Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, July 21, 2018

“Cousin Claude” - A Short Story by Blume Lempel

Paris in July hosted by Thyme for Tea is a great event.  I Focus on literary works and nonfiction but you are invited to share your thoughts and experience on anything Paris related, from a great recipe, a favourite movie set in Paris, mine is Ninotchka, an account of your stay in Paris.  I hope lots of people join in.  Just be sure to  link you post on The event home page.

 There are lots of very interesting posts from food bloggers, Francophiles, travel bloggers, as well as book bloggers.  Normally I don’t venture far from the international book blog community so for me this event is an excellent way to expand my horizons. 

So far I have posted on

  1. “A Yiddish Poet in Paris” by Blume Lempel, 1978
  2. Vagabond by Colette, 1904
  3. Lost Times - Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp by Józef Czafski -translated and introduced. by Eric Karpeles - 2018
  4. “Her Last Dance” by Blume Lempel - 
  5. Gerorge Sand by Martine Reid 2017
THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust LISA MOSES LEFF
  1. “Cousin Claude” by Blume Lempel

I was gratified when my post on a story by Blume Lempel “A Yiddish Poet in Paris” drew attention from event participants.  Many thousands of Eastern European Jews immigrated to France in the 1930s, hoping they would be safer from the Nazis.  

Blume Lempel

Born 1907 in The Ukraine

Moved to Paris in 1929, to be near her brother who lived there.

While in Paris she worked as a furrier and attended night school.

1939- having married and had two children, her Family moved to New York State, out of concern over rising anti-Semiticism.  (Many in her extended Family died in The Holocaust as would she and her Family had they not left.  In 1942 French authorities in a compromise with the Germans, agree to arrest and turn over to the Germans all foreign born Jews. 

1943- begins to publish with a Short Story, all her writings were in Yiddish.  In part this was her way of defying those who wanted the magnifcient Yiddish Cultural tradition destroyed.

In 1950 the Family locates permanently in Long Island.

1999 passes away.

This is the third story by Blume Lempel I am including as part of my participation in Paris in July 2018.  Previously I posted on her 
“A Yiddish Poet in Paris”, love the title, and “Her Last Dance”, about a Yiddish heritage French born woman that was the mistress of the chief of Police of Paris while it was occupied by the Germans. Many eastern Europeans Jews fled to Paris.  In my post on THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust LISA MOSES LEFF I talk a bit about what happened to these people.  Luckily, Blume Lempel and her family moved to New York City before the French authorities began to turn over foreign born Jews to the Germans.

“Cousin Claude” is the story of a young Jewish boy sent by himself from France to his relatives in New York City.  His parents were shot by the Germans in a round up of Jews.  Neighbors hid him until, with the Assistance of his American relatives, he could take streamer passage to New York City.

The story is told through the eyes of his young female cousin:

“Anything and everything French was placed on a pedestal in our house. We couldn’t admire a local landscape without having my mother compare it unfavorably to the French countryside. French food, French clothes, French culture . . . nostalgia hung like a pall over our heads. When the horrific news began to arrive from across the ocean, however, my mother changed her attitude toward the French and all of Europe. She became active in relief organizations and took part in school activities to help refugee children feel more at home in a strange world. The day of Claude’s arrival was bright and sunny. Our taxi sped through unfamiliar streets, all of us silently urging it to go even faster. As we approached the harbor, I grew terrified. What would he think of me? What kind of impression would I make? How would I measure up against the Parisian girl”

Claude has trouble adjusting in school at first but soon became very Americanized. At first he seems to forget how to speak French.

Years go by in story, then Claude begins to remember France:

“As soon as Claude started high school he discovered what my parents had tried to hide from him. He threw himself into reading books about the Holocaust. Now, suddenly, he remembered his French. He read his parents’ letters, then hid them among his things. Everything that had to do with his parents, he hid. He wrote down the date and place where his father was shot. He resumed contact with the French family from whose house his mother had been deported. In a notebook in the pouch from HIAS, he recorded his old address in Paris along with those of friends who had survived.”

Claude spends three years in the navy.  The Family almost loses touch with him until they learn he is living in San Francisco and is a very highly regarded artist.

I plan to post on one more story by Lempel, a very sad story.

To his story was published in a collection of her work, Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories, named for one of the stories, translated and introduced by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Taub, assembled from two Yiddish language collections published by Lempel.  In my prior posts on Lempel there are links  to two very good lectures by the translators. I thank them for bringing Lempel to the Yiddish lacking literary world.

Mel u


Lisbeth said...

Very touching!

Tamara said...

Again, another perspective on the lives of Jews in France during the war. It must have been terrifying for these young people separated from their families. It never ceases to amaze me just how authors like Lempel come out of the wookwork with stories of such significance.

Suko said...

Cousin Claude sounds like a poignant short story. Very nice review!