Culture

Correspondence between Hélène Berr and Odile Neuburger: a life to love

Correspondence 1934-1944

Helene Berr and Odile Neuburger

Tallandier, 448 pages, €24.90

Audiences around the world met Hélène Berr fourteen years ago, reading her admirable Log. This beautiful spirit, free and brilliant, confided to it her life as a young Parisian Jewish intellectual, taken under the yoke of the Occupation, between 1942 and 1944. Today appears a correspondence which she maintained with her friend Odile Neuburger, from their 14 years to their 24 years. 1934-1944: ten pivotal years in the lives of these young girls becoming women, ten years when humanity rocked into the unspeakable. :

Coming from the good Jewish Parisian society of the 1930s, Hélène and Odile are scholars and music lovers, steeped in classical culture. United by a deep friendship, they rubbed shoulders in Paris and began to correspond when the holidays, then the Occupation, kept them apart. Receptions, swimming and music lessons respond under their sharp and fertile feathers to the impulses of their hearts and the expert evocation of great French and Anglo-Saxon authors. They crunch their surroundings, laugh at suitors, in a skilful mixture of English and Latin, coded messages and names borrowed from literature.

Faith, inquiry and help

They are religious, without this preventing Hélène from playing the violinHail Mary of Schubert during the mass of August 15, 1937 in the church of Aubergenville, where she spent family holidays. Their faith is questioned when Hélène falls in love with Jean Moriawiecki, a Polish Catholic; it is a help when the Nazi threat soon looms, which they scrutinize with a keen sense of topicality… The young girls, whose adolescent elation never conceals the depth of thought, soon become serious and serious. We are in 1938, the Munich agreements have just been signed.

Hélène remains in Paris, while her friend goes into exile in the South – which will save her. The very young woman shows exceptional foresight in the face of vexations and arrests, her words take premonitory turns. We hear the breath of a literally pure indignation and in its words resonate the words of Hannah Arendt: “I can’t absorb, to accept the conception of this rational organization based on injustice”, she wrote on May 17, 1943, when she was a volunteer with the General Union of Israelites of France and was entrusted with children whose parents had been taken in a raid. “I believe that the day when I will be able to contemplate this without being revolted, I will be desperate, because then I will have lost the noble part of the human soul. »

The world belongs to them

” I love you I love you I love you “ are the very last words that Hélène addresses to Odile, on March 1, 1944; the young woman is arrested a few days later. She died, exhausted by typhus and beaten to death, in the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1945. In the preface to her LogPatrick Modiano questioned the intensity of the words of the young woman and, already, gave the keys to reading them: “On the threshold of this book, we must be silent now, listen to Hélène’s voice and walk by her side. a voice and a presence that will accompany us throughout our lives. »

Closing the thick correspondence, penetrating on tiptoe into the delicious and serious intimacy of these two friends for life, their pre-war exchanges come back to the memory for a long time, in the warm light of which the power of barbarism to follow. In 1937, Hélène and Odile were 16 years old. The world belongs to them. Hélène applies herself to finding a remedy for the adolescent melancholy of her friend, an impatient lover on holiday in Saint-Jean-de-Luz: “Wait until there is a day of full wind and storm, go to Biarritz, at the extreme point of the rock of the Virgin, or even on the coast of the Basques. Come back showered, salty, soaked, panting, and you’ll see there’s something more down here than complaining. » To the simple words of her friend full of an injunction to live intensely, to feel passionately, Odile responds magnificently: “Here is the sun. »

Source : BBN NEWS

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