A young girl wakes in the night and leaves her room with her doll. She finds her grandmother awake in the living room and crying. She asks if her grandmother has had a nightmare, ‘You know when I have a nightmare, I tell mommy about it and that makes me feel better.” And she persuades Elsa to tell her.
“It was a long time ago. Grandma was a little girl. I must have been around your age.” So she tells her about living in Paris, with her mother and father, a WWI vet, and her daily life of going to school with her best friend Catherine. But one night her father tells her she will have to wear a sheriff’s badge to school. Of course, it is really the Jewish star she must wear, but she doesn’t know. When Dounia arrives at school her friend will not play with her and the teacher moves her to the back of the room and tells her she’s lucky she’s allowed to be in school.
Jews are arrested in the streets and anti-Semitic graffiti painted on buildings. As the situation gets gloomier and she leaves school, the pictures become darker. One night the police bang on the apartment door and her father hides her in an armoire with a lid over her. They tell her they love her and to keep quiet until an adult comes to help her. Down is brought by neighbors in the building to live with them. Eventually though they are told by the resistance that they must bring her to a building where she will be picked up and taken to the country. On their way out of the building, Dounia is recognized and the janitor calls for the police. Mrs. Pericard and Dounia arrive at their destination and are taken to a farm house where they stay with Germaine for the remainder of the war. It surprised me in Daovillier’s book that the farmer’s wife takes Dounia, now called Simone, and Mrs. Pericord to church, as it would have provoked questions among the town’s people and could be dangerous for Germaine as well as the two people she was hiding.
The story is told through dialogue in word balloons, but also running narration in first person in boxes. The illustrations by Marc Lizano are excellent, showing a somewhat naive young girl who all too quickly becomes fearful, sad and terrified. There is a mix of closeups, as when Dounia is hidden in the armoire, and long shots. There are many details in the illustrations that are important to take in. The coloration is reminiscent of the cover of Coraline the graphic novel illustrated by P. Craig Russell with a lot of browns, blacks and grays, but other colors too.
This is a very personal story the way it is written and illustrated but is is also the story of thousands of children who were given new names and religions and sent to hide on farms or apartments throughout Europe. Those who rescued them also endangered themselves and there families and they are called righteous gentiles. My husband was two when he was sent to stay with an older couple in the outskirts of Paris in a place called Vert Gallant. Previously he had been stayed with them during the week while his parent worked, but when the war started, he stopped going to be with his parents on weekends. He stayed in Vert Gallant for five years, rarely going outside, never going to school or playing with other children. Like Dounia, he called his rescuers Maman and Papa. And like Dounia, there was confusion about who the woman who came to get him after the war was. He continues to think of all of them as his parents.