When Pharaoh came to town
When Pharaoh came to town

Sarah was instructed to tell the teacher that her mother had broken her leg, so to please excuse her from the rest of the class. She had to go home.

In fact, this was a ruse. With the help of Abbe’ La Roche, the priest who studied Torah with Sarah’s father, arrangements had been made for the family’s escape that day.

This was to be the first night of Passover for their deliverance…the date and time forced on them by the guides who had the trek to Spain all mapped out.

The bags were packed, and had been packed ever since Vichy came to power in France and immediately adopted regulations similar to the Nuremburg Laws.

The Jews were to be dispossessed of all rights. The Jews were to be hunted.

Toulouse was to be spared, for a time, and time was running out.

“I’ll go home with you,” said the teacher, a thin, wiry woman, and a Vichy plant.

For Sarah, this meant doom, for herself and her family…all of it on her head.

At the teacher’s whistle, they would likely be rounded up, transported and deported. Already Jews were being picked off the streets.

Noah, Sarah’s father, saw the writing on the wall earlier than most, but it would be a process to connect with the French Underground. There would be hundreds of checkpoints. False papers would need to be produced for this family of four, plus more than a dozen other families, which Noah was prepared to rescue through his money (what was left of it), and his alarm.

“Now,” was his message. He urged Jewish journalists to protest while they still could…and “Before it’s too late.”

For the thousands who waited, it was too late. These had trusted. These had believed that they were French like the rest of France.

They refused to believe that their citizenships had been revoked.     

Ida, Sarah’s mother, was amazed at how quickly the good neighbors had turned on the Jews. “Overnight,” she would say. “In a snap.”  

On or about the day when Vichy took power, Sarah’s friend, Incarnacion, who would never leave for school without Sarah, now called her, “Dirty Jew.”

Before Vichy, Sarah remembers, there had been food shortages and strikes; whispers blaming it all on the Jews.

Now it was open-faced and the Jews, many who had served in the French military, were accused of dual loyalties.

Sarah’s Uncle Pinche was a fearless journalist and in his newspaper, he denounced Vichy and the blood libels now on so many French lips.

The Petain police warned him to be quiet, or else they would shut him down. Vichy was the law of the land. The French were his people. Except the Jews.

Only one side was permitted to speak up and speak out. On the Jews, censorship was to be enforced. Jewish writers were forbidden to respond against any accusation.

They were to accept in silence any insult.

Jews who refused to be silenced were told that their “anti-Vichy, pro-Jewish views” were “noticed” and “reported” to the censors and the police.

“The cattle cars,” remembers Sarah, today, “could be heard in the distance.”

“Overnight,” wrote Pinche, then, “how this nation has fallen from its belief in Liberty, Equality, Liberty; from the Enlightenment into the darkness.”    

Those would be the last words he would write during the darkness.

Among this family, a few would survive. Many did not.

Sarah’s mother, even in freedom, celebrating Passover in Montreal, never grew calm about how quickly people can change, for the worse, when a new Pharaoh comes to town.

“Overnight,” she would say. “In a snap people change.”

Sarah tells her story here and here I tell mine.

New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva.

He is the author of the international book-to-movie bestseller “Indecent Proposal.” His latest is the newsroom drama “News Anchor Sweetheart.”  His Inside Journalism thriller, “The Bathsheba Deadline,” is being prepared for the movies. Contemporaries have hailed him “The last Hemingway, a writer without peer, and the conscience of us all.” Website: www.jackengelhard.com