The parallel France of Belleville

By Allan Kaval and Camille Millerand

Posted today at 5:00 a.m.

Going down rue de la Mare, Henriette Bagès goes back in time, the course of her life and the course of history. Summer is coming to an end and here she is back on this little piece of Parisian land where she was born in 1934. Since 2004, this area has been called Place Henri-Krasucki. Named in tribute to the former resistance fighter and member of the Communist Party who became secretary general of the General Confederation of Labor, born a Jew in Poland, like the two parents of Ms. Bagès, and died in 2003.

As a child, after his family immigrated to France, Henri Krasucki lived on this crossroads. More than territories, the districts of the capital are ideas, imaginaries, stories, memories. From the time of Henriette’s childhood, whose name was Mandelcwajg at the time, the little square was just an anonymous crossroads in a working-class suburb wedged between five streets with blackened facades. It now floats somewhere between the ever-gentrifying neighborhoods of Belleville, Ménilmontant and Jourdain, in the 19e and 20e arrondissements of Paris.

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A beautiful hackberry tree, the foliage of which has not yet been tarnished by the prosperous autumn in the middle of the crossroads, in place of the emergency police terminal that was once there. And Henriette agrees: “It’s a change for the better! ” It seems that this essence is resistant to global warming. The Levert school, where his little brother learned to read, is still there, with its typical architecture of the IIIe Republic, its high windows and its bricks of different colors. The only difference is that it is now decorated with a plaque in memory of its Jewish students taken with their parents one day in July 1942 during the Vél’d’Hiv roundup. Henriette remembers it, she escaped it. “From the window of the apartment facing the crossroads, I saw little classmates with their families being taken by French police to the rue des Pyrénées. “

Henriette Bagès and her husband, Charles, under the hackberry tree in Place Henri-Krasucki, Paris, September 15, 2021. She grew up above the bakery in the background.

In the direction it indicates we can now see a large colorful elephant painted by a street artist on a wall and, further on, a Stéphane Plaza real estate agency. Henriette’s eyes drift to the window under which the horror that day has passed. Two floors below, the ground floor is still occupied by a bakery, the same one whose bakery at the time heated the two-room apartment where his parents lived. They were workers, foreigners and leftists. Like most of the inhabitants of the district at the time, like the parents of Henri Krasucki.

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The parallel France of Belleville

Hank Gilbert