Authors: Mary Finn
Table of Contents
This is the Last Will and Testament of Jonas Alber.
In the event of my death, my money goes to Mama. If you can’t find her, it’s to be kept for Nadia.
I leave all my clothes to La Giaconda for her son, Tommaso, who is my size, though he is younger than me. I leave my flea circus to Signor Corrado because he showed me how to train the fleas. I don’t have any of the fleas here, in case the Professor gets upset about them, but I have all the carriages with me. They are made of real silver. Papa put proper hallmarks on them, so they are worth a fair bit.
If the key to my home at rue de la Harpe can be found and if our belongings are still there, I leave all my books to my friend Jean-Paul Lambert. He can have my roller skates too, which are under the bed, and my globe, which is on the windowsill. Those are the only things I have left, except for my comb. If Alfredo wants that he can have it.
, aged ten years.
23 August 1942
I wrote and signed my will at the Professor’s house, 12 rue Cuvier, Paris 5, but my family’s address is 10a rue des Lions, Paris 4. Before that we used to live at 31 rue de la Harpe, Paris 5, over my father’s shop. That is where our piano is still but it belongs to my mother, not to me, so I cannot leave it to anybody.
our belongings and keep them safe for my family. My papa wrote a will and testament when the war began, so look out for that too. I saw it once in his desk. That’s how I knew the way to write mine.
I know that a testament is also a story. The rest of what I write will be that kind of testament. You can read it if you like but it’s really for Mama, Papa and Nadia, wherever they are. It will explain what I’ve been doing since I last saw them.
That was nearly six weeks ago.
I am living in rue Cuvier now because Signor Corrado brought me to see the Professor yesterday. He fixed it up for me to come here and be safe. So far, I have been safe in this house for exactly one day.
The Professor was my mother’s music teacher when she was young. Signor Corrado knew where to find him because of the card Mama gave me, with the Professor’s name on it, and where he lived. So we came here early yesterday morning, on Papa’s bike.
Signor Corrado knocked on the door of No. 12 quite loudly. He hadn’t said a word since we’d crossed the bridge. I think he was nearly as scared as I was. But you wouldn’t have known that from what he said when the thin old man opened the door. He held it wide open, not like most people do – leaving room for only half their face to look out. His was very bony.
“You are the professor of music, Monsieur?” Signor Corrado asked. “This man?” He showed him Mama’s card. I swear he sounded every bit as rough as a policeman.
The old man nodded but he said nothing. So Signor Corrado lifted my arm up in the air as if I was a boxer who had won a match and said, “This is Jonas Alber, whose mama was once the Mademoiselle Anne Berlioz you will remember so well, of course. Can we come in?”
It was pretty rude to ask that straight out when you’d just met someone. Nobody lets strangers into their house now.
But the old Professor waved us inside, anyway. Even though you could see he was still blinking away at the sight of us. Even though Signor Corrado had an ordinary jacket and trousers on – nothing striped, no bows or rosettes.
When the door was closed and we were in the hall, Signor Corrado didn’t waste any time. He just told the Professor it wasn’t safe for me to stay with his family any longer.
“You know the reason as well as I do, Monsieur. That rabble is working night and day to ferret out any poor souls they missed catching last month. They’re scum. I’m not afraid to say that and I’m sure you’re not afraid to hear it, being a cultured man.”
The Professor opened his mouth but he said nothing. Again.
Signor Corrado pointed at my head. “Look at the boy’s hair! Look at mine!”
He tried to comb his hair with his fingers but they got stuck in it, like they always did.
think, Monsieur, if you were one of
? Would you say we looked like family?”
We don’t. I have fair straight hair and all the Corrados have black hair as thick as wire, so I don’t even look like their second cousin ten times removed. So all these weeks, Signor Corrado had kept thinking the Germans would come one day and pounce on me and take me off to a jail, or somewhere. It’s true they could have, because the fairground is open even when there’s no show on. And everybody who works there knows everybody else. They know who belongs and who doesn’t.
They know I don’t.
But Signor Corrado didn’t mind that. He has a great trust in the fairground people.
“Artists don’t tell tales, Jonas,” he told me. “Life is too dodgy for us. We need one another. No, the real problem is other people. One of your old neighbours might pass through here one day and recognize you.”
Well, no Jews were going to come to the fair any day soon, so that ruled out good old rue des Lions. And all our neighbours from before are too old, or they work too hard or else they have no money to come to the fair.
I told Signor Corrado that but he only wrinkled his nose. He said there were lots of people who might tell the Germans about me just to get some extra food coupons for their families.
But in the end it was no neighbour. It was Pimply Arms who gave me away. He hated Jews. That was when I had to leave the Corrados.
Anyway, Signor Corrado told the Professor all these things. He started off with what had happened on that day in July. The reason I was living with his family.
He said, “We just don’t know where the boy’s family was sent to. We became his second family. Now, Monsieur, I’m asking you to be his third.”
I looked around while he was talking. The walls were painted the colour of red cabbage and there was a row of small pictures along one of them. The only one I could see properly showed a green wind-up bird on a shelf. Mama had told us about that picture!
At the end of the hall there was a long set of stairs going up and a short staircase going down. There were no names or numbers on any of the doors I could see and they had no locks. So did the Professor live here all on his own? With all these rooms to spare?
He must, because suddenly he said yes. Just yes. I knew that meant he was going to take me for a while but it also meant he didn’t have to go into any of the rooms to ask anybody else if they thought it was a great idea to have Jonas Alber coming to live with them.
Just him and me then. In a huge house. What would that be like?
But he was staring at me.
“You look like your mother, Jonas,” he said. “I remember her as if it was yesterday, the day she came to my door. She was so small for her age but she had such promise.” He coughed and cleared his throat. “All right, you can stay here until we find somewhere better for you.”
Signor Corrado shook hands with him. “You’ll know where to find me, Monsieur,” he said. “Everyone knows me at the fairground in Nation.”
He pressed my head against his chest as if it was a brand-new football he was testing. He kissed the top of it. Then he was out the door and gone. If he’d looked back through the letterbox for a joke he would have seen the Professor and me staring at the door. We must have looked like two dogs locked out in the rain, except we were locked in and Signor Corrado was the one outside.
But he didn’t look. I suppose he just got back on Papa’s bike and cycled home.
So here I am. And that’s why I wrote my will on a separate page. It’s in case the Germans storm in here and find me after all.
24 AUGUST 1942
I was sorry to leave the Corrado family for three reasons:
No. 1 – Because they are very kind people.
No. 2 – Because I was able to show off my fleas and their tricks at the fair and earn some money. If I say so myself, my fleas were very well trained. And Signor Corrado said he had never seen anything as beautifully made as the carriages Papa made for my flea circus. He would lift them up and stroke them.
he said every time. In Italian that means not just beautiful but
beautiful. The Corrados are Italian but they can speak pretty good French, even Tommaso, who doesn’t say much in any language unless it’s about football.
Papa told me the carriages were in the style of Louis Quatorze, the Sun King. My sister Nadia said they look as if they had rolled straight out of a fairy tale. She said they were shrunk by a spell and one day it will wear off and we will have real silver carriages to ride in. She’s always thinking mad things like that.
When we were sick together in the same room I let Nadia use the carriages in her puppet theatre. But not with the fleas, of course. They stayed in their box.
The box with the carriages is now in my coat pocket. Which is now in the trunk under the window. Which I’m not allowed to look out of, even though this room is right up at the top of this huge house.
But who’d see me? There’s a big canvas curtain right across the window. I could peep out.
. That’s what Tommaso used to say when he was kicking a goal from a corner.
I bet you can see lots from up here. This used to be a maid’s room in the old days, the Professor said, long before he bought the house. Poor old maid. Maybe she had the best view in Paris but there are no wardrobes or dressers in the room, just the skinny old bed and the trunk.