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Touch Wood is based on the author¹s own life when she was growing as a Jewish girl during the German invasion of France. In 1940, Renée and her family were living in Alsace, France, where nothing ever changed. No one expected anything unusual to happen. Then one day, a war with Germany is announced on the radio. The Germans wanted to annex Alsace and forced the Jews to leave. France was split into two zones- the Free
Zone and the German occupied zone. Renée¹s father chose for them to move to Paris, because it is a big city where he can find work, and also because Renée¹s mother has childhood friends there. So, Renée, her parents, her two younger sisters, and their blind grandmother move into a crowded apartment in the German-occupied zone.
Renée was disappointed in Paris when she arrived. She finds that everything seems to be smaller in Paris. Eventually, her new neighborhood becomes more of a home and helps Renée to miss Alsace a little less.
Renée¹s parents had left Poland and then Hungary to find a freer, better life. They settled in France and thought they¹d be safe. Then Adolf Hitler, a German man who hated Jewish people, started trouble all over again. First, seven synagogues were blown up. Then, the Germans created a curfew prohibiting Jews to go during certain hours. Any Jew
caught in the street after curfew would be taken as hostage. Also, all Jewish people must wear a Star of David on their shirts. An ordinance is created requiring all Jewish firms to be registered. Then the Jewish are forbidden to go to most public places, and they are only allowed an hour to grocery shop.
Suddenly, their family¹s Jewish neighbors are being taken away one by one. Renée¹s family becomes fearful. At one point, they have to hide from the police. Renée¹s parents decide to take action. They have friends who know Mother Superior. They send Renée and her sisters to a Catholic residence in Normandy until the war is over. Their father
emphasizes for them not to tell anyone that they are Jewish. When they arrive in Normandy, they find a cozy bedroom, appetizing meals, and friendly people. Renée has to deal with a nosy housekeeper, who could possibly uncover their secret. Renée and her sisters love their new school, which is much more spacious and modern than the one in Paris.
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Renée¹s main concern is confusion over her religious identity. They must convert to Catholicism to perfect their disguise. Their parents have given permission for Renée and her sisters to be baptized and to take their first communion. They decide to pray to the Catholic god to make the war end soon, to help the French and their Allies win the war,
and to protect the Jews.
Renée becomes worried when she hears about the bombing of Paris, but she was relieved to hear that her parents were not affected. Then thirty young girls come from Paris to live in the residency where Mother Superior feels they will enjoy the fresh air and will be able to eat better than they did in Paris.
Renée¹s life during the war was full of illnesses. First, her sisters and her suffer from scabies, a contagious disease that their doctor says he¹s only seen in animals.
When their mother comes to visit them, she must cut Renée¹s hair because of the nits in it. Then Renée is sick in bed for a month with jaundice. It was a miracle that she recovered from it. Because her body wasn¹t very resistant after recovering from
jaundice, Renée became infected with impetigo. Somehow she managed to overcome all of her illnesses.
In 1944, the wine market being used by the Germans to store ammunition is bombed by the Allies. The fire spreads to several surrounding houses.
Then the residence where they are living is bombed. They must flee their home. A farmer volunteers for them to live in his barn until they are safe. German soldiers are very close to the barn, for they can hear the troops singing. The bombshells are coming from the Germans, who refuse to surrender, and from the Allies, who continue to advance.
Then two English Allies parachute down to them, reassuring them that the rest of the troop is on the way. A few days later, Renée and some of the people who are staying with them go to see what the circumstances are. They arrive in time to see that the Germans are surrendering.
Renée and her sisters manage to get a ride back to their home in Paris from a Red Cross car. They arrive home, much to their parent¹s surprise.
Renée becomes very concerned if she is Catholic anymore. Her parents are very glad to see her and her sisters. Renée is changed forever by her wartime experiences.