Book Details France's Holocaust Role Naperville Man Earns French Award for Account of Mother's Slaughter
Minor, Ray, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Ray Minor Daily Herald Staff Writer
Two men in dark coats walked into the tiny storefront, looking for information on the Jews who lived there.
They demanded names, addresses, birth dates and registration numbers from all the Jewish residents in the blue-collar village of Le Pontet in southern France.
For 5-year-old Isaac Levendel, it was the day the Holocaust finally reached his family.
"My mother was frantic. She was angry," said Levendel, who now lives in Naperville. "She was angry that these Frenchmen would want to create a list like this.
"I think she knew what the list meant."
It was 1941 and the two men were creating an illegal census of all the Jews in France. The list eventually would lead to the deaths of thousands of Jews, including his mother.
Levendel, now a software designer for Lucent Technology in Naperville, has spent nearly seven years researching and publishing a book on the Holocaust and what the last days of his mother's life were like.
The book, "Un Hiver En Provence (A Winter in Provence)," was published last year in France and recently won a prestigious French book award from European cultural attaches. He is negotiating with two American publishers to print the book in English.
"It's the next best thing to changing what happened," Levendel said. "I can't change it, but I can name names and point to the people who betrayed us."
Levendel's book delicately pieces together his early life in southern France, how his father joined a Polish regiment of the French army fighting the Nazis and was then taken prisoner.
The book also details the last time Levendel saw his mother.
In early June 1944, the Levendels had escaped the Nazis and roving gangs of Frenchmen who turned Jews over to the Germans for 1,000 francs each.
As the Allies prepared to invade Normandy, friends and neighbors finally convinced Sarah Levendel to take her only son 30 miles into the mountains to hide on a cherry farm. The family could pick cherries for the peasant farmer in exchange for a safe place to stay, they told her.
The pair walked and rode a bus to the farm. After a few days, Sarah Levendel needed to return to Le Pontet for clothes and food.
She quietly fixed a rip in Isaac's pocket with a safety pin and waved goodbye.
It was the last time Isaac saw his mother.
Even today, he reluctantly recalls a few of the details of his mother's farewell. His arm gestures - wide and firm as he describes his carefree childhood before the war - stop when asked about his mother. Quickly, his left arm drops and his right hand reaches to clutch it, as if to hold in the tears.
"I am reluctantly giving an emotional striptease," Levendel said when asked about his mother. "You understand, it's difficult. It was the last time I saw her."
For more than 40 years, Levendel refused to find out what happened to his mother. …