"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.