My grandparents were victims of the major tragedies of the first half of the 20th century.
Being a historian does not preclude one from talking about one’s family, but it does offer the use of a unique vocabulary to describe it: the language of the social sciences. My attempt at a family biography is both a private and public reflection about the fate of my family and I speak about them not as if theirs was a unique, remarkable destiny, but rather as one that traversed, and was perhaps determined, by broader social forces.
If their life was short and tragic, it is because they were manipulated by one totalitarianism and destroyed by another, under the indifferent gaze of democracies.
My father's parents were born in Poland in the early 20th century. As officials in the local Communist Party, which was illegal at the time, they were sentenced to five years in prison. On their release, they migrated to France, without a visa, and settled in Paris in the late 1930s. A few years later, they were arrested and deported to Auschwitz where they were murdered. To summarize, we can say that they spent their entire lives in hiding: first in Poland, as communists; then in France, as illegal immigrants; and finally, under the Vichy regime, as Jews. Three clandestine lives, three absences from the world, until the ultimate one: their annihilation in the context of genocide. If their life was short and tragic, it is because they were manipulated by one totalitarianism and destroyed by another, under the indifferent gaze of democracies.
My book, A History of the Grandparents I Never Had, is a reflection on the fate of my family, but it is also an essay on the writing of history. Three methodological issues are close to my heart: the use of the "I"; the need for distance and reflexivity; and the relationship between history and memory.