E Pluribus Mores

Great Uncle Artie in Paris

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

Excerpts from a letter Artie Burg to his sister, Gladys Burg, May 1945.  From the unpublished memoirs of Gladys Burg, February 1982:

Just returned from three glorious days in Paris—it’s wonderful, magnificent!  My friend and I had finally gotten leave, had hitchhiked, having all kinds of adventures on the way, and arrived on a Sunday.  Coming from the perils, tension, as well as drabness of an army at war, we were startled to see the lovely, broad avenues crowded with people, including young women smartly dressed, fine looking houses, green parks, and magnificent monuments.  We wandered around looking for all the famous places we had read so much about.  I was particularly anxious to see the Sorbonne, but we found the doors locked.  Just then the caretaker spotted us.  He produced the keys and let us in.

We saw fabulous paintings as we wandered up and down lovely, winding staircases.  There was a wonderful resonance that sent our voices bouncing high up to the carved ceiling.  All the while the caretaker’s cat, a strange, Rousseauistic looking beast, kept mewing, and its mews echoed round and round the Chapel.  That night we walked along the beautiful Seine, the stars reflected in its still waters.

Next day as we stopped to rest just outside of Notre Dame, a man approached us and asked whether we spoke Polish.  No.  German?  Ein bissel. His accent sounded familiar.  Could it be?  “Sholem Aleichem!” he cried and embraced me.

Sitting in a café drinking beer he told me how the Jews here had fared under the Nazi occupation.  Out of 230,000 Jews in Paris, 40,000 were left.  His own two brothers had been executed.  He gave me his yellow badge.  He told us he was in the FFI and that he and his comrades had participated in sabotage against the Nazis, and that on the glorious day of liberation he and his fellow FFI men had gone out and shot the lying, spying collaborators in the neighborhood.

He took us to his home for supper.  It was in an attic in a poor, working class neighborhood.  We met his beautiful, blonde, non-Jewish wife and his two twin four-year-old daughters.  There was very little food, but it tasted delicious.  Then he got out the phonograph that he had hidden from the Nazis and played some old Jewish songs I had sung as a child.  I just can’t describe the feeling it gave me.

We knew that what we had eaten was their week’s food ration so we returned the next day loaded down with our own food in return.  As we walked out we heard the loud strains of the “Internationale”.  It was a tremendous demonstration for those who had died in Paris battling the Nazis.  They had come to bury their own; there were thousands of them.  We were the only U.S. soldiers around, and the marchers and the crowd were watching us.  When the flags passed and the coffins, I stood stiffly at attention, then saluted them.  What a scene!  I felt shivers go up and down my spine.

Vive L’American!” they shouted back.  It was almost a riot.  As G. said when we left, “They can shoot me now, I shall be happy.  Boy!  I have lived!”


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