Marrano – The Letters


Between late 1938 and July 1942, my twin brother, Abraham Francisco Hubsch, wrote to me at least once a fortnight from Paris. Our ambition was to study together at l’École de Paris, but we agreed that one of us should stay in Santa Cruz de la Sierra with Mama.  Being Marrano was just family history which, to us both, could have no relevance in this day and age. We should have listened to Mama, history does have a way of repeating itself. Here are five letters written by Abraham between 1939 and his disappearance in 1942.

Miguel Ariel Hubsch

1952

Paris
8 July 1939

Un afectuoso saludo Miguel,

I’m afraid that there is yet more bad news, but this week it’s tempered with some really good news. Firstly the bad news: I visited the Louvre again last week and was surprised to see that most of the works by the neoclassicists had been removed. It seems that the Louvre is storing its artworks somewhere safe, suggesting that despite the official view put out by the government, war with Germany is now a distinct possibility. The feelings here at the Academie Julian are very mixed. My American colleagues think that America has no appetite for another European venture so they are quite complacent, if not even arrogant about any possible role they might have. The English and the French both act like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand. My colleagues from Spain and elsewhere, particularly those from Spain, are quite bitter. They hold the view that England and France will pay a heavy price for their failure to support the Republican cause in Spain. They are especially bitter over France’s internment and treatment of the refugees escaping from Franco.

My ‘good news’ is that I was sitting at Les Deux Magots the other day when Picasso spoke to me. Yes, the Picasso! He visits quite often. I didn’t mention him before because I didn’t want to bore you by dropping the names of artists that I hadn’t met. It was enough that I teased you over the likes of Hemingway coming here. Picasso must have overheard the exchanges between me and Hubert because he spoke to me in Spanish. He was at a nearby table having a drink with his amante Dora Maar. I think that she frequently says things to annoy him, but more often than not seems to end up unhappy over his apparent indifference. On this occasion they were both extremely friendly to each other. Picasso called over to me, “I believe that you are an aspiring artist? Do you have anything with you?”

I was working on a sketch of the church, intending to do a painting of L’église Saint Germain for Mama, so I took it over and introduced myself to them both, trying hard to hide my concern that my work may not meet with approval.  He looked at my sketch, but made no comment, instead he passed it over to Dora Maar who eventually remarked that perhaps all great artists are weaned on neoclassicism. I think it was a jibe at Picasso. However, before he could reply a man approached the table and greeted them both in Spanish. Having exchanged some pleasantries about an art exhibition I was intending to visit, Picasso then turned to Dora and said; “What do you think Dora, should we introduce Señor Hubsch to Señor Lam? After all, they both speak Spanish”.

She replied that she thought I should go to the exhibition as a guest of Wilfredo who could introduce me to some important people in the Paris art scene. Señor Lam looked startled and I thought that they were both now teasing him and me, but Dora showed Wilfredo my sketch. So that was how I ended up visiting the Galerie Pierre as a guest of the artist Wilfredo Lam. I’m sure that at the exhibition Wilfredo and I have become friends, he introduced me to many great artists here in Paris. He is a friend of André Breton whom I must introduce you to. Perhaps if you sent me those stories you wrote about the Chaco War I could get Monsieur Breton to look at them. I think they’re brilliant. Even if I am biased.

The exhibition brought Surrealism alive for me, but more importantly Wilfredo’s interpretation of it made me think about pre-hispanic art in South America. When I come home I must pay more attention to it as a modern art form. L’Ecole de Paris is a wonderful experience mellizo, one I would love to share with you one day but I think we have to invent a reason to tell Mama why it’s not a good time for you to come here. At the moment things are very uncertain, but before we do that let’s wait a while longer and see what happens. You can tell Mama, as I have done, that I do intend to come home if things get really bad here. I just hope that I don’t have to and it will be safe for you to come here so we can be together again.

Un fuerte abrazo de tu mellizo

Abraham

 

Paris
2 April  1940

Un afectuoso saludo Miguel,

I never thought that being in love could turn your life upside down, but it has mellizo. I’ve never felt like this before. I’ve just met Helen here in Paris. Well, not Helen perhaps, her name is Rebecca. But if Helen’s face launched one thousand ships, Rebecca would launch ten thousand.  Yesterday I was sitting outside Les Deux Magots, contemplating how much I missed you and Mama, and Papa, feeling very homesick and becoming quite depressed, when suddenly a little dog came running up to my table and sat down next to me. Hubert came over to chase the dog away when Rebecca appeared. It seems that Mimi had run away from her, forcing Rebecca to chase after her. I have no idea why Mimi chose my table to stop at.

Rebecca, looking flustered and carrying what looked like a cello case was calling after Mimi and seeing her at my table came over to it. The most beautiful woman I have ever seen Miguel. She apologised for Mimi’s behaviour, saying that it was not like Mimi to run off like that. Mimi was sitting by my chair looking at me and appeared to be very pleased with herself. I stood up to introduce myself and thought that I was behaving like a charming gentleman, but goodness know what I must have really seemed like. My heart was racing fit to burst and I must have appeared to Rebecca as a babbling idiot. Thank goodness Hubert was on hand, he suggested that she sat down for moment while he brought her a café. Hubert has Papa’s bravura, and I shall be eternally grateful to him in persuading Rebecca to join me at the table. His actions were magnificent. Only in Paris, and in April, could such a thing happen. I’m sure that he made up for anything that I may have said to Rebecca in what was most likely bumbling French.

However, I quickly composed myself and began telling Rebecca all about my family back in Bolivia. Especially about you Miguel and our ambition to study at L’École de Paris. How we decided that both of us leaving would be too much for Mama, but that you intended to join me later. I’m afraid that I may have rambled on and on; part of me afraid that if I stopped talking she would leave, and part of me afraid that if I kept rambling on I would either drive her away or she would never want to see me again. In any event, we spent a long time together talking about ourselves. Rebecca is a student at le Conservatoire de Paris and frequently plays in the orchestra. We have so much in common Miguel, when you meet her I’m sure that you will love her as well. Just imagine life in Paris, in love in Paris, we must find another Helen in Paris for you.

I haven’t told any of this to Mama yet. I’m sure that she expects to give her approval to any woman that we meet. Do you think she would understand that love can happen like this?

Un fuerte abrazo de tu mellizo

Abraham

Paris
18 May 1941

Un afectuoso saludo Miguel,

Last week many foreign Jews living in Paris were arrested, if the stories we hear are true then this is really bad news. Rebecca is particularly upset as her grandparents were Jews and left Germany some time in the 30s. They settled here in Paris and became naturalised French citizens. It’s little comfort for her to know that they are now beyond the reach of a rising wave of anti-Semitism here in France. Nothing that I could say would comfort her, especially knowing that she and her mother could be classified as what Mama would call Marrano. In the occupied zone the Nazi’s have enacting the same anti-Semitic policies that drove Rebecca’s grandparents out of Germany in the first place. A lot of Jews have left the occupied zone for Vichy France, but I’m not sure that is a good idea. The Pétain administration issued two Statuts des Juifs, and despite the recent arrests here in Paris, they  apply them more rigorously than the laws here in the occupied zone.

Her mother was never an orthodox Jew, at least not here in France. Her mother’s parents became far less strict about their religious practices when they came to France. Given their own experiences, they were possibly relieved when she met Rebecca’s father and didn’t object when Rebecca was raised as a Catholic. However, I don’t think that I successfully convinced Rebecca that her family were safe, especially as I wasn’t convinced myself. To make matters worse, last year at the Conservatoire de Paris, its director Henri Rabaud enquired into the number of Jewish musicians enrolled there. This resulted in Jewish musicians being denied prizes and prohibited them from taking an active part in classes. Some teachers and students were even forced to leave the Conservatoire. Thank goodness the new director, Claude Delvincourt, seems to be taking a very sympathetic approach to any Jewish members left, or those having Jewish roots.

However, the arrests last week were final straw. Yesterday Rebecca was told by her parents that they have decided to disappear, fearing it only being a matter of time before the regime classifies Rebecca’s mother as mischlinge, what we would call mestizo, and come for her. Rebecca is so upset but they have persuaded her it’s for the best, and will give her greater protection if it is believed that the family has gone away. Rebecca is now gradually bringing what would be seen as clothes for travelling to my apartment and on an agreed day will come here instead of going home. Her parents have persuaded her that they are going for their own safety and that it will be better if they are not seen travelling together. They have refused to tell her where they are going believing that its better she doesn’t know. Of course, they are really leaving in the hope of protecting Rebecca and I have promised them that I will look after her.

I appreciate you not telling Mama about my relationship with Rebecca yet and ask you to continue with our secret. I will come home as soon as I can persuade Rebecca to leave France.

I wish there were some good news mellizo. I must think up some for Mama and include a letter to her and Papa with this one.

Un fuerte abrazo de tu mellizo

Abraham

Paris
31 May 1942

Un afectuoso saludo Miguel,

I thought that I could simply marry Rebecca, then she would become Bolivian, but it seems that getting married is not that simple. Declaring her identity to someone in authority may make matters worse. We have no way of knowing who we can trust these days. At first I thought that I could find a way of getting some forged papers, enabling us to at least get married without revealing Rebecca’s true identity. Then we can come home. Rebecca coming to live with me should have been an occasion of great rejoicing, and I wish it were so Miguel. It isn’t just the distress of her parents having left that upsets her, it’s now the constant fear that regardless of her Catholic faith and French citizenship, like her parents she will be classified as a Jew.  It sounds terrible to speak in such terms, but that is what we have come to.

Then yesterday the director of the Conservatoire called Rebecca into his office and confirmed our worst fears. Delvincourt told Rebecca that it was becoming increasingly difficult to protect her against the charge of being Jewish. Initially Rebecca protested that she was a good Catholic French girl, but Delvincourt told her that the previous director Rabaud had complied very comprehensive records on all members of the Conservatoire. Rebecca’s maiden name and those of her grandparents suggested otherwise. Whatever she now claimed to be, if the authorities saw the records she would be classified as Jewish. Rebecca said that at this point she was on the point of bursting into tears, when Delvincourt said, “We need to help you get away to somewhere safe”.

He then suggested that she carry on as normal while they try to work something out. He said that as dangerous as it was, she should not register herself as Jewish and wear the yellow badge that was now a requirement. Thank goodness she hadn’t already decided to do so. He added that the Minister of Education, Abel Bonnard, was taking an increasingly unhealthy interest in the Conservatoire. It was clearly beyond Delvincourt’s powers to destroy Rabaud’s records and so it was only a matter of time before those who could be classified as Jews would be able to remain at the Conservatoire. Once the authorities seized Rabaud’s records, all those members of the Conservatoire with a Jewish heritage would be in danger and there was little more, if anything, that could do for them.

He urged her to leave Paris, ideally leaving German and Vichy occupied territories. When Rebecca told me I said that I had to go with her. She protested saying that it would simply put me in danger but I insisted, telling her that I couldn’t go on living without her. That much is true. I love her so deeply Miguel that I feel there would be no point to a life without her. Up until now we have both been too afraid to approach anyone for advice on what to do, so Rebecca went back to Delvincourt and asked if he could get her some travel documents that would enable us to cross France. As soon as we have decided to leave Paris I will let you know. Soon we shall be on our way home and you can give Mama the news.

Un fuerte abrazo de tu mellizo

Abraham
Paris
11 July 1942

Un afectuoso saludo Miguel,

Today Rebecca came home with the papers that would enable us both to leave Paris and travel across France together. We are going to head south into Vichy France as there will be more opportunities to ensure Rebecca’s safety. Possibly going to Spain or even Italy. We hear that the Italian Fascists are not taking any action against suspected Jews. We do have some problems, the two main ones being Mimi and the cello. The cello Rebecca would reluctantly leave behind, but Mimi is another story and a quandary for both of us. How can we leave Mimi behind? Mimi is the reason that we are now together.

This may not have a happy ending mellizo. Should this war end without me coming home, I have left some personal things with Hubert at Les Deux Magots should you ever decide to visit Paris. I’m sorry if I sound pessimistic Miguel, but the situation for Rebecca is really bad. I didn’t tell Hubert what we intended to do, although I’m sure that he knows. He said that I should do whatever is necessary to protect Rebecca and do it quickly. There are rumours of another police roundup, this time of Jews with French citizenship.
Madre de Dios! Is this the fear and persecution our ancestors experienced Miguel, or is it worse? Mama was right, if you are Marrano they always know. Whatever happens Miguel I love you dearly.

My letter to Mama says that I am taking a few weeks holiday in the south of France. That should explain why she doesn’t hear from me for a while. Let’s hope that everything goes well and that the next time I write it will be to tell you when we expect to arrive home.

Un fuerte abrazo de tu mellizo

Abraham


One response to “Marrano – The Letters

  1. Pingback: The FEBRUARY 2015 Creative Writing Competition. Where to find the stories and how to vote. – Am I my brothers keeper? - My Telegraph

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This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

TCWG Short Stories

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The Real Economy

Hello, I’m Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News, and this is my website. Blogposts, stuff about my books and a little bit of music

Public Law for Everyone

Professor Mark Elliott

Bleda

Am I my Brothers keeper?

An Anthology of Short Stories

Selected by other writers

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