Title: Just think it never happened
Author: Paulette Goldberg
Publisher: Makor Jewish Community Library
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 2002
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: France: Paris, Toulouse, Pou, Chabannes, Mirepeix, Chatillon-Sur-Indre, Fontainebleau, Saint Quay, Limoges, Taverny, Lixheim, Versailles
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative
Paulette Goldberg’s autobiography is split into two parts: the first describes her wartime childhood experiences, the second, larger part portrays her life in Australia from 1949 to the time of writing. Following a brief family history, pages 10-21 recount her earliest memories of life in Paris under German occupation. Pages 22-54 tell of Paulette’s wandering between various foster homes in France, both during and after the war. These include homes in Toulouse , Pou, Chabannes, Mirepeix, Chatillon-Sur-Indre, Fontainebleau, Saint Quay, Limoges, Taverny, Lixheim and Versailles. Pages 63-115 describe the building of Paulette’s new life in Australia. Pages 116-142 record her journey back to the people and places of her childhood. The book also contains numerous photos as well as family tree diagrams. The book was written for her children and published by Makor Library in 2002.
The daughter of Polish immigrants, Paulette Goldberg (nee Szabason) was born in Paris in 1938. At the outbreak of war, Paulette’s father was trapped in Poland and shot by the Nazis. Her mother was taken to Auschwitz in late 1942. Too young to understand what was happening, Paulette was left to wander the streets of Paris with only her older sister to look after her. They were eventually taken in by the O.S.E (Oeuvre De Secour Aux Enfants – “The Work of Saving Children”). Paulette and her sister were moved from one foster home to the next, at one point being smuggled through a German check point in bundle of hay. Paulette has fond memories of her time in Chatillon-Sur-Indre. A loving couple of modest means, her hosts were subsequently honoured as ‘Righteous Among the Nations.’ When the Germans came through her town, Paulette witnessed scenes of death and destruction, rendering her numb and ‘zombie’ like.
After the war’s end, Paulette was moved from one Jewish children’s home to the next. She was sent to school but was unable to concentrate or learn. After bad experiences with a Rabbi who used to beat her, Paulette was moved to a new home in Taverny. Here she began to socialise for the first time, as well as learn Hebrew and Jewish rituals. On the weekends, other children would be picked up by their parents. Paulette however, was left to wander around the premises alone. In 1949 she was told that her and her sister were being sent to Australia to join their brother. There they would live a safe and comfortable life. She was advised, “You can forget the past, just think it never happened.” Paulette, however, was devastated, having dreamt of moving to Israel with her friends. In December that year she boarded a boat bound for Australia. After a stint in Brisbane staying with host families, she moved to Melbourne in 1954.
In Melbourne she became a successful dressmaker and began a family of her own. Paulette remained, however, deeply traumatised by her experiences. She endured nightmares and could not speak about her wartime years. In 1992 she joined the Child Survivors Group and found their meetings to be distressing, yet unmissable. Gradually Paulette became able to talk about her memories and her nightmares ceased. In 1993 she undertook a challenging, yet fascinating, journey to revisit the people and places of her childhood.
The first part of Goldberg’s book is an engaging portrait of a young girl in a world she cannot possibly understand. Although conceding that she cannot reconstruct an exact chronology, Goldberg’s childhood memories are recounted with lucidity. The second half of the book depicts new life in Australia, one that remains, however, haunted by the past.