In “Ode au grand absent qui ne m’a jamais quitté“, published in 2016 by L’Harmattan, Jean-Michel Gaussot, son of a member of the French Résistance who died in a Nazi concentration camp, pays tribute to the father he never knew. In a video interview conducted by the publisher Jean-Michel Gaussot explains his reasons for having written the book and his objectifs in having made the story public. Below you can read the English translation of the video done in French (You can watch the video here).
Question (Q): You published at L’Harmattan Ode au grand absent qui ne m’a jamais quitté. What prompted you to write that book ?
Jean-Michel Gaussot (Gaussot): For a very long time, in fact, for several decades I had that desire in my mind. But it took me a long time to start writing. First, because I* was very busy as a diplomat, therefore I waited until retirement. In addition, I did not have enough material at my disposal to tell about the last phase of my father’s life, between the day he arrived at the Neuengamme concentration camp, on May 24, 1944, and the day he died, on April 23 or 24, 1945 (there is a doubt about the exact date) in a satellite camp of the Neuengamme concentration camp called Wöbbelin, which was really a death camp. Only after my mother died, in November 2012, did I find in her personal archives letters from fellow prisoners of my father who described the course of their life as deportees, that is, the conditions of survival, and often death, in those horrible places. Those documents made it possible for me to relate the last stretch of my father’s life course.
Q: Is the book only about your father or does it also tell about other the fate of other people?
Gaussot: My father, of course, is the main character in the book. But the second character is my mother. She is an important character, too. After her death, I also found among her documents small planning calendars for the years 1943, 44 and 45 in which she – day after day – put down her thoughts, her hopes, her fears and her doubts. So she converted those calendars into a real personal diary, which made it possible for me to relate in a precise way the manner in which my mother waited, for months and in vain, for the return of the man she loved, until she was informed, on June 3, 1945, that is, almost six weeks after it happened, that her husband had died.
Thus, my mother is the second character in the book. The third one is myself. People who know me are aware that I am a rather discreet person and I don’t like to talk about myself. In fact, I do not talk about myself to-day in the book, but about the little boy and the teen-ager I was a long time ago. As Rimbaud said, Je est un autre, « I is someone else » and, as I tell about that child and that teen-ager, I do not feel like talking about myself.
As you know, the situation of orphans who never knew their deceased parents is peculiar in the sense that, for them, the dead parent does not live in their memory but rather in their imagination, which is quite different. That leads one – and it led me – to totally idealise the absent father. I saw my father as a kind of God, at least as a mythical being who had all possible qualities. And it was all the more so as my mother and my grand-parents have always described my father to me as a flawless hero.
So, the ultimate part of the book is about my chilhood and adolescence till the age of 18, that is till I became an adult.
Q: What were your goals in writing the book?
Gaussot: The main purpose was to pay tribute to my father, a man who had lost his life for engaging in the Résistance. Beyond that, the book is a double account, first of the fate of a young wife and mother who feels as if the world is collapsing when she is told that her husband has died, and second of the psychological reactions of a child who never ceases to think about the father he never knew and always fears that he will never be worthy of him.
It is a story among others on such a subject, I am sure there are many others, but reactions sofar make me believe that it may induce emotion and interest on the part of quite a few readers. At least that is what I am hoping.
In writing this book, I tried to give like a semblance of life to my father, to take him out of the anonymous mass grave where his remains lie, and preserve him from oblivion which, as I say in my book, is like a second death.
Beyond the individual destinies I describe in the book, I would like it to call the readers’attention to one particular form of deportation which is hardly mentioned any longer, that is, the deportation as a means of repression, the deportation of Resistants. For a number of years the Shoah, the Holocaust, has been in the forefront. This is a good thing. We must never cease talking about the Shoah, about the indescribable horrors which were committed as part of the policy of extermination of the Jewish people and of the Sinti and Roma.
But one should not forget the other victims, that is the Resistants. If my book could contribute to perpetuate the memory of deportation in all its forms, it would make me happy.
* In the video I made a mistake when I mentioned September.
Jean-Michel Gaussot, a former French diplomat, is the President of the Amicale Internationale KZ Neuengamme and the General-Secretary of the Amicale de Neuengamme et de ses Kommandos. His father was a member of the French Résistance and died in the Wöbbelin reception camp, a satellite camp of the Neuengamme concentration camp. Since he retired he has decided to dedicate much of his time to maintaining the memory of the deportation, which he considers all the more necessary as there will soon be no more survivors to testify and tell what occurred in Nazi camps. He believes it to be the duty of the following generations to try and keep that memory alive.