The Journal of Hélène Berr
A newly published diary reveals a French counterpart to Amsterdam’s Anne Frank.
When The Journal of Hélène Berr was published in France early this year it became an overnight publishing sensation. Now, as the book is released in English, readers in the US will have a chance to discover why.
Hélène Berr is being called the Anne Frank of France. Like Anne Frank, she was a young Jewish woman living in Europe during the Nazi occupation who kept a diary. Unlike her younger counterpart, however, she was French and did not live in hiding. A gifted young student at the Sorbonne and daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Berr lived with her parents in their Parisian home until March 1944, when they were arrested and sent to their deaths in concentration camps.
In intelligent, heart-wrenchingly lucid prose, Berr chronicles the escalating horror of the last couple years of their lives. Berr herself is transformed from a privileged, promising youth into an adult who must grapple firsthand with horrifying questions about the existence of evil in the human experience. What elevates her account to the heroic are the clarity, calm, and compassion which she maintains throughout.
Berr’s diary begins in April 1942, when, despite the German occupation of her country, she is still living a fairly normal life. Her entries brim with enthusiasm for her family, English literature (her subject at the Sorbonne), classical music (she was also a gifted violinist), and Paris itself.