“Jacqueline Mendels Birn has written an impressive, moving story of her family’s remarkable survival in France during the Nazi occupation. It reads like a fast-paced novel, but there is nothing fictional about it. Indeed, her book should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the dark history of France from its invasion in 1940 to its liberation at the end of 1944.
Through her eyes and deft accounting we see history unfold, from the moment her father was required to register his family at the Paris City Hall, with cards bearing a large red stamp of “JUIF” (Jew), and she, her sister and parents were forced to wear a yellow Jewish star on their clothing. We get a first hand account of the chilling roundup of 13,000 Parisian Jews on July 16-17, 1942 in the Vel’ d’Hiv bicycle arena, prior to their deportation to Drancy and then Auschwitz, and how her family was spared.
We see through her eyes how they escaped Paris with the help of friends and the silence of neighbors crossing on August 1, 1942 into so-called “Free France”, only to be arrested and put under surveillance in a tiny village for 29 months. When Germany occupied all of France, she and her family lived under constant threat of being denounced by the local population and found by German troops.
We learn how her mother kept cyanide pills for the family to take if they were captured by Nazi troops, at the same time as her parents reaffirmed life by giving birth to Jacqueline’s brother in August 1943, naming him Franklin, because their only hope of survival was with President Roosevelt. Each Sunday morning, her parents lifted their glasses with the saying “A dimanche prochain”, hoping to live another week until the next Sunday.
Their return to Paris was bittersweet, as they learned that many members of their family were murdered in concentration camps. This remarkable story has all the best elements of our human existence – heroism, courage, and humanity.”
Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat
Ambassador Eizenstat was Special Representative of the President and Secretary of State on Holocaust-Era Issues in the Clinton Administration, and was principally responsible for putting belated justice for Holocaust survivors on the world’s agenda, negotiating over $8 billion in benefits for survivors and families of victims, from the Swiss, Germans, Austrians, French, and several Central and Eastern European countries. He recounts this in his own book, Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor and the Unfinished Business of World War II.
“This book describes the extraordinary survival of the author’s parents, sister, brother and herself in wartime France. Steeped in documentary evidence, her late father’s detailed postwar interview, contemporary journals, and most importantly her own and her family’s memories, this clear-eyed account brings to life the ordeal of a tiny handful among the millions of persecuted Jews during the Holocaust. Jacqueline Birn admirably presents a picture of everyday life as well as the broader perspective on what happened to Jews under German occupation and French collaboration. And she also, making understandable this remarkable story of survival, relates the crucial help provided by some kind and principled souls, and most importantly the adaptability, courage, persistence, and good luck of her parents, who defied Nazi efforts to wipe them off the face of the earth. This is a precious memoir, and deserves to be widely read.”
Michael R. Marrus
Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto
Author, with Robert O. Paxton, of Vichy France and the Jews
“Jacqueline Mendels Birn’s book is a rare recounting of the survival of a Jewish family in Vichy France through a “conspiracy of goodness” that extended from Parisian neighbors and friends to the grace of simple villagers who watched over and protected the family to the war’s end. It is a daughter’s grateful tribute to parents whose resourcefulness and courage kept the family together and alive, and to the righteous Christians whose extraordinary decency and compassion contributed to their survival. Supported by documents, personal journals, and letters from their extended family in the Netherlands and Germany, almost all of whom perished, this thoughtful and loving memoir is a significant contribution to the history of Jewish survival in France during the Holocaust.”
Liliane Kshensky Baxter, Ph.D.
Director, Weinberg Center for Holocaust Education
The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum
“Jacqueline Mendels Birn’s personal history of her survival as a Jewish child in Vichy France is as moving as it is engaging. The story she tells portrays the horrors of the Holocaust, the painful and often traumatic daily existence of those fortunate enough to have escaped deportation to a concentration camp, and the ways in which a family coped with living through a nightmare. Despite everything, Birn tells us, her family created for her, in Paris and in the tiny village of Le Got, where they spent the worst years of the war, a happy childhood. This is a tribute to the quiet heroism of the Mendels. In her lively recounting of the many adventures and close calls her family experienced, Jacqueline Birn is warm in her praise of those who helped them survive. Yet there runs through this memoir a current of sadness as she recalls the many members of her family and good friends who were lost in the Holocaust. A Dimanche Prochain is a story that readers will not soon forget.”
Michael S. Koppisch
Professor of French, Emeritus at Michigan State University
“In her compelling memoir, Jacqueline Mendels Birn opens a window onto her past as she retraces her childhood in Nazi-occupied France. With great sensitivity, she shares the powerful story of her family’s survival, while inviting us to pause and ponder the ordeal of the Jews during World War II in France. Treating as it does a specific group of victims, this memoir eschews historical generalities as it joins together the tragedy of the historical moment and a deeply personal story. Family photographs interspersed in the course of the narrative signal the permanent absence of loved ones who perished in the Holocaust. Their faces, which punctuate the text, haunt these pages with a spectral presence, representing the traces of a community that once existed but has now vanished. As Jacqueline Birn unravels her memories of the war, her readers will come literally to feel the enormity of the Holocaust. Her memoir bridges the gap between past and present, becoming the symbolic sepulcher that her deceased family members were denied. A Dimanche Prochain is both a deeply personal memoir and the repository for the names and suffering of the victims whose lives it vividly portrays.”
Assistant Professor of French at Colby College