Celebrated novelist inspired by hero Jews

Celebrated novelist inspired by hero Jews

Author of award-winning novel, Room, revisits Shoah heroism story of couple who saved more than 500 Jewish children from certain death.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Emma Donoghue,
Emma Donoghue,

Emma Donoghue, who wrote the award-winning novel Room, has revisited an extraordinary story of Holocaust heroism for her new book, Akin.

Donoghue was inspired by the work of two Jews, Odette Rosenstock and the man whom she later married, Moussa Abadi, who between them saved more than 500 Jewish children from certain death.

Rosenstock was the Paris-born daughter of garment-factory owners, who qualified as a doctor during the Spanish Civil War, supporting the Republican cause. Abadi was a Syrian Jew, born, says Donoghue, in slum conditions in the Jewish ghetto of Damascus.

“Educated by Catholic priests at a day school in the city, he came to Paris in 1933 to do a PhD on French medieval theatre,” she explained. “He was also a serious actor, touring New York with a French troupe for five months. He and Rosenstock met through student friends in 1939 and fell in love at once.”

Abadi had fled Paris for Nice at the outbreak of the war and in 1942 asked Rosenstock to join him in a resistance network he had set up rescuing Jewish children from all over southern France. This was the Marcel Network, which successfully hid children in sanctuaries all over the coast, with major help from local Christian clergy.

Donoghue’s protagonist in the novel is a 79-year-old New Yorker who is trying to find out what his mother did during the “années noires” of the Second World War.

The couple married after the war and resumed their careers, she as a specialist in TB and venereal disease, and he as a celebrated theatre critic and radio host.

Moussa died in 1997 and, in 1999, aged 85, Abadi committed suicide.

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