By John Philipp
Paris, December 1940
Six-year-old Elisabeth sat with her nanny, Magda, and her teddy bear, Monsieur Flaubert, at Le Relais de la Tour, a small brasserie next to the Eiffel Tower. Elisabeth hoped Monsieur Flaubert didn’t strain his neck trying to glimpse the top of the Tower from her shopping purse. It was so much taller than she imagined. Magda said one could see all of Paris, but Elisabeth was glad they’d arrived too late to go to the top. Uncle Bernard said even Hitler refused to go to the top when he visited Paris.
Although a storm threatened to the west, they chose to sit outside on the terrace. While Magda negotiated for a small bite from Elisabeth’s apple tart, she noticed two older couples walking by her table. Though it was summer, all four wore heavy, dark worsted overcoats; a yellow six-pointed star was sewn on each coat above the breast pocket. It seemed odd to Elisabeth that no waiter rushed over to greet the new customers as they had when she and Magda arrived. Each of the gentlemen took his wife’s coat with one hand and pulled out a chair for her with the other as two German soldiers walked by, bumping into one of the women and knocking her to the ground. A gold lipstick container dislodged from the woman’s purse and rolled across the flagstone terrace in Elisabeth’s direction.
The soldiers never broke stride after running into the old woman. The husband turned to yell something, but the other man grabbed his arm and whispered in his ear.
Elisabeth caught the rolling lipstick and walked over to the couples’ table, her hand extended with the gold container. The woman thanked Elisabeth and patted her on the head.
“Why are you all wearing yellow stars on your coats?”
“It means we are Jewish,” said the woman.
“I’m Jewish. Can I have a star, too?” said Elisabeth, wondering where Papa might buy one. The older woman began to cry.
Elisabeth returned to the table and spoke to Magda. “The woman who lost the lipstick said she wore a star on her coat because she was Jewish.”
“They are wearing the Star of David.”
“Can I have a David star? Maybe one for Monsieur Flaubert, too? Papa says bears aren’t Jewish, but he does live with a Jewish family. And, with a star, he could also pretend he is a cowboy policeman.”
“You mean a sheriff?”
“Yes. I think he even told me once he wanted to be a sheriff. Where can we buy a star? Monsieur Flaubert didn’t get any presents this trip.”
“I don’t think they sell stars, ma petite. I believe people make them themselves.”
“Can you make me one?” asked Elisabeth as she cut her tart into three pieces and pierced one with her fork.
“I wouldn’t,” said Magda watching the first piece of tart disappear into the girl’s mouth.
“You know the Nazis don’t like Jews, yes?”
“Yes,” said Elisabeth, downing piece two.
“Well, I think the Germans are going to want all Jews to wear stars, so people will know who they are and not be nice to them.”
“Did the Germans make those people wear stars because they were bad?”
“It’s complicated, Lizzie. Uncle Bernard told me the Germans at the Ministry of Transport told him the Gestapo paid some Jews to wear stars so when they tell people later, all Jews have to, it will come as less of a shock.”
“I’m not sure I want to be Jewish.” The last of the apple tart disappeared into her mouth.
“Dear Lizzie, you should be proud to be Jewish.”
“Would you like to be Jewish?”
“I am already Lutheran.”
“I don’t blame you, darling. We can talk about it at supper and make things clearer to everyone.” Magda stopped and waved. “Our driver is across the street. Stay here and I will get him.” Magda continued to wave at the limo as she waited for a break in traffic.
A moment later, from the limo’s side of the street, Magda motioned Elisabeth to join her. Elisabeth wiped her mouth with her napkin, grabbed her bag—making sure Monsieur Flaubert was safely inside—and waited at the curb until Magda signaled it was safe to cross.
The driver held the limo door open and Elisabeth entered. To her surprise, Papa and her two sisters were also inside. “Something occurred to change our plans,” said her father. “I thought it safer to come and pick you up.”
After the car had pulled away from the curb, Magda whispered to Papa and his face became grim, his eyes closed tighter, and his teeth clenched. Elisabeth could see his jawbone grind as if he were chewing something. She knew that was not a good sign. As much as she was bursting to tell them the funny story of the runaway horse they had seen, this didn’t seem the best time. She’d wait until dinner.
Her oldest sister, Paulette, who had been listening to Magda, turned to Elisabeth. “Germans hate Jews. They want them to wear stars, so they can shoot them.”
Elisabeth felt light-headed, and by the time they arrived home, she no longer wanted a star. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be Jewish, though how one went about that was beyond her. Lutheran sounded better. After dinner, she would ask Papa.