Once upon a time, in a thrift store in Silver Spring, MD, I stumbled across this 5-cent card and decided to purchase it because it was whimsical and it had French on it.
Fast-forward to a year and two months later. Yesterday, my landlady invited me to a presentation at Congregation Tikkun v’Or by a French man who survived WWII as a hidden child. On this crisp, gorgeous autumn afternoon, I hopped into her car and we drove past Cayuga Lake to the temple, where the room was packed with people.
The Holocaust survivor, Simon Jeruchim, was 12 when his parents sought help after the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Parisian version of Kristallnacht, where 12,000 Jews were arrested, held in the arena, and then sent to Auschwitz). Members of La Résistance sent Simon to a small, isolated, rural French town with a population of 1,000 in Normandie, Savigny-le-Vieux, where he hid from 1942-1945. He and his two siblings survived, but they never saw their parents again, and it took Simon fifty years to talk about his past. Simon’s 88 today, speaks perfect English, and fooled me into thinking he was in his 60s.
As for that little watercolor I found in Silver Spring? Before the presentation, I was walking around the room, looking at Simon’s paintings, when lo and behold, a larger version of the watercolor stared right back at me. He’d painted eight different watercolors during his time in Savigny-le-Vieux, and a reproduction found its way into my hands. Crazily enough, the great-grandson of a man who lived in the village also discovered Simon through one of the watercolor paintings: he recognized the church spire and his great-grandfather’s house. While visiting Savigny-le-Vieux, he saw a plaque commemorating the village for hiding 30 Jewish children, set off to uncover their stories, and eventually discovered that Simon lived in New York.
Forgive the cliché, but we live in such a small world. My original plan was to send the card to a fellow Francophile friend, but it’s a good thing I procrastinated and never followed through. (If you’re reading this, Madeline, sorry, I’ll send you something else.)