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Working with Stanley Crain


How Denise survived the war
Eric Kandel Scientist
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When I met her, she was a graduate student of sociology, so I should point out, she was born in France. When Germans invaded Paris, her father was rounded up, and he was sent to a detention camp. He was a foreign-born engineer, and her mother helped him escape, and they went to the south of France, and Denise’s mother thought she would have to devote a lot of time to sort of protecting him. So she was able to arrange through a physician that they got to know to have Denise boarded at a convent in the town of Cahors in the South of France. And for two years she was in that convent. And not once did the nuns put any pressure on her to convert.

In fact, there was a fascinating story. Denise’s mother and father once were extremely nervous, you know, because she couldn’t take confession, and she couldn’t take the wafer at Mass on Sunday, that maybe it would emerge one day that she was Jewish, although no one except the head of the convent knew that, the mother superior. So they decided that maybe she should convert. So they were about 50km away from Cahors. Sara, Denise’s mother, travelled to Cahors, went to the convent, went to the big door that opened the convent, and couldn’t get herself to knock on it. Turned around, went back, sure that her husband would be furious. And Iser, her husband, said, ‘I’m so relieved. The moment you left I had enormous regrets.’

Denise stayed successfully there. And it’s interesting - we visited subsequently - there is an escape hatch she was taught to go to in case the Germans ever came looking for her. So they protected her in every possible way. Denise’s brother could not stay at the convent, but one of the nuns arranged for him to stay with a baker in town who loved him, took care of him, for those two years. After the war, they all got together, went back to Paris, and they decided about 1948/49 to leave for the United States.  And that is for two reasons. One is they were afraid that Russia might invade the rest of Europe. And two, they wanted their children, not that they were religious, but they wanted their children to marry Jews, and they thought that was more likely in the United States. And they were 50% successful. Denise married me. Jean-Claude married Marcy Bystryn who’s a wonderful woman, happens not to be Jewish, but their children were raised Jewish.

Denise went to Lycée Français for one year, and that allowed her to be admitted as a junior to Bryn Mawr. As a junior at Bryn Mawr she majored in Sociology, and she did graduate work at Columbia, and ultimately got a PhD working on how medical students choose their career. And ultimately she got interested in adolescent development, and went on to study drug abuse, and has made major contributions in that area.

And being married to her is the greatest privilege of my life. So I’ve been very lucky both on a professional and a personal front. And we’ve had two fantastic kids. Paul, who was born - they were both born at Harvard - Paul was born while I was a resident, and Minouche was born soon after we came back from Paris in 1964.

Eric Kandel (b. 1929) is an American neuropsychiatrist. He was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard. Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, 'If you want to understand the brain you're going to have to take a reductionist approach, one cell at a time.' Kandel then studied the neural system of the sea slug Aplysia californica, which has large nerve cells amenable to experimental manipulation and is a member of the simplest group of animals known to be capable of learning. Kandel is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He is also Senior Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He was the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, which is now the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University. Kandel's popularized account chronicling his life and research, 'In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind', was awarded the 2006 Los Angeles Times Book Award for Science and Technology.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: convent, Cahors, nuns, Bryn Mawr, marriage, family

Duration: 4 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2015

Date story went live: 04 May 2016