Memories of Gisèle Räderscheidt on a trip with Anton Räderscheidt and their sons Vincent and Pascal to Barjols in 1963
First visit in 1963
In the summer of 1963 when we came back from vacation, Anton felt like seeing Barjols again. We had a happy month in La Ciotat with Vincent, Pascal, and Etienne, who came over for a short visit.
Nothing had changed in Barjols. Anton showed us the house where Ilse and the two children Ernst and Brigitte lived: a bistro with a terrace. It was on this very terrace where they had to raise Rabbits, to not die of hunger. We were all very busy, Anton was not showing any of his emotions. He was a master at it. We searched for the Brunets and walked to the tobacco shop they used to have. There we learned that they stopped running the business and now live a few doors down. Anton knocked and two old people met us at the door, at first, they were taken aback and did not understand the situation. I was young, in Bermudas, tanned and without any reference to the past. After their surprise wore off and they realized that I was Anton’s new wife and the mother of these two lovely children, Madame Brunets face darkened. She was Anton’s age, jealousy had risen in her and started to sparkle in her eyes, the old Mr. Brunet, on the other hand, was quite exuberant and didn’t seem to mind a little youth in his house.
After they had come to their senses, they asked Anton: “Have you come to resume your business?” Anton replied in astonishment: “What business?” – “But everything you left here a whole cellar full. We didn’t dare to throw something away and just didn’t know what to do with it.” Anton didn’t care. The children and I hurried after Madame Brunet into the cellar, she took out boxes full of books, leather-bound first editions of German classics, one Whole pile of worthless stuff and then again one miracle after the other: rolls of paper, drawing cardboard, oil paintings gnawed by mice and then everything that was left over from Sanary. I almost think Anton was uncomfortable, he would have liked to not find anything again, School books by Ernst made him ponder again. That was it. All the drawings and gouaches from ‘Les Milles’, all the time. Anton had hoped to see the butcher Lucien Coquillat again, but he had already died. There was a drawing on the Brunets Wall, that Anton had given to them, it was a depiction of wheat fields around Berlin. We drove back to Avignon, happy and triumphant over our find, but without having understood anything about the drama that lay behind us. Anton did not help us.
Second visit to Barjols in 1978
I went to Barjols a second time, it was in September 1978, after I had decided to do serious research for a complete biography of Anton Räderscheidt. I had only a few concrete clues – my memory and the stories of Anton and Brigitte – that was all. The 1963 visit that I have just described may have given me some keys. I wasn’t exactly happy when I turned into the “Allée Louis Pasteur”. I left my car under the large plane trees. It was scorching hot. I sat down on the terrace of the café under Anton and Ilse’s apartment and cried in my pernod. I had no more hope. The waiter told me the brunets had died. Anton was dead too. I was completely alone – and now I was old as well. I saw Anton’s ghost amidst the old people playing boules, I imagined Ernst arriving there at the age of eighteen and writing his first poems, which were to be his last. Ilse, arm in arm with Anton in her last happy years, not knowing that her enemy was cancer and that it was already in her. One breast would be removed from her in 1944 when she arrived in Switzerland, the other in 1946 and she would die in Bern in 1947. I thought how exactly above my head the tragedy that cost Ernst his life had played out. How one morning the gendarmes knocked on the door. Ernst opened the door to them. He spoke French fluently and without an accent and debated with them as long as he could so that the others could jump through the window into the courtyard. They took him away. It was September 7, 1942. (In Serge Klarsfeld’s register: “Le mémorial de la deportation des Juifs en France” I found that Ernst arrived in Drancy on September 7th, 1942, was loaded there “at the last minute” and arrived in Auschwitz on September 9th.) The people around me laughed, a fat Belgian woman licked her ice cream greedily, her Brat was walking around between the tables and I was lost in my memories and frozen with fear. I had lost all courage and I was aware of the indecency of my plan. I had the impression that I was raping a fate that did not concern me. I was the Intruder who sneaked into their intimacy, into this family that had four names and yet was so united. I went back to my car to get out of this hell. In front of the Brunet house, two old women in black were sitting and breathing from the heat of the day. I asked her where the new Madame Brunet was living – the old man had married again at the age of eighty. “But that’s me,” the little one replied proudly, “What is it that you want from me? “Her gaze was mild, she had a Provencal accent – that got me back on my feet. I started telling my story and she invited me to come up to her Apartment. And so, I saw the apartment again, in which we had been with Anton thirteen years earlier. Nothing had changed and yet it wasn’t the same. The two little old people were very excited – they don’t have a visit like this every day – they interrupt each other, they laugh, they tell each other stupid things like little schoolgirls. They are weird and they tell me weird things. -They make me feel better-. I found out about old Brunet’s remarriage. That was a very nice story:
From her youth she had always been Emil’s great love. She lived in a small house in the country near Barjols, where he secretly visited her every day. He spoiled and loved her for sixty years, but his wife didn’t want a divorce, she said. When the woman died, he came to marry her with flying colors, but she refused. “We would be beautiful fiancés,” she had told him, “all of Barjols would laugh at us, you at eighty-three and me at seventy-five”. Finally, she got married after all, he had convinced her. Never in her life had she been so happy as in these two years. “What do you want, my dear, he just adored this woman,” said her relative. Madame Brunet showed me the last passport photo of her husband and told me that he had his picture taken for a passport because he wanted to travel with her. To which she replied that it was no longer worth it. She told it all very youthfully and with a lot of humor. I liked her better and better. Emile still had his passport made, but they didn’t have time for the trip. “He fell over like a chicken,” she said, which should mean he didn’t suffer; he closed his eyes, and it was over. She just told stories, without theater, like a character by Marcel Pagnol. I never got tired of listening to her. Through the love for her husband, the pride and triumph seemed to have “had” him. Only with her had he been happy.
The next morning, I went to her again. She offered me an aperitif and as she opened a bottle of Marsala from the old Brunet, she said: “The wine is Italian, I am French, and you are German” and laughed out loud. I can understand old Brunet when I consider the charm that this woman exuded and when I imagine the other woman in front of me, the right one, with whom he was unhappy for sixty years and did not dare to get a divorce for fear of the Neighbors and the kids. Did they have any? I do not know anymore. I can understand him well. I wanted to take pictures and told her I was preparing a film about Barjols for television. She jumped in front of the mirror, looked at herself, straightened her hair and said, “What things happen to me! If I tell my relatives that I’m going to be on TV, they won’t believe me! “I didn’t believe it myself. I took Anton’s picture off the wall to photograph it. What a strange feeling, finding the gray paper that he loved so much, to touch it, to label it with my name and with a certificate if it was sold. Her doctor was already in her ears about it, but out of love for Emile she would never part with it. While writing this, I wonder how Anton painted this picture in Berlin and how it got here, after he and Ilse had left Cologne in 1934. What a journey! Now she looked at the picture and said to herself: “If Hitler were still alive, he would kill me.” That was Blanche Brunet – I wonder if she is still alive?
After this visit I drove through Barjols two more times. Like a thief, my head tucked between my shoulders, I drove past quickly in the car and was ashamed when I saw her sitting in front of her door as I did then, waiting peacefully and comfortably, perhaps dreaming of her Emile. But I had spoiled the film, the apparatus hadn’t worked. I am not gifted in this area. I didn’t want to tell her either that I lied to her. And besides, I wasn’t alone. I think that was the real reason. I didn’t want to take my partner with me into Anton and Ilse’s past – that was none of his business – that was entirely up to me.
© all rights by Gisèle Räderscheidt – reproduction, even in part, only with permission.