I first joined the Marche de la Mémoire in 2003, when I was four years old. I’ve been doing it ever since — with the odd exception. Not only has the Marche allowed me to understand the history of my village, and the history of my people, but it has provided me with a community from across the globe, across nationalities, and religions. I have met people that I would never have met otherwise, and they have become like family to me.
As a young child, on my first Marche, I did not understand the history behind it. I thought it was like any other hike: tiring, but with a nice picnic at the end. Two years after that, my parents tried to reexplain to me what had happened during the war: Jewish families – like us – had to flee St Martin towards Italy, fearing the arrival of the Nazis. ‘Why Italy?’, I asked my mother. ‘How were the Italians different from the Nazis?’ And so, at age six, something heavy sat on my mind.
Up at the Col de Fenestre, I tried to find someone who looked like an Italian – obviously, in my mind, they had to look physically different. Finally, my mother brought me towards an Italian walker and asked if I could touch his arm. I touched his arm. Nothing. He looked like everyone else I knew, his arm felt exactly like mine, and the way he spoke, even if it was Italian, sounded so much like the French I knew.
I had thought that there were physical differences between Nazi and Italian, between evil and good, between him and me. But this Marche taught me that underneath different nationalities, religions, skin colour, we are all human; deep down, we are all the same. As a child, I had thought the Col was a wall between France and Italy, between Nazis and freedom; but now I see it rather as a bridge, bringing together people from all across the world, Jews and non-Jews, and where we can remember the horrors of the war, and where we try, together, to create a better future.
The three photos I have attached show my family and I with a ‘Shana Tova’ sign, which means ‘Happy New Year’ in Hebrew. The Marche always falls a few weeks before the Jewish New Year, and holding up this sign at the Col every year is a symbolic new start for us, representing hope and sweetness. The third photo was taken this year, twenty years after my first Marche.
Rosalie (Rosie) Bernheim
Rosie is secretary of AME43. She moved to France aged three, and grew up in Saint Martin Vésubie, where has been doing the Marche for the last twenty years. She currently lives in Edinburgh, where she is researching a PhD on medieval literature and culture.