Review of Through the Morgue Door, by Colette Brull-Ulmann and Jean-Christophe Portes
Hitler’s army occupied France like an overturned bottle of ink spilled on a map. Colette Brull-Ulmann was a Jewish medical student working as an intern at the Rothschild Hospital. The Germans brought Jews from the Drancy internment camp to the Rothschild Hospital for treatment of illness and after severe beatings.
The Germans detained Brull-Ulmann’s father for a while in this same camp, and her younger brother and sister left Paris to live in less danger.
Brull-Ulmann became emotionally attached to Danielle, a young girl at the hospital. This was an endearing child, loved by everyone, even the German guards. When the girl recovered, the doctors and nurses found additional reasons the child was “too ill” to return to the camp.
It seemed Jewish women who gave birth at the hospital had a higher than usual number of stillborn babies. In fact, the women gave up their babies at birth to be smuggled to safety. Brull-Ulmann heard it rumored some patients, especially children, were smuggled out of the hospital through the morgue door, the only door left unlocked and unguarded.
Brull-Ulmann was herself called upon to smuggle two children through the morgue door and the dark streets of the Paris night to safety. She details this one mission, although she said she participated in perhaps two others.
A ruthless doctor from the infirmary at Drancy ordered Danielle and several other Rothschild patients to go back to the camp. That was the last Brull-Ulmann saw of the sweet girl. The intern was sure the Germans killed Danielle and the rest of her family in an extermination camp. Brull-Ulmann grieved because she was not able to save Danielle.
Brull-Ulmann went on to secretly treat wounded allies in hiding, and to work for the French Resistance. Although the title, Through the Morgue Door, is intriguing, it reflects only a small part of the book. Brull-Ulmann obsesses over the loss of Danielle, and she devotes much of the book to her grief concerning the girl.
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