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Postwar visionary painting commemorating the first deportation of Jews from Drancy by a Turkish Jewish woman who witnessed the event

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Louise Abouaf was born on August 7, 1919, in Bergama, Turkey, to Moise (Maurice) and Djoya Baralia Abouaf. Maurice was born on May 25, 1890, in Brousse (Bursa.) Djoya was born in Bergama. The family spoke Ladino, having arrived in Turkey after the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain. In 1923, the family left Turkey for Paris, France. Louise had four siblings: Marko (Marcel), born on September 8, 1921; Rachel, born 1923; Michel, born 1931; and Joseph. In 1931, Maurice became a French citizen. He owned a clothing business that made machine knitted sweaters. On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded France and an armistice was signed on June 22. The northern and western regions, including Paris, were placed under the control of a German military administration. Anti-Jewish measures were enacted and, in August, an internment camp for foreign Jews was established in Drancy, a northeastern suburb of Paris. On August 2, 1941, Marcel was interned in Drancy and on August 21, Maurice was imprisoned there as well. Louise visited her father and brother at the camp on Saturdays, bringing them cake made with ingredients provided by a neighbor. On March 26, 1942, the family received a letter from Maurice, which said that the inmates at Drancy were going to be moved the following day. On March 27, Louise and her mother decided to go to the camp to try to save Maurice and Marcel. When they arrived, a cafe owner, not knowing they were Jewish, told them that many of the inmates had already been moved to the train station. Louise and Djoya went to the station, and saw a group of 100 malnourished Jews being pushed to the train cars by armed German soldiers. They looked for Maurice and Marcel but did not see them. Louise saw a hand drop a piece of paper from a train car. She ran forward to grab it and was seen by the soldiers, who started heading toward her. A train engineer, Jean-Louis Loiret, connected to the resistance, driving a train in quay two and stopped to allow Louise and Djoya to jump onboard. They got off at the next stop and took a bus home. In June 1942, Louise, and all the Jewish residents, had to wear a Star of David patch at all time. In the summer of 1942, there were steady rounds of mass arrests of Jew for deportation to the concentration camps by German and French authorities. On July 16 and 17, 13,000 Jews were detained in the Velodrome d'Hiver sports arena in Paris, and by August, over 40,000 Jews had been transported east. One day, Louise had left to do errands and was told by a shopkeeper that the Germans had searched her building, found no Jews, and sealed the door. Louise had inadvertently broken the seal when she left the building. She found wax in her father’s study and was able to reseal the door. Djoya realized they were probably on a deportation list and the family went into hiding with a nearby neighbor. After about two weeks, they returned to their apartment. Louise’s aunt and three others came to live with them. Djoya bartered goods for food, mainly lentils. The family remained sequestered until Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944. That same day, Louise met an American soldier, Charles Starr. Charles, born on May 5, 1921, in New York, served in intelligence and had landed at Normandy. The couple married on December 16, 1944, the first wedding between an American soldier and a French woman in their district, the 11th arrondisement. In 1945, Louise became pregnant and they decided to immigrate to New York so the baby would be born in the US. On July 25, she boarded the SS Magallanes in Bilbao, Spain, and arrived in Philadelphia on August 27. Louise and Charles lived with Charles’ parents in the Bronx, New York. Their son was born on November 25, 1945. Charles was discharged from the Army in December. In 1946, they returned to France, where they had two more children. Louise and Charles worked as French teachers and started a company that produced language tapes for schools. In 1949, they learned that her brother Marcel had been on the transport witnessed by Louise and Djoya on March 27, 1942. It had gone to Auschwitz, where he was assigned prisoner number 28540. Maurice was deported from Drancy to Auschwitz on June 22, 1942, arriving on June 24. He was assigned prisoner number 40683. Both were killed in the camp: Marcel on July 1, 1942, and Maurice on July 25, 1942. Louise began painting when she was twelve years old, then stopped until 1951, when Charles encouraged her to resume painting, under the name Lounah Starr. She describes herself as a mystical painter and her paintings feature depictions of angels and the Torah to reflect her vision of her work as a gift from God. Charles, age 77, died on December 15, 1998, in Nice, France.
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