A plea for memory in France
PERHAPS I WOULD NEVER KNOW THE NAMES of three of Toba's daughters, three sisters of Uszer and Owzyia. But there might be something I could do, at least to acknowledge the name and the fate of one of the Kagan/ Kahan brothers.
When I had been in the Hautes-Pyrénées archive in Tarbes, studying all the documents that listed Uszer Kahan's address, I realized something: I had all the elements to request a Stolperstein for him. I knew his name, date of birth, date of his arrest, and his last address. Knowing the address seemed most remarkable in this instance. The Stolpersteine organization requires that one have the victim's last address of choice; it cannot be a concentration camp, labor camp or ghetto. Thus I could not request a Stolperstein for Uszer's brother Owzyia, as I knew only the addresses of the internment camp and the forced labor camp where he spent his last days before deportation to Auschwitz.
Somehow, at the same time as his brother was incarcerated, Uszer Kahan was a relatively free man, working in Tarbes and living at an address of his choice, 70 rue des Pyrénées, until his arrest in February of 1943.
THE OTHER ESSENTIAL ELEMENT FOR A STOLPERSTEIN was this: the permission of the city's mayor. So, soon after I got home from my visit to Tarbes and the Stolperstein ceremony for my great-aunt Frieda in Mannheim, I wrote to the mayor with my request, in November of 2015.
SOON AFTER I returned from my trip to France and Germany in November of 2015, I wrote the mayor of Tarbes to request permission for a Stolperstein for Uszer Kahan.
And I wrote again. And again.
IT TOOK MORE THAN A YEAR before I received a response. The mayor never directly addressed my request for a Stolperstein, but instead suggested a plaque in the museum -- after it was modernized. (Six years later, the modernization project has not yet happened.)
I WROTE BACK, SAYING IN PART:
"Thank you for letting me know that there will be a “mur du souvenir” including Uszer Kahan’s name.
I am very hopeful that you will also consider my request for your permission to place a small brass memorial, a Stolperstein, in the sidewalk in front of the place where M. Kahan lived.
As I mentioned earlier, M. Kahan lived and worked in Tarbes, as a dessinateur for Panhard, until his arrest and deportation in February of 1943. The Stolperstein is a recognition of his presence in your city, and it carries a special significance in that anyone walking along – even those who may never go to la Musée de la Déportation et de la Résistance – can see that acknowledgment."
THERE WERE NO MORE RESPONSES FROM THE MAYOR. But meanwhile, Sandrine had been at work, both in the city archives and in talking to elderly residents of Tarbes. The address of 70 rue des Pyrénées had changed since 1943; the street name had changed and the house itself had been assigned a different number. She was determined to find it.
One day I received an enthusiastic e-mail from her: "It's a big day today: I've got it!" she wrote. "I know where 70 rue des Pyrénées of UK [Uszer Kahan] is. Nowadays it's 92 Avenue du Régiment de Bigorre."
I wrote again to the mayor, informing him that the problem with the city's renumbering and change of the original address had now been resolved. "I sincerely hope that the discovery of the correct address will persuade you to permit this small and tasteful memorial stone (or tile) in Tarbes," I wrote. " I believe it would be an honorable statement for your city."
There was no reply.
On Google Earth I could see the blue door of Uszer Kahan's former residence
ADVICE FROM OTHERS WHO HAD MANAGED to arrange Stolpersteine in France was to muster all possible support, especially local support. I wrote to any influential supporters I could think of, in Germany, the U.S., Canada and France, particularly in the Occitanie region that included Tarbes. "I would like to pay the cost of this memorial plaque myself," I wrote, " but I need the permission of the mayor even to be on the waiting list for its placement. I have been asking for such permission for more than three years, but have not yet received approval from the mayor."
This was not exactly a major letter-writing campaign, but at least I had garnered a small list of names by the time I wrote the mayor, yet again, in early December of 2019. This was my last hope, but even it was anemic. I had tried, I had done as much as I could do. It was probably time to give up.
As I had expected, as 2019 rolled into 2020, no answer arrived.
Then Covid hit, obliterating all normal pursuits. The pandemic seemed to make all else irrelevant.
This project was dead.
Or was it?