I loved you so much that I was happy to be deported with you.
But You Did Not Come Back is Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s very personal memoir about her time in the death camps and how it overshadowed the rest of her life. She writes it in the form of a letter to her father who was sent to the death camps at the same time as she was. She made it back and he didn’t. She has always felt as though it was his life for hers, and this profound grief has stayed with her always.
After you were gone, our family became a place where you screamed for help, but no one heard. Not ever.
We have all read and heard about the atrocities of the death camps. But what comes after? Our first reaction is to feel relief and even happiness for those who survived, but Marceline tells a different story. She talks about feeling isolated from those in her family who did not experience the camps, grief for those who did not come back, the self-loathing she learned to feel about herself, the depression and suicides of people who had not even been at the death camps including her own siblings. During the war, she fought to stay alive, but after it was over she lost the will to live.
I don’t like my body. It’s as if it still bears the mark of the first man who ever looked at me, a Nazi… So for a long time, I associated getting undressed with death, with hatred, with the icy stare of Mengele, the camp demon who was in charge of the selection, who made us turn all around, naked, prodded by his baton so he could decide who would live and who would die.
But it wasn’t death that took you away. It was a great black pit and its smoke, and I had looked down into its very depths. It hadn’t yet finished its evil task: Even when the war was over, it still seemed to be sucking us in.
Over time, Marceline was able to cobble together a sense of purpose for herself; she became an activist, an actress and a director, and started making films about the Algerian uprising, the Vietnam war, and the Chinese Revolution.
I thought, if I can’t do anything for myself, I’m going to do something for others.
Two years ago, I asked Henri’s wife, Marie: “Now that we are approaching the end of our lives, do you think it was a good thing for us to have come back from the camps?” “No, I don’t,” she replied, “we shouldn’t have come back. But what do you think?”… I hope that if someone asks me that question just before I’m about to die, I’ll be able to say, “Yes, it was worth it.”
“Marceline Loridan-Ivens is known around the world for the superb documentaries that she codirected with her husband, the Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens (1898–1989). But the earliest part of her career, as well as her most recent work, depart from the documentaries by providing very personal, profoundly moving reflections on her identity as a Jewish woman.” This information came from the Jewish Women’s Archive, where you can read more about Marcelne Loridan-Ivens’ life and work.
*Thanks to Random House Canada for sending me a copy of this book for review.
The Filmography of Marceline Loridan-Ivens (from Films de France):
Key: a = actor; d = director; w = writer
Peut-être (1999) [a]