For weeks after I came to France—I arrived just before my tenth birthday—I would, walking on a street, lift my arm to my forehead and, after a second of contraction, drop it again. Nothing would have been easier than to extend that raised arm. My muscles, I felt, would respond with terrifying ease; but, in an inevitable trajectory, that arm would drop in a clumsy half-circle from my forehead back to my side. I wanted to make the Nazi salute on a street in provincial France, and dared not.
When I became a Nazi—insofar as this was possible for a Jewish girl of eight years, living in a profusion of fairy tales and rock candy—I had already been converted on numerous occasions. This innate desire to take for myself and share whatever seemed most important in someone else’s life ranged all the way from a treacherous admiration for wooden coffee mills—our own was made of glass and china—to a yearning to go to the park and sit, on sunny Sunday afternoons, with the shoemaker’s family on the crowded green lawn. But most of all, I wanted my friends’ religion. In that I achieved quite a measure of consistency. Because my best friend, the shoemaker’s daughter, was Protestant, I once found the courage to declare to a group of the Catholic relatives of our maid that, in spite of them, I should become a Protestant and not a Catholic. And somewhere I even heard a strange, dimly muttered approval from someone’s aunt. I was right, she must have declared, because look at poor Erna . . . she became a Catholic and never could quite understand it herself.
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