Laurent Adler and Deblina Datta

Recorded January 15, 2010 Archived January 15, 2010 41:57 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ATD000046


Laurent Adler, 42, is interviewed by his wife Deblina Datta, 41, about his mother and their estranged relationship. The relationship became estranged when he, raised as a somewhat orthodox Jew, married Deblina, an Indian woman from Calcutta. The story is not only heart-wrenching, but illustrates the complexity of the human spirit.


  • Laurent Adler
  • Deblina Datta

Recording Location

Atlanta International School

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type



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00:11 My name is deblina. I'm 41 years old. Today is January 15th 2010. We are at the Atlanta International School in Atlanta, Georgia, and I am Lawrence wife.

00:25 And my name is Lauren Adler. I am 42 years old. It is January 15th 2010. We are at the Atlanta international school and I'm being interviewed by my wife.

00:40 Laurent can you tell me about some things about your mother Marie Rose Adler for so my mother's name was Marie Rose answer. She was born just outside of Vichy France in November of 1939. She was born to two Orthodox observance Jewish parents and 1939 was just before the outside of the second World War.

01:17 When Charlotte there after the Germans the Nazi army invaded France my grandparents her parents were both German and I left Germany to try to avoid.

01:35 The price of Nazism and they went to France to escape it but obviously without much success.

01:42 I'm at the Jews living just outside of you. She my mother spent the first several years of her life in hiding. I remember hearing the story that because her parents were German or mother was German spoke with a German accent and had blond hair and my mother had light-colored hair. They were able to go out take off their yellow stars.

02:10 Do a little bit of grocery shopping and hope not to get caught and make it back home.

02:19 And bring things back for my grandfather and the rest of the family.

02:24 And That Was I Thinkin incredibly formative experience for my mother.

02:32 France was liberated in 1944 and she would have been.

02:37 Almost 5 years old in 1944. And so I doubt I can imagine she actually remembers a great deal of that, but I

02:48 She had imagined she had been told stories of her childhood. So often that it took on a genuine memory for her and I are one of her most heartbreaking stories was a balance. I think my brother and I disagree. He thinks she think he thinks it was about her uncle Leo. I think it was about her grandfather, but very near the end of the war. He just couldn't stand being cooped up anymore.

03:16 Ants went out to get some cigarettes and he was arrested by the Nazis Deport and killed in concentration camp. And this was someone she was very very close to.

03:28 And for the rest of her life, I think was she was affected by having to remain hidden and remain secretive.

03:36 After the war her parents moved back to Paris where she grew up and spent the most for young life. I don't know the details, but it's my understanding that they got some of their property back there partments. My grandfather is business which grew and understanding relatively. Well, I think he was in the textile business and my grandmother her mother stayed at home and supported the family as many women did in those days. My mother went to a Jewish Day School in Paris named got there and it was again very important to her. And she remember that school well and remained in touch with many of her childhood friends throughout all her life.

04:26 After that, she was

04:29 I imagine in in the mid-1950s when she finished high school she ate when to post graduate school college law school is my understanding that there traffic combined educational program and in retrospect. It was probably something pretty pretty remarkable for a young Jewish girl to pursue education Beyond high school and not choose to settle down and raise a family but get further education consider a career One Summer. She came to the US to visit some family. She had one Uncle who had left Europe for the war and had survived here in the in the states and the New York area and one Summer she went to visit him and that's when she met my father. He had to come here a few years earlier.

05:24 He grew up in Germany and was in a concentration camp and after the war came to the states. They met here and they got married in 1961.

05:39 She never had the opportunity to finish law school. She

05:43 She gave that up to get married when she came here and they actually they lived in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York and eventually moved a little further downtown around the Upper West Side. I think always she was very proud of being French and being Jewish.

06:03 And put a very very high premium on education and

06:08 Reading and knowledge. And while she was here. She pursued a master's degree in got that degree a masters in French literature from Columbia University.

06:22 My brother was born in 1965 and I was born in 1967 and I remember his children. She would work part-time during the day and often be home in the afternoon when we got home.

06:37 And she made sure that our first language growing up was French. She spoke to us in French. She red sauce and French I made sure we read in French. I remember Saturday afternoons after going to synagogue and having lunch lot of my friends would go outside and play in the park or do something and I remember having to sit on the sofa next to her and practice reading French textbooks that she picked up on her occasional visits to Paris.

07:06 What did what did your friends think about your study of the French language as a child French kid in school. She and my father sent my brother and I to a Jewish Day School in New York. And so the second language there was Hebrew and I don't know that any of the other kids in that school spoke their language. And so if I go over to a friend's house and I have to call my mom to say can I stay later and I have to speak to her in French and I

07:46 Remember any number of guys in my class in the backgrounds making fun of the silly French accents and you know here and that the French frog jokes and all that stuff. My mother didn't give an inch. She was very firm in speaking to me only in French and only let him answer her in French and I have this vague memory of

08:09 Realizing that she actually spoke English. Wonderfully her English was perfect. And how what kind of Schamus was it she was forcing me to speak to her in French when she could speak English just like everyone else. What other what other aspects of France did she hold very dear?

08:30 She's very proud of French culture whose it very proud of his very interested in culture in general. She

08:40 Love's French literature she at one point try to teach me all the the kings of France history of France back to the time of the call when you are for some part of your life or dual citizen who I was I was I was a dual citizen from birth and then when I was 17 or 18 and what was not a terribly meaningful moment for me, but heart-wrenching for my mother. She took me to the French Embassy where she had once worth when she first came to the states to have me revoke my French citizenship. She was concerned that I travel to France and they looked at my passport and realized I hadn't been my military service. I could be conscripted into the French Foreign Legion, and I remember

09:34 Making fun of her and referring to the Gary Cooper movie Beau geste for he's sense of the North African desert as a you know, as a legionnaire and she she did not find that amusing and all she was hitting for the solitary seriously in retrospect must've been tough being the only woman in the house full of guys, but she again with a very very strong woman and very principled. She was a big believer you would ask me earlier about what else bad France time in French culture. She was a big believer in culture and manner. She used to say that

10:20 How do you translate this into English when all else Falls by the wayside manners and culture or what remains she believe that's the way people relate to each other.

10:35 Whether it's your boss or your housekeeper is incredibly important you had to be polite and well-mannered with with everyone. She used to say

10:51 She used to say Emmanuel Siskiyou Pass going to handle it when there's nothing left else left Manor has her with left and that was incredibly important to her until the day of her. She was everyone who knew or said. She was a very cultured a very very ladylike and very a very classy person. And of course if she ate her that she's a classy that's that's not the right word classes with people who don't know any better say the what other influences did the Holocaust play in your childhood. I think I think it made

11:37 Her Judaism a focal part of her life. And I meant I meant for you. You had some other experiences with the Holocaust through your father. I think it was.

11:51 Is interesting neither of my parents spoke a lot about their experiences in the Holocaust.

11:58 Both my brother and I grew up doing that they survive by we knew that my mother had been hiding and that my father had been in the camp. I remember as a kid playing hide-and-seek and trying to hide in the closet and my mother getting very upset saying don't I don't I don't go into the closet. You don't know if you can get out. I mean, it's just a complete now. I realize it completely irrational reaction. But as it as a child that was just so so strong how upset she was but neither of them spoke about a lot of school. We went to celebrate if there is an annual showa room Remembrance Day and there was a it would not a celebration. It was honored every day every year and I remember asking him both my father and mother about it and why they didn't do anything.

12:49 And my father will both really answered. I live through this. I don't think I remember every day and it's not something I need a date for it's it it meant nothing to them because every day was show I remember to them and so Judaism and making sure that my brother and I had a Jewish upbringing was very very important to them when they moved to the part of New York where I grew up. There are one of the few families who helped form a new congregation a new synagogue was Lincoln Square synagogue and the stories are told among that the congregants about how it first started in someone's apartments and then they rented a little community room at downstairs and in an apartment building and eventually they got enough critical mass that they hired a full-time Rabbi they got they managed to buy some real estate and build the building.

13:52 This is all on the upper west side. So we grew up on west end's between 73rd and 74th Street and it was a great surprise to my mother. So my brother was the first kid of the congregation to have to get have his breast to be circumsised and a story that I had forgotten is my father continues to deny was the decanter the synagogue I saw a couple of weeks ago at my mother's funeral told me that at my brother's bris. My father passed out. You just went straight down straight as a board. He just down on the ground. I asked my father about it and he vehement Lee denies its butts in Ohio. I trust the cancer on this one. Can you talk a little bit about

14:47 Typical weekend in your Orthodox Jewish Home. You would come home from your Jewish Day School running Friday. So Friday school was over. I probably a little bit afternoon. So that kids who live further away from school have time to get home for 3 ready for Shabbos for the Sabbath.

15:08 Tom

15:10 Friday night there would always be canned lighting candle lighting and a meal a big shammas meal. We would say Kiddush the blessing on the line the blessing on the bread and my grandfather my father's father who lives for five blocks away would always come over every Friday night, which was something but I really looked hard to he was not

15:37 Sure, if I jovial happy grandfather as I think of emergency services for this of ocular character that you sometimes see on TV shows. He was very formal Perry serious. I saw a photo of him the other day without a jacket and tie and I was floored. In fact just can't imagine him without Wars hat outside he took office as soon as he came into the house or in the presence of a lady always have time always had his jacket on very formal very elegant. But I remember him coming over in time like candles armor sitting on his lap playing with his mustache and playing with the five strands of hair that remains in his head. I remember is his coke bottle glasses. He had cataract surgery years earlier.

16:27 And he had the hearing aids and who's he walked with a cane That's how much because he needed it. But I think my father forced them into inside just in case you need it one day and said that he was gentlemanly beyond beyond words, and he and my mother got along.

16:44 Two peas in a pod it couldn't have been better. My grandfather spoke German. He came here relatively late in life. My grandma. My mother spoke. Perfect German Coast when she was at home with her parents, they spoke to each other and Sherman cuz he moved to France from Germany and she learn to speak to them in German or in Yiddish. And so her German was floss and they got along wonderfully and I think she really

17:10 Had a great deal of respect for him his how well-mannered he was hot property was these were essential character traits to her. And so you come over we would have we have dinner and I remember dinner and the evening would always end around the time that's one of them would say to the other insurance something. Schloss, which I later learned had something to do with going to sleep and never doubt that men get out time for the kids go to bed. So everyone got a I got a big goodnight hug from everyone and went to bed and then the next morning Saturday morning, we'd always go to Lincoln Square this this synagogue then we've been members of all my life. We'd be there.

17:55 Till about noon came home at a often after sinugod. We'd stop off at someone's house and have a little piece of cake or something. And what rules were observed for the Shabbos. So for Shabbos my parents were I guess what's what's referred to as observant were modern Orthodox. So he lives on the tenth floor. So they felt comfortable taking the elevator up because I felt comfortable turning on and off the light switch very observant Jews would not to but they wouldn't drive a car. We weren't allowed to Wright's anyting. With a pen or a pencil in somewhere when I was about 10 years old. My parents decided that I was no longer appropriate to turn on and off the gas. So the gas stove was on for all of Shabbos to keep things warm.

18:47 They had their I think like a lot of people they found their way to observe Judaism and they did things that they thought were the right thing to do and not others. We couldn't drive anywhere until he was really a day to spend close to home the afternoon and they mentioned early in the afternoon. We my mother and I would sit on the sofa and read French and conjugate verbs other other forms of maternal torture and I remember her saying out of process at 2. Please open doors for you and probably not the thing. You want to hear when you're 8 years old, but nonetheless, she said that and then in the afternoon that we lived a block or two away from a Park Riverside Park and then go down and often there be kids who I knew from the neighborhood who would meet down there and when we were very young off, you know sort of dress informally, but as I got closer to farm,

19:47 Wouldn't be so much a time to run around but you know, we could walk and chat and that's about it. And my father would usually take a nap a big believer in Tabatha's the day of rest, and he would every Saturday afternoon. He would sleep after lunch and when I was very very young. I remember crawling into his bad in that connects them and not so cool as I got older stop doing that and then that would go on till Saturday night there be Hotel on which is the break between the Sabbath and the weekday.

20:24 And can you tell a little bit about later on in your mother's life some of the events like her divorce and cancer for sure. So I had what I thought was a fairly normal childhood solid home good school all that in my parents got separated in 1982 and divorced. I don't remember what the the. Of time exactly is between separation and divorce New York. But sometime later the legal papers came through they had been at odds for quite some time and there's just a lot of friction in the house. They would often argue behind closed doors, but

21:14 My brother and I were not that we knew what was going on and doors with slam my dad would off and run out afterwards for a pack of cigarettes or more likely just to walk around the block or something like that.

21:31 My father

21:34 Moved out in

21:36 The summer or fall of 1982

21:40 Is around the same time that my older brother went off to college and he didn't go far. He was a few blocks north at Columbia, but he wasn't physically in the house and I think has an experience that much like growing up as a hidden child affected my mother for the rest of her life. She was never someone who can move on from that and she was always someone who's been injured by this man. She was in a lot of ways remarkable woman, but one of the things I was so remarkable that her is how strong and passionate she was about that perspective until the day she died she lives for 28 years after her divorce, but she was always

22:29 The divorced wife and never moved on beyond that and so growing up there for a few years afterwards. There was always a lot of tension in the house about my father. I guess. It's part of their separation agreement. I would see him about once a week. Sometimes a little more sometimes a little less and there was always a lot of friction around that and in the Orthodox Jewish Community how common was divorce compared to non-orthodox divorce was not common. It was unheard of people now, I remember I was not the first kid in my class for example to have divorced parents.

23:13 But it was clearly not a common event, and it was certainly a lot less common than I guess in the general population.

23:21 Had said I think my mother felt that the divorce was really enough runs not just to her personally, but in the front to Judaism that was something that Jewish people down to and again something she was never able to forgive my father for and never able to move on from

23:41 And dumb

23:43 Can you also talk about her Cancer 4 or so in 1985? She was initially diagnosed with cancer.

23:52 She had breast cancer that's in retrospect. I realize probably was just low-class too repressed caught relatively early. I was seventeen at the time. I probably didn't fully understand what it meant to have cancer. The implications treatment options all that and I thought I realize that she was taken or something serious, but she had surgery she got better and I thought it was something that was behind her over the course of the next 25 years. She'd had occurrences and repeated surgery is chemotherapy radiation.

24:32 And eventually she died just two weeks ago and the date on January 3rd.

24:44 She died spoken to her doctor New Year's Eve her oncologist.

24:50 And he had told me that her cancer has spread to multiple sites around her body, but in particular her liver through starting to get a little bit jaundiced in a little bit confused or sometime happens when people of liver disease and use I don't remember his exact words, but it was essentially we this is our last option this new kind of chemotherapy were trying she's gotten ad ocean-continent just got her second dose that Tuesday New Year's Eve was Thursday when I spoke to him and he said after the first dose her abnormal liver test began to normalize little he thought that perhaps they would normalize a little bit more and it would buy her another few months.

25:34 But in my heart of hearts, I didn't really believe that and I remember while I was on the phone with him and my brother a conference call. I emailed my brother I said, it sounds like she may only have a few weeks.

25:50 My mother and I have been estranged for a lot of years and can we talk about that a little bit would work? Well, can you describe the inciting event?

26:05 So

26:07 I have for college and medical school. I came back to New York and did my residency at Mount Sinai Hospital while I was there I met you and

26:19 Eventually, we after dating for a while we decided that we would get married.