My name is Mélanie Péron. I come from a tiny village barely visible on a map. I am not Jewish. None of my relatives was a victim of the Holocaust. My grandparents were not in the Resistance. They did not save any one from the Holocaust.

Yet, I created a course on Paris during the German Occupation, applied and received the Lori Rutman Teaching Fellowship. Then, with the support of the USC Shoah Foundation and the Penn Price Lab for Digital Humanities, I developed a multimedia map of Parisduring WWIIand now a website.

BLANK A– Why would I explore a time from a past I did not experience?

To answer this question, I turned to my primary signifier. Could my name lead me to the liminal moment when it all started or should I saythe threshold, as my name actually means in French if you add an extra [r]? A quick Google search conjuresup a frightening web connecting my name to ...anti-Semitism. René Péron was the illustrator of the infamous poster The Jew and France. Perón, with a displaced accenton the [o], takes us to the Argentinian leader who financed the escape of key architects of the Holocaust. Pèron, with an inverted accenton the [e], means pillory in old French. Au Pilori was the most virulent anti-Semitic weekly paper during the Occupation.

My place of birth only reinforces the rooting of my origins into the wrong side of history. I was born 30 kms away from Beaune-la-Rolande, 50 kms away from Pithiviers. Both towns became known for their internment camps where thousands of Jews – a lot of whom were children- transited before being deported to Auschwitz. Growing up, for the longest time, I only knew that a Pithiviers was a cake, specialty of the town bearing the same name.

Maybe this is where it all started.

BLANK B – My grandmother’s apron

My grandmother was a peasant. One about whom books do not talk much. She worked like a man, ran the farm and raised 2 young daughters while her husband was a war prisoner in Czechoslovakia for 5 years. A woman of few words, she always remembered to make everyone’s favorite dish when they came visit, to plant all of her grandchildren’s favorite fruits in the garden, to take us on long bike rides finding the best tree under which to take a nap. She got up hours before everyone else, put on her meticulously ironed apron and silently got everything ready. She lived backstage, in her charismatic husband’s shadow. She never talked about her past. She never talked about her feelings. She never talked about her dreams. No one asked her about them anyway. She was just there for us, her “little ones” (mes petits) as she called us.

Sometimes, she would go to my grandfather’s office and close the door. Once I hid and saw her take a key from under a book and open the cabinet. She pulled out a folder, sat and cried repeating “these poor little ones”. After she left, I took the key, opened the cabinet and looked at the papers. They were newspaper clippings about the camps in Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande. I never said anything to her about it.

My grandmother eventually had Alzheimer’s. My name and my face were the only ones she remembered. Her body was broken and took the shape of an inverted L. When she walked, her gaze could only stare at the floor. She filled the pocket of her apron with all sorts of little rocks she would find on the ground and inspect them before going to sleep. As she would painfully try to put her finger on what was inevitably ending on the tip of her tongue, I decided to appease her ordeal and stopped using words to talk to her. We communicated with gestures and looks. I had so many questions for her but she had no words for me. What she had for me though, apart from the little rocks she would leave on my bed, was this bright complicit light in her eyes when she looked at me. My relatives only talk about her blank stare. We evidently did not live in the same story.

Maybe this is where it all started.

BLANK C - Louise.

All I have is her first name. Louise. My grandfather’s name was Maurice. Louise and Maurice met in 1945 on the road. He was heading back home from Czechoslovakia where he was a war prisoner. She was a survivor from a concentration camp. She had nothing on. Her feet were swollen and bloody. My grandfather gave her a jacket and made her shoes with leaves and tree bark. He had never met a Jew and she surely did not look like what he had in mind Jews looked like. I can’t help wonder: had my grandfather not been taken prisoner in 1940, would he have supported the Vichy anti-Semitic laws? He used to say Louise was the best thing that ever happened to him during that war. We all knew Louise who religiously called once a year – probably on the anniversary of the day they met. Yet, nobody in my family, but my grandfather, ever saw her or spoke to her. After he died, I looked for her name in his address book. She was listed simply as Louise. There was no address. Only a phone number. Soon after, somebody discarded the old book and Louise vanished with it.

Maybe this is where it all started.

My grandmother’s name was Renée Péron. That extra [e] which sets her apart from the illustrator of The Jew and France might be one key to the story. I could in fact dedicate the project to the letter [e] as Georges Perec did. For [e], Pour [e], For them, Pour eux. For those little ones my grandmother did not save, for the children she could have hidden in her farm and given magical memories to, for my grandmother and the person she wished she could have been for them, for the stories she could not tell as her memory was being erased, for my grandfather and the man he became thanks to Louise, for Louise who is forever part of the family narrative.