But You did Not Come Back is a deeply moving and heart-breaking letter from Marceline to the father that never came back from the concentration camps of WWII. In 1944, at the age of fifteen, Marceline Loridan-Ivens was arrested in occupied France, along with her father. They were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. When they arrived, they were forcibly separated. Though he managed to smuggle a last note to her via an electrician, and they did hug briefly one day, she never spoke to him again.
Loridan-Ivens has spent her entire life trying to recreate the love she had for her father and acknowledges that the second husband, the film maker, Joris Ivens was a replacement in her life for her father.
She writes “when the wish to live replaces the wish to die” and this is what drove her and thousands to survive the camps yet once she is freed she spends her life wishing he had been saved instead of her. She believes that he would have kept the family together and saved her siblings from suicide. Writing the memoir she is still not sure she wanted to come back, she cannot reconcile that so many died including her father but that she survived.
Her father adored France, always wanted to live there, be accepted part of society. She writes that “you didn’t really die for France. France sent you to your death. You were wrong about her”. This is very hard to read without crying and realising that even as the 20th century ends the town where he tried so hard to be French and accepted they would not put his name on the monument with Auschwitz beside it. They would not acknowledge that he died for France in a concentration camp.
On the back jacket there is a beautiful photo of her laughing and I did look at that a lot to remind myself that she is probably a happy person and that she was OK. I cried several times reading this short but powerful book but I felt a better person afterwards. I would urge you to read But You Did Not Come Back.
Faber & Faber/£12.99/ 9780571328017