In 1997 the novel ‘Dora Bruder’ by French author Patrick Modiano was released. The story is set in Paris and starts with a message, which Modiano read in a newspaper of December 1941. And it had grabbed hold of him.
‘PARIS Missing, a girl, Dora Bruder, 15 years old, 1m55, oval face, grey-brown eyes, grey sports jacket, dark red sweater, navy blue skirt and hat, auburn sneakers. Please direct information to Mr. and Mrs. Bruder, 41 boulevard Omano, Paris ‘.
The novel describes his search to reconstruct the story behind this message for years. It leads him to the history of a Jewish and peculiar girl who ran away from the strict, catholic boarding school for girls ‘Saint-Coeur-de-Marie’. How she lived and why she ran away remains speculative.
Her story, which conjures the sense of emptiness and darkness, has remained in my memory. As Modiano I visited some places from Dora’s past. The building on ’41 Boulevard Ornano’ in the 18th arrondissement still contains small one- and two-bedroom flats. Currently, it is mainly inhabited by (North-) African immigrants and native Parisians. Even the hotel where the Bruders possibly lived earlier ’32 Rue Polonceau’, is still there. However, the windows have been bricked shut and a sign with the demolition permit adorns its façade. The big lot which once housed the boarding school for girls, on the corner of rue de Picpus and rue de la Gare-de Reuilly, is now home to flats surrounded by greenery.
I hoped to find some kind of tangible memory on the ‘Wall of Names’ of the ‘Mémorial de la Shoah’ in the Marais which had been erected in 2005. The names and dates of birth of 76.000 deported French Jews are engraved upon it. Under ’1942′ I find the names of Dora and her father, under ’1943′ that of her mother. Dora’s year of birth is missing… Even here, the unknown, but well-known girl… keeps hold of a secret.