by Renee Roth-Hano
"Touch Wood" is based on the author's own life when she was growing up as a Jewish girl during the German invasion of France and survived the ordeal. The title is derived from a superstitious concept. When one says or does something that is very good, in order not to tempt fate and prevent misfortune from setting in, one tends to say, "Knock on wood" or "Touch wood"
In 1940, Renée and her family were living in Alsace, France, where nothing ever changed and no one expected anything unusual to happen. Then one day, a war with Germany was announced on the radio. The Germans wanted to annex Alsace and forced the Jews to leave. France was split into two zones- the Free Zone and the German occupied zone. Renée's father chose to move with his family to Paris, because he felt that it was a big city and he could easily find work, and also because Renée's mother had childhood friends there. After packing a few of their belongings, Renée, her parents, her two younger sisters, and their blind grandmother moved to Paris. Renée was disappointed when she arrived there because their new home was very much smaller. Eventually, she adjusted to her new neighborhood and began to feel less homesick for Alsace.
For Renée's parents, moving to Paris was their third move. They originally left Poland and then Hungary looking for a freer and better life. They settled in France and thought that they had found a safe haven. Then Adolf Hitler, came to power in Germany and trouble started again. It began when seven synagogues were destroyed. This was followed by ordinances that created curfews and restrictive measures for Jewish people. For example, Jews were prohibited from being outside during certain hours; any Jew caught in the street after curfew would be taken prisoner; Jewish people had to wear a Star of David on their shirts; and all Jewish firms had to be registered.
The next frightening experience occurred when Jewish families were taken away by the police for no apparent reason. Renée's family became fearful and at one point, had to hide from the police when they were warned by some friends. Renée's parents decided to take action. They had friends who knew the Mother Superior in Normandy, and they sent Renée and her sisters to a Catholic residence to assure their safety. Before they left, the children were told by their parents that they should not tell anyone that they were Jewish. When they arrived in Normandy, they were met by friendly people and were placed into a comfortable home. Renée and her sisters loved their new school, because it was much more spacious and modern than the one in Paris.
Renée's main problem was how to deal with her confusion over her religious identity. The children had to convert to Catholicism to perfect their disguise. Their parents had given permission for Renée and her sisters to be baptized and to take their first communion. Not knowing what else to do, the children decided to pray to the Catholic God to make the war end soon, to help the French and their Allies win the war, and to protect the Jews.
Renée's life during the war was full of illnesses. First, her sisters and she suffered from scabies, a contagious disease that their doctor said that he had only seen in animals. When their mother came to visit them, she had to cut Renée's hair because of the nits in it. Then Renée was sick in bed for a month with jaundice. It was a miracle that she recovered from it. Because her body wasn¹t very resistant after recovering from jaundice, Renée became infected with impetigo. Somehow she managed to overcome all of her illnesses.
Finally, in 1944, the Allies marched into the region where Renee and her sisters were staying and the Germans were forced to surrender. Renée and her sisters managed to get a ride back to their home in Paris and fortunately their parents were alive and well. It was a tearful but happy reunion. Luck had been with them- Touch wood.