Article in the New Jersey Jewish News

by Larry Bernstein


How does it feel to be left alone as a seven year old. Your mother is taken by the authorities and your father is away in an interment camp and you are left in a cherry orchard in southern France.  Isaac Levendel captures his feelings and shares them with us in his spell binding book, “Not The Germans Alone” published by Northwestern University Press (ISBN 0-8101-1663-4).. The amazing reality of the roundups after the invasion of  Normandy rings with the madness of the Germans and the French establishment.


 Levendel gives us insights into the workings of Vichy France and the large amount of collaboration. While we were led to believe that most French were in the resistance, Levendel’s book makes it clear that very few Frenchmen were in the underground and very few Frenchmen helped Jews escape the Nazis.  Those few that risked their lives were simple people acting honorably.


What I found most interesting is the description of his emotions about his mother and the description of her actions are sometimes inconsistent. He shows her virtues and her flaws.  He writes about  her love, her intelligence, her caring, her stubbornness, her bad judgment in not  fleeing  sooner, her mistake not taking all her money with her, and then going back to get it.   I got the whole picture of her and that makes the book rich and touching.


Levendel describes the peasant family that adopted him.  They were heroes who risked their lives to help. Some scatological material gives us an earthy feeling of these people struggling to feed themselves as they helped others and thought nothing of it.  They were truly pious.


l loved how  Levendel writes about his experience during allied  bombings,  "The bombardment  did not feel or sound like it does in the movies.  The heavy smoke smelled like dust and fire.  The explosions were much more violent that I expected.  The earth trembled under my body, and I could feel the shock wave of the explosions on my neck and chest, as if the bombing were happening inside my shirt. There was nowhere to hide.  My mother had reached the limits of her power and could do nothing more to help me."


The tracing of the official Vichy documents to verify what really happened is itself a real mystery story.


Larry Bernstein



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