How it was written


During those three years I gathered together information from a variety of sources. My research was given an unexpected boost by the good fortune I had to come to know, upon my return from Lithuania and Estonia in May 1995, a Lithuanian Jew which had emigrated to Israel and written a book on the Jewish resistance movement in Lithuania between 1941 and 1944. This individual had, in November 1943 been imprisoned in the Ninth Fort in Kaunas (it was to this prison, a "factory of death", that the deportees of Convoy 73 would be sent a few months later), where he had organised, against all odds, a spectacular escape during Christmas of 1943 which had allowed 64 people to regain their freedom.

Having read his extraordinary story in English, I decided that I should translate it into French so that a wider audience in France could know of the atrocities committed by the Lithuanians during the Second World War. To recount the story of this translation and all that followed from it would require an entire book in itself. Suffice to say that I did it for no payment but simply in consideration of my father's memory, a task made harder by the language difficulties this posed.

With the assistance of the book's author (through the intermediary of the fax machine since I was only able to meet him some three years later), I was able to discover from direct eye-witness sources unpublished information concerning the fate of those Jews sent from France to Kaunas in May 1944 which over-turned, at least in part, the version of events accepted and retold after the war.

My meeting with the author and my knowledge of his book lead, after some further developments, to a third voyage to the Baltic States in August / September 1998 the story of which is also told in "We are 900 Frenchmen". On this occasion, I agreed upon our return to take responsibility for the writing and production of the " small booklet" planned three years previously.

I had in mind a publication about fifty pages in length, which I would present as a gift to the twenty or so friends who has taken part in the various journeys. I envisaged that it would be finished by the end of 1998.

But I had not counted on news spreading through word of mouth. After a few months, other families, put on to me by relatives and friends, far and near, began to communicate with me by a variety of sources but all with one purpose, to add the biography of their loved one in our "short booklet" The unexpected avalanche of extra biographies made it impossible to stick to my self-imposed dead-line.

For six months, I worked alone in front of my computer, assisted only by a handful of friends from our group who corrected and proof-read my drafts. I am neither author nor publisher but simply a grandmother with six children and sixteen grand children and a former (efficient!) secretary: my motivation is my sense of duty to the memory of my father and those who travelled with him. I wrote somewhere towards the end of "We 900 Frenchmen" of the suffering I endured in transcribing these biographies and how, on many occasions, I come close to abandoning the heavy task I had set myself.

But I must emphasise that even if I was primarily responsible for the book's realisation, it would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the contributions of my friends, along with their photographs and documents. The book is a collective effort in which have assisted those men and women named in it. The same approach will be followed for the second volume.

After having finished writing the first section of our "short booklet" and having added the 48 biographies submitted to me, I began to number the pages. Unbelievably, these came to 440: we had produced a book in the true sense of the word. No one in our group, least of all myself, had expected this. Each person had ordered in advance a specified number of copies, and I had given instructions for 350 to be printed (by laser photocopy) since, as I have already mentioned, I am not a professional author and have no financial backing.

Here I must digress slightly: it was my express wish that I bear the cost of producing the proofs of the book (enlargement and reduction of photographs and documents, paper and ink for my printer and photocopier, postage and telephone charges etc.). My only request was a contribution to printing costs. The book could not give rise to any financial profit whatsoever.


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