Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Histories of Escape

I'm trying to read about crossing the Pyrenees both from the point of view of Jewish and from that of World War II history. My brother lent me the book "Home Run; Escape from Nazi Europe". It's astonishing how the Resistance in Holland, Belgium and France created routes for downed Allied Airmen. They were sent as 'parcels' from as far as the Dutch border to the south of France, then across the mountains. Fear awaited them at every turn; would they be captured by the Germans? Was it better to be safe as a POW or risk being shot in trying to make it home as an 'evader'? Whom did one trust? Should one knock at the farmhouse door? Could one trust the priest? Many did indeed work for the Resistance. Hundreds of men made it back, an invaluable replenishment of personnel for the RAF and an immense tribute to the courage of those who served in the Resistance, many of them only in their teens.

Yet from what I've read, though key difficulties were shared, the Jewish experience of flight was different. The Jews who sought refuge in Vichy France hoping to cross into Spain or Switzerland were effectively stateless. The key question was not only how to flee but where to flee. Who would take them? The USA? Cuba? Panama? Papers were needed for the right to reside, to travel, to enter another country and if you could not prove that you had somewhere which would accept you in the end, you couldn't even pass through anywhere in transit.

1 comment:

Pip Hines said...

This account of your journey is fascinating. Paul Celan, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt: what distinguished company! And those extraordinary flowers!
I can remember waking at dawn to see the Pyrenees from the train while travelling south -from darkness to light - 40 years ago, on a school holiday.
But your journey honours that of so many others - those who risked their lives for a better future.
Safe journey home!

Best wishes,
Philip Hines