Waiting Out Coronavirus In The French Alps, 'Cooped Up In The Great Outdoors'

Mar 24, 2020

In a chalet in Chamonix, in the French Alps, 73-year-old Danièle Enoch-Maillard waits out the coronavirus epidemic — and thinks of her father.

He also took refuge not far from here, in the village of Notre Dame de Bellecombe, though at a different time and for entirely different reasons.

"My father survived the Second World War because he was able to hide out in the high mountains only a couple kilometers from where I am now," she tells NPR by phone.

France's unprecedented nationwide lockdown has many older French people reflecting on their lives and the historic moments their nation has seen.

On Monday, nearly 20,000 cases of coronavirus infection were confirmed in France. The French are now heading into their second week of home confinement. All non-essential businesses are shuttered. City parks and beaches are closed, from the coast of Brittany to the Mediterranean. Even the banks of the Seine River are off limits to bikers and joggers.

Enoch-Maillard thinks these measures were taken too late and may not go far enough. "The French have not understood the gravity of the situation," she says.

Danièle Enoch-Maillard and her husband Christian Maillard are sheltering from the coronavirus in their chalet in Chamonix, France. The French are now heading into their second week of home confinement.
The Enoch-Maillard family

A former lawyer who now heads her family's music publishing business, she says she inherited her father's anxiety and pessimism.

A sense of foreboding prompted her father, who was Jewish, to get out of Paris in 1940, just a couple of months after the Nazis marched into the French capital.

"He was an athletic man so he took his bicycle and pedaled a thousand kilometers [600 miles] to the south of France," she says.

Jacques Enoch survived the war in an Alpine village with the help of a deputy mayor and a postal worker, who sent smoke signals every time the Nazis headed up the mountain road to the hamlet.

Enoch-Maillard says once Nazi soldiers stopped her father and asked to see his hands. He held out fingers calloused from chopping wood and other farm jobs.

"They didn't know he understood German," she says with a laugh. "They took one look at his hands and said, 'He's a rough country lad, there's no point in making him pull down his pants.'"

The Nazis would have been looking to see if Enoch was circumcised, and thus Jewish.

Enoch-Maillard never knew her grandparents. They remained in Paris to keep watch over their music publishing business.

"They stayed, even though they had cousins in Britain and they had money and they could've left," she says.

Both were in their 60s when they were deported to Auschwitz in October 1943. They did not survive.

Enoch-Maillard says she sensed the danger of the coronavirus many weeks ago, even while her friends — including some doctors — were playing down the threat.

A view of the town and ski resort of Chamonix, located at the base of Mont Blanc in the French Alps, and near the junction of France, Italy and Switzerland.
Ludovic Marin / AFP via Getty Images

"I refused to kiss people on the cheek and shake hands and everyone was teasing me," she says. "People were surprised by my behavior. They laughed."

Enoch-Maillard, who lives in Paris, says she had a premonition of what was coming, and so decided to remain at her house in the Alps, where she had been skiing (a passion learned from her father) and hosting her grandchildren over their winter school break.

She says she feels better off in the mountains than in her Paris apartment. Like her father 80 years ago, she says, at least she's "cooped up in the great outdoors."

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