My review of “But You Did Not Come Back” by Marceline Loridan-Ivens

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Marceline Loridan-Ivens  (19th March 1928 – 18th September 2018) was a French Jew, an activist in the French Resistance and the Algerian resistance, an actor, a filmmaker, and a writer.

In 1944 at the age of 15 she was arrested by the Gestapo with her father for their resistance activities, In this book, written  75 years later,  her anger screams out from the pages. But also  her love for the father,  who was brutally taken away from her.

When they were held together in Drancy (the internment  camp in Paris where arrested Jews were held prior to deportation)  her father  knew that he was not going to survive and said to Marceline:     “You might come back, because you’re young, but I will not come back.” She says:  “That prophecy burned into my mind as violently and definitively as the number 78750 tattooed on my left arm a few weeks later.”

After their arrest Marceline and her father were separately deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland from where her father’s family originated. They did meet, once, as they passed  each other on the way back to the camp. “I fell into your arms, fell with all my heart-your prophecy wasn’t true, you were alive.” Marceline was beaten by the guards,  but her father managed to hand her a tomato and an onion and she told him the number of her prison block.

By  a miracle  her father managed to get a note to her in the camp. “I can see your writing, slanted to the right, and four or five sentences that I can no longer remember. I’m sure of one line, the first: “My darling little girl” and the last line too, your signature: “Shloime”.  But what came in between, I don’t know anymore.”

Marceline survived the camps,  but her father as he had predicted, did not. She returned to a  France where the collaborators with the Nazis were  still in jobs and running the country. Rejected by Israel, where she  had planned to move to,  she  took  her anger and desire for political change into activity to support other colonised people such as Algeria  which in the 1950s and 60s  becomes the biggest cause for   French left. “The more I demanded reparations for the Algerians, the more I felt I was being paid back myself, felt I had found my place. They were Arabs, I was Jewish.”

She met  filmmaker Joris Ivens (18th  November 1898 – 28th  June 1989) who became the love of her life. With him she makes many films about post war struggles for independence including Algeria and Vietnam,  and shares in his hopes for a different and fairer world.  “I had married a man of your age, an heir to the exalted nineteenth century that believed in the continuous, automatic progression of History.” But in the end: “he too left me alone in the ruins of the twentieth century.”



Marceline  says:  “I would like to run away from the history of the world, from this century, go back to my own time, the time of Shloime and his darling little girl.” But she does not and that is the inspiring theme of this book.  She takes the anger and pours it into her life work and  tries  to make sense of a world that seems to be going backwards. Ultimately this is an inspiring book that challenges all of us to become active in opposing inequality, fascism, and injustice.

Watch a documentary about her: “Marceline. A Woman. A Century”  True Story.

About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. .If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
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