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~ The Painting Of The Gate Near Alsace ~

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The Entrance To The Internment Camp Near Alsasce

There is a painting I have inspected and wondered about since I was a child.  It has been in various parts of the home I grew up in and has gone through a few incarnations in various frames.  It is a painting of a gate and a view of a valley with not really anything around it. The focus is the vista.  It is painted on a wooden board that has since warped. Now the slight vertical splits can be viewed from the front as well.   There is a combination of German and French writing illegibly scrawled on the back of it. I have a curious memory of my mother always taking this painting down and checking the back of it and wiping that area.

I thought this very strange as she never appeared to do this with any other framed pieces. One day I asked her, what is this all about? And what does it say on the back? I would always hear - "I will tell you when you are ready to hear it."  I was an impatient child and rather than wait and be frustrated, I decided it was no longer interesting enough for me to be bothered to find out.

A few years passed, and a friend of my mother's named Odile, who was also originally from France paid a rare visit.  She saw the painting and burst into tears.  My interest was piqued once again. I acted like I wasn't listening in on their conversation and found out that Odile gave the painting to my mother because it was too painful for her to keep. The chain of events the painting belies is grisly, bizarre, and political.  Yet, the painting was painted in the spirit of forgiving the unforgivable.

The painting was by Odile's father.  You see, Odile, her father and my mother were held in a Nazi internment camp near Alsace, France.  My mother was a captured intelligence officer with the Free French and Odile and her father were French Jews that were interned there.  My mother was not in the same barracks, but for some reason, my mother and Odile's father knew each other. Young, beautiful Odile caught the eye of and later fell for one of the high ranking German officials. Her love interest brokered a deal with the US government and moved to Glendale, California along with her.  And with all his Nazi paraphernalia, the Mercedes which he used when conducting official business during the war, and many other haunting pieces of highly prized Nazi articles.  All those artifacts that represented such hate and horror were  displayed in their garage and were dusted and waxed regularly. As a very young child, I used to see this and didn't really understand what it all meant, but I did know it was evil, and was not under any circumstances to speak of it to anyone.  Needless to say, Odile left her father inside the camp to meet whatever fate he was dealt.  My mother was able to escape with some other officers, and they made their way to North Africa to fight against Rommel's shaky front on that continent.

Odile's father stayed for the entire duration. It was by some miracle that he was not sent off to the main extermination camp. In the early fifties, he went back to the place where he never lost his spirit, but nearly lost his mind, and certainly lost his daughter. He returned to the most inhumane place he ever knew and lovingly painted the plein-air several years after the war was over.  He painted the entrance to the internment camp, but reframed the scene. Rather than the barbed wire, ominous gates, and the left over air of atrocities, he depicted a lovely and serene valley, with a gate free and wide open. The doors of the gate are small and narrow but the opening to the path is wide. No buildings or other distractions to stop your eye traveling to the horizon.  He painted it as a gift to his beloved daughter so she would know that he forgave her for running off with the enemy and leaving him and others like them behind. Odile's father later gave it to my mother as he was near the end of his life and knew that my mother would find Odile and present the painting to her.  And she did.  It was not so difficult as many were tracking the movements of Odile's husband. Yet the intended recipient couldn't forgive herself. She didn't feel worthy of the gift. So that is the story of the painting that I still have in my home. As I take it down to clean it or just  straighten it, I  am reminded of the deep well of forgiveness the human spirit resonates.  As much as I am reminded of the well, just as deep, this same spirit creates in order to block the greatest human gift - the art of forgiveness.

Michelle Viggiano  www.healthyhomeaz.com  Four Winds Healthy Home plant based carpet & air duct cleaning in Scottsdale

Revised Entrance of the Internment Camp at Alsace

Comments (27)

Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

Hi Russel, always wonderful to hear from you.  History is amazing and when you can peer into the personal side of it, even more so. Thank you so much for reading it this post. It is a personal odyssey I grew up with, as my mother and Odile, were reluctant yet surpsrising amicable friends.

May 16, 2009 11:57 AM
Jim Frimmer
HomeSmart Realty West - San Diego, CA
Realtor & CDPE, Mission Valley specialist

I hope you print that story and place it with the painting. My mom has stories either on the back of the painting (although not on the back of the painting itself) or on a piece of paper in between the painting and the back cover.

May 19, 2009 03:25 PM
Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

Hi Jim, I shall do that. Thank you for the suggestion.  Good to see you, as always, Michelle

May 19, 2009 04:09 PM
Russel Ray, San Diego Business & Marketing Consultant & Photographer
Russel Ray - San Diego State University, CA

Hey, Michelle.

I see this is your most recent post. Hope all is well with you and yours, that you're really busy, but that you'll be back soon to Play in the Rain with us.

May 25, 2009 04:48 AM
Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

Hi Russel, I have been working on a few interior design projects and spring is a busy time for my carpet and air duct cleaning company as well.  I will visit your blog and will post this week.  Thanks for checking in, it means a lot to me.

May 25, 2009 03:33 PM
Liz Moras Migic
Chilliwack, BC
Chilliwack, British Columbia - Realtor

I was just reading one of your comments on a political post about rush - and i thought I like this gal! :-)

May 28, 2009 04:43 PM
Liz Moras Migic
Chilliwack, BC
Chilliwack, British Columbia - Realtor

Michele I just went back and read your story - and was mesmerized by it - that is the material of diaries, books and movies...........i could visualize the events and people as if I knew them.....wow...

May 28, 2009 04:49 PM
Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

Liz, thank you for the two exhilarating comments! I have never told this story about this painting until I wrote about it here. When asked,  rather than go into a lengthy discussion, I usually say it was done at a camp in Alsace and most people are satisfied. But as you can see, it is a camp of another sort - the camp you create in your mind to either save yourself or a loved one.  It's nice to meet you! Michelle

May 28, 2009 05:00 PM
Antonio M. Cardenas Broker Associate
RE eBroker Group - San Leandro, CA. - San Leandro, CA
"The Realtors In Motion"

Dear Michelle, I am impressed by the story and the emotions the it holds, I sincerely appreciate the way you tell the story, I am definitely subscribing to YOUR blog because I love the way you write! You have a way with words that is inspiring and I am glad you are here with us in Active Rain.

Antonio

Jun 21, 2009 03:23 PM
Elaine Giamona
McCoy Real Estate and Property Management, Lincoln, CA - Lincoln, CA
Broker

 

A beautiful story, by a gifted writer.  I am subscribing to your blog... as inspiration on a global scale is a passion we share.  Thank you so much for sharing this moving tale.  Be well and sweet dreams.

Elaine Giamona, Broker, Lincoln, CA  http://www.mccoyreo.com

 

Jun 22, 2009 05:36 AM
Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

 I can't tell you, Antionio, how touched I am by your comment.  It was a labor of love and an unburdening of sorts to tell the tale. It's hard to imagine how some remarkable souls have a singular ability to find amazing beauty hidden in full dress atrocities. The human spirit is staggeringly resilient when we are flexible enough to recognize it. So many individuals and entire communities in other parts of the world have to morph their vision and call upon that mysterious muscle daily. I treasure your subscription.

Jun 23, 2009 05:47 AM
Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

Dear Elaine, I am humbled by your comment, as every time I post, it is a leap for me, so I thank you. This is a story that surrounded my youth in such a bizarre way, that I finally had to tell it.  Inspiration on a global scale or a nanno scale - I am all for it!! I visited your website and was so pleased and impressed to see that you as a family conduct and represent your business. That is seriously a wonderful site to behold in this day and age, at least in this country.

Jun 23, 2009 06:35 AM
Janice Roosevelt
Keller Williams Brandywine Valley - West Chester, PA
OICP ABR, ePRO,Ecobroker

Amazing, many powerful emotions here, but the fact that the painting became the source of telling is also a testimony to how cultural entities, art, food, dance, music, are so important in our lives.

Jun 29, 2009 11:38 PM
Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

Janice, you are so right, all the cultural entities you mentioned are sometimes magical, sometimes practical and sometimes sorely taken for granted, but all  -  essential. In this case, this painting was the only tangible lasting conduit a father could give to reach out to his daughter. Growing up around the characters surrounding this painting was a quite a lesson.

Jun 30, 2009 02:34 AM
Heather Chavez
Second Self Virtual Assistance - Caldwell, ID
Real Estate Virtual, Assistant (928) 692-3235

What an incredible story, Michelle!  And such a testiment to a father's love for his daughter.  He didn't know for sure that she would ever learn of it, but wanted to leave behind something tangible for her to know that he did forgive and love her.  This brought tears to my eyes.  What a treasure you have.  And how wonderful is it that you have this amazing reminder of how much power forgiveness really has.

Jun 30, 2009 02:53 AM
Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

Hi Heather, I am remiss to say, I have not always followed the path the painting represents, but it is certianly there to guide me and I am better for it. Thank you for your lovely comment, it touched me. Kind regards, Michelle

Jun 30, 2009 01:48 PM
Sally Dunbar
Lyon Real Estate, Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento Area) - Fair Oaks, CA
Fair Oaks Realtor - Fair Oaks Homes for Sale

Michelle - what an amazing father to have found the well of forgiveness in his soul.  As a parent, your greatest wish would be for your child, interned in that horror, would find a way to escape.  She did. I imagine her brokered deal may have included special privileges for him so he would live????  I understand her inability to forgive herself, yet the situation she was faced with offered no acceptable alternative except starvation and death.  At least Odile granted her father what must have been his wish.

You unwrapped this story to the world in a very touching way.  thank you. The story was certainly not obvious, but what a different painting now, with the back story.  Thanks.

Jul 27, 2009 03:11 AM
Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

Hi Sally -  he was an amazing father. A man of many talents and grave humility.  If Odile were my daughter, as you say, yes, unequivocally, I would want her to escape however she could. When I was exiled to France to learn how to cook in my late teens, I heard many stories of almost preternatural coping ability during that era, as France, was occupied by the Nazis. We take for granted the ease in which most of us flow through life here. I would like to donate the painting at some point to a location where it would be appreciated.

Jul 27, 2009 04:32 AM
Inna Hardison
ha media group - Orlando, FL
Wordpress for Real Estate & Design, Print HaMedia Group

Michelle - it's glimpses like this that leave us gazing into ourselves and changes us, forever.  Magic.

Sep 09, 2009 05:11 AM
Michelle Viggiano
Four Winds Healthy Home Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning - Scottsdale, AZ
healthyhomeaz

Inna, that means a lot coming from you.  Thank you.

Sep 10, 2009 09:17 AM