What Do They Want From Us?
What Do They Want From Us?

The question came from my mother when the French police came knocking on doors in the middle of the night. This was Toulouse, a very Catholic town. But Christians and Jews had lived well together. Life was good. For my mother, who was raised delicate and aristocratic, it was inconceivable that this could end. 

Fridays she lit candles. Saturdays Father went to Synagogue. But Sunday was a time for dances and soirees.

The priest, Father LaRoche, visited often. Later, the priest and the Archbishop of Toulouse, Cardinal Jules-Gerard Saliege, would become famous for having saved the lives of many Jews. Before this was necessary the priest visited with bon bons for the children. Then he sat down to study Talmud with my father.

Father taught us the Aleph bet and Mother made sure that we should always be well spoken, well dressed and well behaved. There is a picture showing Sarah, my sister, balancing her baby brother on a bicycle. Both are smiling and appear to be enjoying the comforts of a tranquil and prosperous home.

The picture was taken a few months before we became fugitives.

Years earlier my parents had come from other parts but were now utterly Jewish and loyally French. 

Overnight Germans were seen directing traffic. Though this was a “Free Zone,” the Gestapo had begun providing lists to the police.

These were lists for deportations.

This is not true that the Nazis always came storming in from town to town. Often they moved slowly. The Germans feared an uprising from the general population. The French might object to their neighbors being harmed. Jews had served gallantly in the French military. The Gestapo did not know, at first, that the French police would be so reliable, such willing accomplices.

She will – yes she will find the strength to prevail.
They did not know that the French police would be so helpful at rounding up 80,000 French Jews for deportation to the gas chambers.

Not knowing this at the outset, the Gestapo moved deliberately. Step by step they imposed restrictions against Jews owning businesses, serving the professions, attending school, gathering to pray, until Jews were confined to their homes, and soon even their homes were forbidden.

This is when my mother asked, “What do they want from us?”

This was a rhetorical question, possibly. But it is also possible that a woman so refined would never understand a good life turned so brutish, so swiftly inhospitable, nor come to terms with the inconceivable. For what crime, she would ask, for what reason? What have we done to deserve this? Father had no answer.

But he had us packed and ready to go. This was to be a long and treacherous journey. But prayers were answered and miracles occurred.

Sarah was 11-years-old when her life turned from schoolgirl to hunted prey. But she found the strength to prevail.

Today we need more prayers and miracles for another beautiful 11-year-old. Her name is Ayala Shapira. In the Hebrew prayers for her recovery she is Ayala bat Rut. Have you seen her picture? She is gorgeous. See that face and see how gloriously it speaks of her Israeli youthfulness and Israeli pride.

But something terrible happened. She is suffering. Her family is suffering. Israel is suffering. The world is suffering.

Last Thursday Ayala’s life changed abruptly when she became the victim of a firebombing. She was burned badly.

She is receiving the best medical care possible. We hear that she is progressing nicely. We await her speedy and complete recovery.

She will – yes she will find the strength to prevail.

The people who did this to her were not German and they were not French. They were Arabs. An 11-year-old beauty. For what crime? For what reason?

Again the question: “What do they want from us?”

Jack Engelhard writes a regular column for Arutz Sheva. New from the novelist, the inside-the-newsroom tell-all thriller, The Bathsheba Deadline. Engelhard wrote the int’l bestseller Indecent Proposal that was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. Website: www.jackengelhard.com