Holocaust Victim’s Legacy Lives on Through Her Work


Mikayla Lowery, Writer


As WWII threw her life into disarray, Irene Némirovsky, a well-known author, turned to what she did best: writing. She took to her notebooks to write a story about the war that was ravaging her beloved country, France. She laid the groundwork for five stories that would amount to an immense 1,000-page novel called Suite Française similar to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. However, Némirovsky’s plans were put to an abrupt halt when French officers robbed her of everything by entering her home and arresting her. This event is reminiscent of the Bolsheviks taking everything from her family during her childhood spent in the Russian Empire.

This time, Némirovsky lost so much more. When the French officers took her away, she left behind her husband, Michel Epstein, and her two daughters. At the time, her daughters, Élisabeth and Denise, were only 5 and 13 years old, respectively. Némirovsky was taken to the Pithiviers internment camp. Michel worried about her health because she suffered from asthma, but he held onto hope. In anticipation of her returning, he prepared a place for her at the table during every meal. He heartbreakingly did not know how horrid conditions at concentration camps truly were.

Némirovsky was deported to Auschwitz and died on Augusts 19, 1942. Michel did not know about her death and desperately continued trying to save her. He frantically sent letter after letter asking for help from French and German officials. He even offered to take her place. He worked tirelessly and never gave up. Without knowing Némirovsky’s fate, Michel was taken to Auschwitz and died there on November 6, 1942.

Their children were left in the care of their nanny, Julie Dumont. The three struggled to find hiding places. They took cover in multiple locations including cellars. After surviving the war, they went to ask Irene’s mother, Fanny, for help. She was a Jew living safely in Nice, France. She cruelly left her door closed and yelled at them to go to an orphanage.

Pushing past Fanny’s horrid remarks, Julie ensured that Élisabeth and Denise received a quality education. They both went on to take after their mom by having careers in the literary field. The unfinished 2-part manuscript of Suite Française survived the family tragedy. For years the two sisters could not bring themselves to read it, but eventually, they did, and the book was published in 2004.

The first part of the book focuses on the chaos that occurred as people fled Paris during WWII, and the second part of the book focuses on a French village as German soldiers occupy it. The story shows the emotions and disarray that French citizens felt during the war. While Suite Française is a fictional work, Némirovsky’s legacy lives on through it. Out of the tragedy, her work and daughters came together to make sure that we would not forget the loving mother, wife, and renowned writer that contributed so much to the world despite her shortened time in it. This article commemorates Irene Némirovsky, who would have turned 120 on February 24, 2023.