On Sunday I went for a long walk at Ouchy, the lakefront in Lausanne. I walked through Pully, over 5 km total. I stopped along the way at a grass and rock beach. I took off my shoes and went into the lake, until the water was up to my knees. It felt liberating to have the cold water washing over me, in a small, remote beach on Lac Leman. I stayed in the water for about 15 minutes, just looking at the mountains and the vineyards in the distance. Switzerland is such a beautiful country in many ways. I reflected on my time here while in the water, and thought about what a fruitful and plentiful year it’s been.
I then walked for over 30 minutes to find the Musee L’Elysee, one of the first museums in Europe displaying only photography. There was an incredible exhibit by photographer Pieter Hugo from South Africa, who documented the Rwandan genocide 10 years after, in 2004. He also showed many different types of portraits of families, the blind, albino people, and others through his photographs. I have to say I was incredibly inspired and would like to contact him, to talk more about the documentation process of the Rwandan genocide, which is something I am increasingly interested in.
On Monday I was helped by a friend from Geneva to find the email address of the former Israeli Ambassador to Switzerland, who was also a former refugee in Switzerland during the war. I sent him an email on Monday night, and to my surprise, he called me a few hours later from Israel. He said that he was incredibly interested in my work, and that he would like to conduct an interview with me about his experiences as a refugee in Switzerland, and his perspective today. Another reason for me to travel back to Israel, hopefully in December! Here are some words from his email to me:
“The work you are engaged in is of great human interest and I believe most important historically. Even though some research was conducted much of the theme is threatened by oblivion. The conduct of a country towards children who found in it refuge in times of wars and distress is many a times subject to some passing media remarks but seldom investigated even though it is indicative of moral attitudes that characterize countries and their societies in many aspects often ignored. Lives have been molded by officials who implemented policies, by individuals who assumed personal responsibilities, by care or by neglect, by love and G-d forbid by rejection. What I find to be of the utmost importance is to assess to day what impact the past of child survivors had in truth on their future. It is a story of Universal value.” Y.M.
I am excited to continue my connection with him, to read his memoirs, and to learn from him.
On Tuesday, I had my end of the year meeting with Prof. Jacques Ehrenfreund. It went very well and he was very encouraging. I am glad to have been at UNIL this year, and to have had his advice, counsel, and support.
On Wednesday afternoon I finished the interview with Pierre, who’s father, Gustave Dreyfuss, was the president of the Jewish community in Lausanne during the war, and who worked tirelessly and personally, to aid Jewish refugees in Lausanne and the Canton of Vaud. I discovered that Pierre’s father was the person who welcomed this former Israeli Ambassador and his mother in 1943, who was incredibly pregnant, and who gave birth to his brother in Lausanne soon after. Gustave Dreyfuss was an “acting” father to the boy.
Pierre also told me about a man in Geneve, David Planer, who is a survivor of Auschwitz, who came to Switzerland after the war. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Planer in the home of Madame Katz, who cares for him. While he seems old physically, his mind is incredibly sharp and he is so intelligent. He is also an incredibly sweet man. I went into the rendez-vous intending to interview him, but when I saw him I decided just to do this for the sake of a mitzvah, and to learn for myself. I was instructed to sit next to him and speak slowly, in French and Hebrew, so that he could hear and understand, as French was not his first language. After a few minutes, he was holding my hand as we were sitting side by side, speaking to each other about the Shoah, the Torah and Talmud, and life in general. I kept looking at him because I wanted to keep the image of his face engrained in my memory forever. He even lifted his walker over his head and said “c’est pour toi”, showing me he still has some strength despite much difficulty walking and moving around. He asked me if I went to Yeshiva “like the boys”, because I have such a strong Jewish knowledge. We spoke in a slow mixture of Hebrew and French. At the end of the 2 hour visit, I gave him my coordinates. He asked me for a sheet of paper, and I took a piece of graph paper from my Swiss notebook. On it he wrote one of the most thoughtful brachot I have ever received. He showed me the black number tattooed on his arm. I ran my fingers over the number, touching his arm, out of respect, before smiling and kissing his cheek to say goodbye. He kissed my hand and offered more blessings before we parted. I realize that the meeting today was for me and for him, a time for me to just think and feel, and to learn and be.