In the warehouse I often worked next to a young French woman. We did not speak: she did not know German and I did not understand French.
I thought she looked Jewish, though she passed for "Aryan." She was a forced labor inmate.
I dragged myself to my corner. I was aching all over. I felt a cool hand wiping my blood-stained forehead. It was the French girl. She was smiling her mournful smile as she slipped me a crust of bread. She looked straight into my eyes. I knew she wanted to talk to me but she was paralyzed with fear. She remained like that for some time, and then her face lit up and she said, in almost perfect German:
"Bite your lips, little brother … Don’t cry. Keep your anger, your hate, for another day, for later. The day will come but not now … Wait. Clench your teeth and wait …"
Many years later, in Paris, I sat in the Métro, reading my newspaper. Across the aisle, a beautiful woman with dark hair and dreamy eyes. I had seen those eyes before.
We left the Métro together and sat down at a café terrace. We spent the whole evening reminiscing. Before parting, I said, "May I ask one more question?"
"I know what it is: Am I Jewish …? Yes, I am. From an observant family. During the occupation I had false papers and passed as Aryan. And that was how I was assigned to a forced labor unit. When they deported me to Germany, I eluded being sent to a concentration camp. At the depot, nobody knew that I spoke German; it would have aroused suspicion. It was imprudent of me to say those few words to you, but I knew that you would not betray me …" (4.62-77)
Again, racial distinctions between the Germans and Jews seem to blur, as the French girl is able to hide her Jewish identity and pass herself off as Aryan. For her, hiding her heritage may have been the difference between life and death.