The potent story of a Jewish woman who fled, hid, endured imprisonment and debasement, and eventually escaped to Switzerland in June 1943.
In a republished volume that has enduring relevance, Frenkel (1889-1975), who originally produced her long-forgotten and recently rediscovered work in 1945 (original title: No Place To Lay One’s Head), chronicles her life before and after the Nazis rose in Germany and invaded France. As the new title suggests, she was a bookshop owner. She tells about her early love for books and her decision to go into the business—and to locate that business in Berlin, where she found no shops specializing in French literature (her love). When the Nazi oppressions grew more severe in Germany, she returned to France, where conditions were tolerable—at least for a while. Then she was forced to hide with sympathetic gentile friends, but she soon realized France was no longer safe, so she resolved to escape to Switzerland. She was apprehended in the process and spent time in custody before, miraculously, a judge freed her after a brief trial. A bit later, she made a second attempt to cross the border and succeeded despite gunfire and a near recapture. Frenkel, who originally wrote the book not long after her escape, is a fine writer: detailed, emotional, and careful about giving her readers sufficient information to keep the tension taut and not overwhelm. The current edition features some useful additions, including a chronology and a “dossier,” a compilation of some research to validate what the author wrote, as well as a preface by French novelist and Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. Pictures, photocopies, and translations of documents comprise nearly 30 pages of engaging and relevant backmatter.
A compelling account of crushing oppression, those who sought to flee it, and those who, at great risk, offered help.