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Fall 1999

When Memory Comes
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And just days before he was to leave, Friedlander was invited to the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles to view the original copy of the Nuremberg laws, Hitler's infamous edict codifying the exclusion of Jews from all aspects of German Society.

Although the contents of the document are familiar, "to see the actual paper with the most evil laws on it was strange and creepy," he says. These, after all, were the very words that set in motion the chain of events that, ever since, have been the framework of Friedlander's life. Friedlander was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1932, four months before Hitler's ascent to power in Germany. Seven years later, his parents Hans, a lawyer, and Elli fled with him to France as Hitler systematically dismembered Eastern Europe. But France, under German occupation, did not prove to be a safe haven and, in 1942 when foreign Jews were being rounded up and deported to Germany, the family again had to flee. This time, in an effort to protect their son, Friedlander's mother and father changed his name from Pavel to Paul-Henri Marie Ferrland and left him in the care of nuns at a French Catholic monastery. He was 10 years old.

His parents tried to make it to the safety of Switzerland, but they were stopped at the border and returned to France, and then sent to Germany. Friedlander's mother and father were shipped to Auschwitz. He never saw them again.

Living in the care of the nuns until the end of the war, Friedlander existed on the fringe of the fires engulfing Europe, and in his 1979 memoir he writes that in many ways he feels he was more a spectator than a victim. The child of modern, assimilated Jews, Friedlander was not raised in a religious home, but he embraced Catholicism and even thought of becoming a priest. But when he was 15, a Jesuit priest told him what had been happening to the Jews of Europe, "of Auschwitz, the trains, the gas chambers, the crematory ovens, the millions of dead," Friedlander wrote.

"It was a jolt," he says. His attention turned to rediscovering his roots, and he became passionately interested in the idea of resurrecting a Jewish homeland.

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