Literary Excerpt: Rue Ordener, rue Labat

Sarah Kofman // Normandy, France

So between July of ’42 and February of ’43, my mother undertook to hide us. Isaac (‘christened” Jacquot) and Joseph, who were very young, were put in a nursery school in northern France. Annette, who had just had surgery for double mastoiditis and whose health was fragile, was cared for in Nonancourt, in Normandy south of Rouen, by a Jewish Communist woman named Jeannette, who was married to a Gentile. When she learned of our situation she took it upon herself to find peasants who could lodge some young Parisians with nothing to eat (that was the official reason). Rachel (transformed into Jacqueline), Aaron (now Hebri), and I were hidden a few kilometers from Nonancourt, in Merville.

It was there I discovered the countryside, farm animals, and peasant food, which was so different from the food of my childhood. School was five kilometers away, and we went on foot. I had a hard time, weighed down by heavy clogs and stiff with chilblains. It was always good to arrive for class at the one-room school. My teacher was Madame Morin. I set off gales of laughter and won the friendship of all my classmates by reciting The Cockerel, the Cat, and the Mouseling with an incredible lisp. School was the only place where I felt “myself.” There I could just manage to stand being separated from my mother. Otherwise I spent my time crying and refused to eat, especially pork, which has always been forbidden me. This refusal, whose pretext was obedience to my father’s law, must also have served, without my being completely aware of it, as a means of returning to my mother. Indeed, my sister Rachel wrote to her that she would have to take me back, for my behavior threatened to make it obvious to everyone that we were Jews. It was decided I should return. In the dark of night I was taken back to Paris by Jeannette’s sister, Edith (also a Jewish communist).
The roundups got still worse, and my mother was afraid to keep me with her. Again she tried to hide me. First, in the country, in Picardy. I stayed there two days, crying and refusing to eat. My mother took me back again and decided to hide me in Paris, where she could come to see me more easily. I was taken in by quite a nice family on the Rue du Departement. They let me look at their many books. I lasted one week. I was also hidden at the Claude-Bernard Hospital in the contagious ward—quarantined, as if I had scarlet fever. The nurses had me roll up balls of years and kept me going on comic books: I read Bibi Fricotin and Les Pieds Nickeles, which enabled me to hold out for three days. Then I was a boarder in a house on the Rue des Petits-Menages, where I discovered dormitories and rutabagas and waited impatiently for my mother’s visits; she brought me gingerbread that she’d made herself with fructose. I hoped more than anything that she would come to take me back, and once again, I refused to eat pork.

Sarah Kofman was a French Philosopher. She published her memoir Rue Ordener, rue Labat in 1994. The book tells of her survival during Nazi control over Vichy France in World War II. She mentions her aversion to pork due to her Jewish upbringing during these trying times. Kofman’s memoir, much like Mary Antin’s The Promised Land, were inspirations for Pork Memoirs. Kofman committed suicide in 1994.

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