal she had left behind in Paris were "Horror! Horror! Horror!", a hideous and poignant echo of her English studies.
Helene Berr's story is almost too painful to read, foreshadowing horror as it does amidst an enviable appetite for life, for beauty, for literature, for all that lasts.
Helene Berr was a student of English Literature at the Sorbonne in Paris. She was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 with her mother and father, and she died in Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, just a few weeks before the liberation of the camp. David Bellos was the first winner of the Man Booker International Translator's Award for his translations of the Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare. He is the translator of, among others, Georges Perec, Romain Gary and Fred Vargas, and he has also written the award-winning biographies of Georges Perec, Romain Gary and Jaques Tati. He is professor of French and Comparative Literature at Princeton University, where he also directs the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. His irreverent survey of the field of translation, Is That A Fish In Your Ear? will appear in September 2011 with Penguin Books in the UK and Faber and Faber in the USA.
Introduction, by David Bellos. Maps: Helene Berr's Paris; The Latin Quarter in 1942. Journal: 1942; 1943; 1944. A Letter from Helene Berr to her Sister Denise. A Stolen Life, by Mariette Job. France and the Jews, by David Bellos. Glossaries: Acronyms and Special Terms; Books Quoted by Helene Berr; Streets and Places. Index of Personal Names.
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