By Molly G. @ The Bumbles Blog
Irène Némirovsky was a woman running out of time. And she sensed it. While being a witness to the German invasion and subsequent occupation of France, she created the beginnings of an incredibly written novel capturing what she saw. But no one knew about it or had the privilege to read it for over 60 years.
The reason her desired epic was never completed was because she was sent to Auschwitz for being Jewish where she died shortly after arriving. The reason it wasn’t discovered until recently is that her daughter didn’t know the manuscript was under her nose her entire life.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City has a special exhibit devoted to Némirovsky and her unfinished novel, Suite Française, running through 08/30/09. It tells the story of Némirovsky’s childhood fleeing from the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia for Paris. It lays out her life with her husband and two daughters as she made a name for herself as an accomplished author in France. And it shows her journal which she filled with miniscule writing to conserve ink and pages while creating her original draft of Suite Française. The cramped pages also reflect the urgency with which she wrote while desperately trying to gain French citizenship to preserve her family’s safety.
Némirovsky’s daughters were entrusted with a valise of their mother’s things by their father, who was deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis several months after his wife, and died there as well. Through the kindness of friends and strangers the Némirovsky children survived the war and their parents’ murders. But looking through their mother’s journal was too painful to fathom so it sat preserved and untouched for decades. After the youngest daughter, Elisabeth, passed away the remaining daughter, Denise, finally found the courage to open the journal only to discover a story written by her mother. It was not about the persecution of Jews leading up to and throughout the war, or the battles going on to defend France, but instead about the everyday lives of people disrupted during the invasion and the Germans living among them in the cities and villages of the Occupied Zone in France.
The exhibit has several videos including an interview with Denise which provide a good overview and insight into Némirovsky and her story. There are several family photos, items related to her previously published books, as well as letters and telegrams showing the increasing panic that struck the family. The famous valise that kept the journal safe for all those years is on display as well.
Some controversy exists about the family’s reasons for converting from their Jewish faith officially as the war approached, as well as the interpretation of the Jewish context found in some of her published works. These details are addressed but not judged in the exhibit. What is conveyed is that the Nazi regime did not discern amongst rich or poor, famous or otherwise. It leaves one to wonder how Némirovsky would have portrayed them in the remainder of her novel, had she survived the war herself. Leaving the museum you can gaze out at the Statue of Liberty and contemplate that very thing.
- COST = Adults $12, Seniors $10, Students $7, Under Age 13 is Free. Admission is Free for ALL on Wednesdays from 4PM – 8PM.
- DURATION = Exhibit is open through 08/30/09. Allow for an hour to visit the exhibit. Visiting the rest of the museum can add an additional hour or more – depending upon the level of interest.
- HOURS = Closed Saturdays, Jewish holidays and Thanksgiving. Open at 10AM all other days – closes at 5:45PM Sunday – Tuesday, at 8PM Wednesday, at 5:45PM Thursday and at 5PM Friday
- ENVIRONMENT = Handicap accessible, stroller use determined by museum’s discretion. The subject matter of this exhibit is somber and may be difficult for children under age 10, but important lessons can be learned. The museum has special tours for younger children unrelated to this exhibit.
- ACCESSIBILITY = By subway/bus/ferry. By foot. No parking on site but parking can be validated for a discount at nearby garages.
- WEBSITE = http://www.mjhnyc.org/irene/index.html
- FUN FACTS = You can schedule a group tour of the exhibit with a book discussion to follow by calling (646) 437-4305.