How Félix met antisemitism at age four.



Rocking Horse
Félix with his toys around 1937

Octogenarian’s story about A Guy Who Never Met a Jew brought to my mind a story that Gitta, my mother used to tell. It took place in the late thirties, when my parents and my brother still lived in Deauville before WWII.

My brother, Félix, must have have been four or five, and one day, as he was playing with a friend in the garden, Gitta heard some screaming and shouting and when she looked out of the window, she saw Félix seize the other boy by the collar and shove him out of the garden.

Gitta rushed outside and scolded Félix for not being a good friend.
You should not behave like this with a friend, she said.
Félix replied: he is not my friend, he has insulted me.
So Gitta wanted to know what the little boy had said. Félix said: he called me a Jew!
Gitta told Félix: but Félix, you ARE Jewish!
No, no, cried Félix. I am not Jewish. I told him: YOU are a Jew, not me!
It took Gitta a long time to explain to Félix that the words Jew or Jewish were not an insult, except in the mouth of antisemitic people.

When I was born, at the end of the war, my parents acted quite differently with me. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was Jewish.
Not that it prevented people from being antisemitic, neither did it protect me from occasional name-calling, but at least, I was prepared and knew where I stood.
My husband (not a Jew) always claimed that I was a bit hysterical concerning my Jewishness and tended to see antisemitism where there was none. But I am convinced he was over-optimistic.

Listen to this post in French″

5 thoughts on “How Félix met antisemitism at age four.

  1. Claude,
    No, anti-Semitism was not confined to the “old country,” as you commented on my blog. I was raised in a NY community dominated by Jewish immigrants and their offspring, and did not encounter it until I was out of high school, applied for a job as an office boy with a giant ad agency, and was rejected because of my ethnic/religious background.
    But I do think anti-Semitism is far less of a factor in American society today. That ad agency was subsequently headed by a Jew, and other Jews have been elevated to major roles in business and politics. Interestingly, well-known personalities, publically identified as Christian, have been coming out of the closet–not always voluntarily–as having a Jewish “heritage.” In addition to the likes of John Kerry, Madeleine Albright, and Gen. Wesley Clark, we now have the clownish Virginia Senator and Presidential aspirant, George Allen, reluctantly revealing that his mother was a Sephardic, Tunisian-born Jew. Only in America!
    Another subject: I hope your New York visit was a wonderful one and as exciting as my last visit to Paris was some 15 years ago.

  2. Hi Claude; we must be on the same wave length since I linked to Octogenarian too with my blog today. Don’t you love what he writes? I hope you continue to have a grand time in the “big apple.”

  3. Claude, I, too, find the posts at Octogenarian quite thought provoking. I find what you’ve written about your brother quite a heartbreaking story, especially to have experienced at his age, or at any age for that matter, and from a so-called friend. I think, too, of the pain parents experience being unable to protect their little ones from such verbal assualts.

    It saddens me that you, too, ultimately experienced the same “ism.” I now find myself beginning to wonder if any Jewish people go through life without such experiences?

    Wonder if you’re familiar with the French village in the south of France which was the subject of Pierre Sauvage’s film “Weapons of the Spirit,” followed by his interview by Bill Moyers which was on PBS, possibly in the early to mid-1980s, which I saw this past week? I would hope that we would never ever again find Jewish people, or any other group, in position where they would need to seek villages such as this in order to survive.

  4. Born and raised in San Francisco I always thought we were free of anti-semitism. I was wrong – it’s here – more hidden but definitely here. Since the 60’s and the civil rights movement I had great hopes that some of this ugly stuff would be gone – now I find people just hide it better and that scares me more.

  5. When it comes to any kind of prejudice (as I blogged about just the other day) I
    don’t think one can be overly sensitive about it. It’s terribly destructive and so unnecessary.
    Great post, Claude.

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