Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Rene Lichtman - August 13, 1998

Reflections on the Lepage's

Sounded like the first, those five years that you spent with the Lepage's were pretty happy.

They were, yeah. Uh, I was, I, there's a lot of things I didn't, didn't experience uh, because of that, you know, the, the social things, again, the, the, the, what kids do. I mean, I don't remember, I don't remember running around, you know, physically doing things, you know, sports or running or parties or, or um, you know, fighting or wrestling with kids or I don't remember any of those things. I don't remember any kids, period. I don't remember any friendships with kids. I don't remember any friendships with kids until I was um, maybe eight or nine years old um, and some of the Jewish kids in Paris. You know, they were very superficial, very tentative. The first, you know, I don't remember, I think the real friends that I made were when I got to New York, because I, it was somehow, I don't know, it was different, because it wasn't, you know, Europe and the war. I mean, I think it--I think between '45 and '50 in Europe we still, I mean, the anti-Semitism was still there. Um, I mean, I didn't make, I didn't have friends. But when I--as soon as I got to New York and I went to public school and it was like, I remember, it was so different, because there was so much freedom and, in terms of kids talking to their teachers, you know, almost kind of talking back or talking with. A kind, almost, I don't know what kind of way. It was like a different world than I came from. And so um, so I, I miss, I mean, that's the thing I guess I missed through my up bringing. I was, I mean, I think of it as like almost being raised in a, a church or something or a monastery, you know, secluded from the world. So there's, you know, you learn things and you learn to be by yourself. I mean, I don't know what I did all those years with my guardians. I know we--I spent a lot of time on her skirt, kind of following her while she was doing things in the garden and stuff. But I don't remember going to town or and I remember things, doing, doing things at night, a lot of board games, a lot of board games uh, cards, you know, things like that. Um, but um, just kind of, I guess, re...restricted in terms of kids' experiences um, and drawing. Um, but I think the identity thing and, and, and then there's, I think the whole thing about God, you know, which is kind of interesting, because I've thought about that. And I've, I've always thought, gee, I wish I could, I wish I could believe in God. I wish I could uh, and, and I never and I, I never really have, because I cannot believe--and it's--you know, this trite kind of thing, well, yeah, I can't believe God would let something like that happen. But in my case, I think it was just a slow process where I thought all this stuff was a joke, when people were actually, you know, after, I mean, on the one hand, all my, you know, friends and mother you know, they're telling me what, what happened to the Jewish people and, and that the Germans and Nazis were able to do all these things and there was anti-Semitism there in your backyard. And, and you know, that all these French people were anti-Semitic, you know, they were Christians and my and uh, well, where is this--so I never really--I always assumed that, that this whole thing about, about God was not, there's no God. How could anybody think that? It was kind of made up and it was interesting. And I've always felt that. And I've always tried to not feel it. I was trying to--well is God away--you know, it's not God's fault, because he's not responsible for what human beings do. You know, I know that argument. And then I'd think, I'd still think, well, what, So it, I, I think what happened was, I think the worst thing and which is kind of interesting, I think I became extremely cynical. You know, I mean h...how, you know, how do you believe in anything after human beings are doing this to each other? You know, I mean, here and these are, these are Christians doing it to other Christians. I mean, you know, that there's the Germans against the French and the French--the more you learn about--when I was learning European history in France, I, I remember that I was very conscious of this: I was learning history when I went to school. And the history that I learned was, nonstop, the wars between the English and the French and the French and the English. And to me it was like--I--and I'm thinking, okay, I'm Jewish, but they're both Christians and they're, they're doing nothing but--there's no, you know, the whole thing became so absurd, so, that kind of absurdity. Now, at the same time, in terms of what this experience has done to me, at the same time that I got this sense of the absurdity of the whole thing, because my father died, I think for a reason, for a cause and I think he had, even though my mother didn't uh, I think my, my uncle and my aunt knew it. She jumped in as soon as he said he was a communist, she jumped in, "No, no. He stopped all that nonsense." Oh, you stop ideas when you, when you switch countries? And so I always thought of him as an idealist and fighting for, for right and for justice. And I always thought that was one of the highest values. And the idea in Judaism, of fighting for the underdog and for the little guy, I always thought, especially among the people that I knew. The best people, the best Jews that I knew in New York, all the time were always very secular, very kind of, you know, either left-wing democrats or you know, they had, they had politics in their lives, you know. They didn't have religion. And they and they were, they were Jewish by uh, by culture. The culture, it was a strong culture, I'm saying. And those were all role models, you know. And uh I never knew a um, a Republican Jew in, in New York, never.

Jacob Javits.

Maybe Jacob Jav...yeah, but he, he was, he was um, mutual...

Wrong party.

He was in the wrong religion. So...

It doesn't sound cynical to me.

Right. So on the, on the one hand, this, the cynicism about what, what people did to us, you know, which was just unbelievable and, and, and at the same time, the fact that my father, you know, represented something else and that they were good people that, that my, my, that my, my guardians, to me, were, you know, simple people with a heart, you know. And they and they and they were good role models for me. And they were good examples of what human beings could be, you know.

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