Paul Kor – A Life Story

Iris Milner

 

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“I had a happy childhood,” said Paul Kornowski when describing his early years in an immigrant neighborhood in Paris’s 20th arrondissement in the last decade before the outbreak of the Second World War. The circumstances of life into which he was born were not easy: his parents, Yitzhak and Haya Kornowski (“Monsieur Jacques” and “Madame Helene” to their French acquaintances) came to France from the Lodz area of Poland in the early 1920s, six years before Paul was born, on August 1, 1926. Like many Jews who emigrated during those years from Eastern Europe, the two lived amidst laborers and small merchants and made efforts to be absorbed into their new country both economically and culturally. Their families, of whom Paul knew very little, stayed behind.

Except for a single visit by the young Kornowski family to Poland in the early 1930s, Jacques and Helene never saw their parents again and almost none of their siblings, most of whom later perished in the Holocaust. Not wanting to bequeath their mother tongue, Yiddish, to their children, they spoke with them exclusively in broken French with a foreign accent. The young Paul did not have grandparents, uncles and aunts around, or deep cultural roots, but this did not overshadow those first years in which he was engulfed by his parents’ loving care: “I had a father and a mother, and a brother with whom to fight, and that was enough. I needed nothing else,” he used to say.

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