Sunday 21 February 2016

But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens

'I was quite a cheerful person, you know, in spite of what happened to us.'
In 1944, at the age of fifteen, Marceline Loridan-Ivens was arrested in occupied France, along with her father. They were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. When they arrived, they were forcibly separated. Though he managed to smuggle a last note to her via an electrician, she never spoke to him again.
'But You Did Not Come Back' is Marceline's letter to the father she would never know as an adult, to the man whose death has enveloped her life. With poignant honesty, she tells him of the events that have continued to haunt her, of the collapse of their family, and of her efforts to find a place in a changing world.
This is a breathtaking memoir by an extraordinary woman, and an intimate and deeply moving message from a daughter to her father. 

But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, translated by Sandra Smith,  was published in hardback by Faber & Faber on 21 January 2016.

This slim book is just 100 pages long, but every single word, on every single page hurts. It is painful to read, it is painful to know that the words are true. It is painful to close the book, once finished and remember the events that changed history, that should never be forgotten. But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens describes the horror experienced by the prisoners  of Auschwitz-Birkenau, her words are stark and severe, but haunting and honest.

Marceline and her father were arrested in 1944, France was occupied by the Nazis and the family were Jewish. Taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau, they were forced apart. They never spoke again.

Eventually, Marceline did return home. Her father did not come back. This beautifully written book is her letter to her father. In it, she details the horror of life in the camp, her despair that she cannot recall every word of the last note that her father managed to send to her, and the ever lasting impact of those years on her, and the rest of her family.

I'm not going to go into detail here about the things that Marceline witnessed in the camp, we are all aware of what went on behind those fences, under the noses of the locals. Many of us though will not have thought about what happened to the survivors after the liberation of the camps. How many of us considered how they would carry on living their lives with the images of what happened to their fellow human beings, carried out by their fellow human beings indelibly etched into their brains?

Marceline's words are honest and brutal. She blames herself for living, and I think, there have been times when she has blamed her father's death for the break-down of the rest of the family.

Please, sit down in a quiet spot and read these 100 pages. Then, take some time to reflect on our world, our history and our resilience.

Haunting, passionate, honest and enlightening. But You Did Not Come Back should be read by everyone, and remembered.

My thanks to Rachel from Faber who sent my copy for review.

Marceline Loridan-Ivens was born in 1928. She has worked as an actress, a screenwriter and a director. 

She directed The Birch Tree Meadow in 2003, starring Anouk Aimee, as well as several documentaries with Joris Ivens.

She lives in Paris.


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