National News

Marceline Loridan-Ivens, 90, Dies; Wrote of Holocaust’s Enduring Toll

Posted September 19, 2018 9:01 p.m. EDT

PARIS — Marceline Loridan-Ivens, a French filmmaker and writer who explored the long-term anguish of surviving Nazi death camps and challenged her compatriots about their attitudes toward Jews, died Tuesday in Paris. She was 90.

The cause was complications of heart disease, said Judith Perrignon, who worked with Loridan-Ivens on her last two books.

Loridan-Ivens was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the same convoy as Simone Veil, who also survived to become a lawyer and French politician and lifelong friend. Veil, who died in 2017, became the minister of health and was elevated to the Pantheon this year for her work on behalf of France. The numbers tattooed on the arms of the two women differed by just one digit, Loridan-Ivens told Agence France-Presse.

One of her last books, “But You Did Not Come Back,” is written as a letter to her father, Szlhama Froim Rozenberg, with whom she was deported and who died at Auschwitz. With a signature voice of unstinting, sometimes painful clarity, the book explored not only the past and her experience of the Birkenau camp but also France’s enduring reluctance to confront its more negative views of Jews.

In one passage, she tells her father that in the 1990s, the mayor of Bollène, the town where the family lived before they were deported, put her father’s name on a memorial to those who had died for France. She said she told the mayor that her father did not die for France — “He was deported to Auschwitz.”

“The mayor said it was not necessary to say that,” she wrote, adding: “He did not want any trace of Auschwitz in the village monument. However, you did not die for France; France sent you to your death. You were wrong about her.”

In recent years, Loridan-Ivens became increasingly worried that a new anti-Semitism was evident in France. She expressed those concerns in an interview on France Inter radio in 2015 on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, not long after the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and an attack on a kosher supermarket.

The incidents prompted then-President François Hollande to lead a rally that brought hundreds of thousands into the streets in solidarity with those who were killed. And the rally prompted her to ask a question of the radio interviewer, taking many people aback: “Do you believe the French would have gone into the streets if only Jews had been killed?”

Marceline Loridan-Ivens was born March 19, 1928, in Épinal, France, where her parents had fled to escape pogroms in their native Poland. Her father started a small sweater factory, and her mother opened a store. On the eve of World War II, her father bought a little chateau in the Vaucluse region in the south of France and moved his family there.

It was there that in February 1944 she and her father were arrested. They were sent to Drancy, a transport camp, and then to Auschwitz. She later learned through the research of an archivist that the man who had denounced the family was someone who would come to the chateau to gather hazelnuts that had fallen into the garden, Perrignon wrote in an article in Le Monde.

Loridan-Ivens is survived by a sister, Jacqueline. A brother and another sister committed suicide after the war, she told the French magazine L’Humanité in 2015.

As a prisoner, Loridan-Ivens recalled, she was stripped naked and examined by the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. She was later one of the inmates selected by the Germans for evacuation as the Soviet Red Army closed in. She was taken first to the camp at Bergen-Belsen in Germany and then to Theresienstadt, near Prague.

On her return to France after the war, she married Francis Loridan but left him soon after. She spent the next several years in Paris immersed in the Left Bank intellectual milieu of the 1950s, coming to know the semiotician and philosopher Roland Barthes and the philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin.

It was Morin who, with Jean Rouch, a cinematographer, introduced her to film. She acted in “The Chronicle of a Summer” (1961), an experimental film, directed by the two men, about everyday life in Paris. She remained involved in cinema for the rest of her life, as both an actress and then a director, as she became increasingly politically active.

During the 1950s and early ′60s, Loridan-Ivens struggled to dispel some of her inner grief and the difficulties of being a survivor. She typed manuscripts for Barthes and acted in several films. It was a period of talking, reading, drinking, smoking and trying to reconstruct her life, although she spoke little if at all about her experiences in the camps.

She worked as an actress and then as a co-director in 1962 of the internationally acclaimed and controversial film “Algéria Année Zero” (“Algeria Year Zero”), about Algerian independence.

Soon afterward she met Joris Ivens, an older Dutch filmmaker, who would become her second husband. The two embraced far-left ideals and traveled to Vietnam, where in 1968 they made a documentary film about the war from the point of view of the Vietnamese. Titled “17th Parallel” — referring to the provisional military line dividing North and South Vietnam — it was highly critical of American involvement in the war.

The two later traveled to China and became strong supporters of the communist leadership, a position that in retrospect was “false, naive and simplistic,” she told The New York Times in a 2016 interview. They made multiple documentaries about China.

It was not until 1993, four years after Ivens’ death, that she began work on the film that told a part of her own story: “La Petite Prairie aux Bouleaux” (“The Birch-Tree Meadow”), which was released in 2003.

She went on to write about her Holocaust experience in three books. The last one, “L’Amour Aprés (Love Afterwards),” was published this year. The journalist with whom she wrote it, Perrignon, described Loridan-Ivens as “very original on the question of life after deportation,” on how the anguish of her wartime experience had affected her life for years afterward. She wrote in an intimate way on how being examined while naked by Mengele had a powerful impact on how she saw her body and herself as a young girl.

At the end of “But You Did Not Come Back,” Loridan-Ivens recalls asking a friend, who had also survived the concentration camps, if it had been worth it to come back. Her friend says no, it was not.

“I hope that if the question were asked of me at the end of my days,” she wrote, “that I would be able to say yes, it was worth it.”