Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

But You Did Not Come Back

by Marceline Loridan-Ivens Translated from French by Sandra Smith with Judith Perrignon

A phenomenal success in Europe, But You Did Not Come Back is an important addition to the library of Holocaust literature—a deeply moving story of a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 112
  • Publication Date January 10, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2623-8
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.25"
  • US List Price $15.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 112
  • Publication Date January 05, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2450-0
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.25"
  • US List Price $22.00

About The Book

Marceline Loridan-Ivens was just fifteen when she was arrested by the Vichy government’s militia, along with her father. At the internment camp of Drancy, France, her father told her that he would not come back, preparing her for the worst. On their arrival at the camps, they were separated—her father sent to Auschwitz, she to the neighboring camp of Birkenau. The three kilometers that separated them were an insurmountable distance, and yet her father managed to send her a small note, via an electrician in the camp. He later died in the Holocaust.

In But You Did Not Come Back, Marceline writes back to her father. The book is a letter to the man she would never know as an adult, to the person whose death overshadowed her whole life. Although the grief over her father never diminished in its intensity, Marceline ultimately found a calling, working on behalf of many disenfranchised groups, both as an activist for Algerian independence and a documentary filmmaker.

And now, as France and Europe in general faces growing anti-Semitism, Marceline feels pessimistic about the future. Her testimony is a haunting and challenging reminder of one of the worst crimes humanity has ever seen, and a deeply affecting personal story of a woman whose life was shattered and never totally rebuilt.

“You might come back, because you’re young,
but I won’t be coming back.”
—Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s father to her, April 1944


“In tight, unsparing prose, [Loridan-Ivens] confronts the delusions her father held, and the lies she told herself. A small book with a big voice.” —Economist (Books of the Year 2016)

“[A] devastating memoir. [Loridan-Ivens] refuses all pity in this slim but intense testimony . . . Her great achievement is to articulate the astonishing camaraderie and love among the incarcerated, and later the attritional shadow of war, as her family, and she herself, fractures, yet keeps surviving. Profound.” —Times (UK) (Memoirs of the Year)

“One of the most beautiful books of the year . . . Short, dense, powerful, in a word: overwhelming, with a simplicity of expression and a skill for creating an image . . .
You will read it in one sitting.” —Le Parisien

“Simultaneously cynical and ardent . . . hypnotic.” —Globe and Mail

“Extraordinary, unflinching and deeply moving . . . [Loridan-Ivens] describes her experiences with a resolute commitment to detail; there is the brutal, visceral truth . . . and there are harrowing stories . . . But there is no room for sentimentality in Loridan-Ivens’s honest and self-aware prose: the facts of her incarceration speak emotively enough . . . Very occasionally a book comes along that demands to be published, to be read, to be talked about. A book about pain and suffering, about cruelty and humanity, about grief and love. But You Did Not Come Back is an exquisitely written, beautifully translated and unwaveringly honest testimony; a story we will all do well never to forget.” —Hannah Beckerman, Guardian

“A brief, unforgettable memoir.” —Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Week

“A haunting memoir of a young Holocaust survivor . . . This is a small book with a big voice . . . [A] tender, anguished, remorseful letter of love . . . In tight, unsparing prose she confronts the delusions her father held, and the lies she told herself . . . Punctuated by moments of humanity, affection and even humor . . . It is shot through with bleak restraint.” —Economist

“Loridan-Ivens’s memoir is an instructive presentation of camp experience and its aftermath . . . But You Did Not Come Back . . . pushes our understanding of the war and its aftermath into new territory.” —Norman Ravvin, Canadian Jewish News

“Who is a survivor? What does a survivor remember? How does a survivor continue to struggle throughout his or her life? Marceline Loridan-Ivens powerfully and honestly answers these questions in her short but graphic volume of painful remembrance . . . Marceline presents her struggle to survive in personal, forthright, and raw prose . . . An important and piercing first-hand testimony.” —Renita Last, Jewish Book Council

“In this powerful book [Marceline Loridan-Ivens] tells of her harrowing experiences in the extermination camp, of her intense desire to go on living and how to bear the pain of surviving when her father did not.” —Eithne Farry, Daily Express (Best Memoirs of the Season)

“Is there anything else to say about the Holocaust that hasn’t already been said? The disturbing answer is yes . . . [A] stark, brief memoir (in a beautiful translation by Sandra Smith) . . . An incredible indictment of France’s complicity with the Nazis . . . But You Did Not Come Back is as disturbing an account of what it was like to return from the extermination camps as anything I have read.” —Charles R. Larson, CounterPunch

“[A] searing, profoundly moving memoir . . . Smoothly translated by Sandra Smith . . . But You Did Not Come Back is a beautiful testimony to filial love that sounds a powerful, dire alarm. It is also a reminder that forgetting atrocity isn’t an option.” —Heller McAlpin, Christian Science Monitor

“Loridan-Ivens brings the clarity of an adolescent’s lucid memory to her writing–subtly translated by Sandra Smith . . . woven into her story is such a lucid, life-giving spirit infusing the tales of heroism she casually tells, as well as the guilty secrets she discloses, that this reader, for one, wants to thank this courageous, honest woman for her transformative story.” —Anne Garvey, Jewish Chronicle

“Loridan-Ivens writes in a plain, conversational style . . . that flows as memory does, observation and recollection in balance. It can be read at a sitting; and then asks to be read again. For even at this distance, when we think we know what happened, and what history tells us, the truth, as seen through Marceline’s clear-eyed gaze, astonishes and horrifies . . . There is kindness, too, and courage in this book: not least the author’s courage in choosing to live.” —Erica Wagner, New Statesman

“[A] deeply moving account . . . The death camps are evoked in their full horror . . . This is a haunting and beautiful book, valuable not only for the first-hand experience of the worst atrocity in living history, but also for its illustration of the long-term effects of trauma, the persistence of anti-Semitism and the enduring power of love.” —Leyla Sanai, Independent (UK)

“Marceline Loridan-Ivens has lived with harrowing memories of Auschwitz for seven decades. And she insists that the fight against anti-Semitism is far from over . . . [A] poignant memoir.” —Sunday Times (UK)

“Despite its gruesome subject matter, the book has moments of bleak humor and its affirmation of human tenderness instils a kind of joy in the reader . . . In just 100 pages, Loridan-Ivens goes to the heart of father-daughter relations; the result is a masterpiece of restraint and luminous precision . . . Exquisitely translated by Sandra Smith, But You Did Not Come Back is a human chronicle of rare power.” —Ian Thomson, Financial Times

“Profound and moving . . . elegantly rendered into English by Sandra Smith . . . [This] slim but powerful book is both a vital account of her survival and a tender reply to her father . . . Seldom do such short books make so big an impact . . . Her important and miraculous testimony will endure.” —Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“In this tormented time, this troubled period where the extreme right is showing its teeth all over Europe, Marceline Loridan-Ivens gives us a valuable lesson . . . You read this with tears welling up in your eyes . . . I’ll say it again: read it . . . [An] important book, [one] book you’ll never forget.” —Challenges Magazine

“In contrast to similar extermination-camp memoirs, which necessarily relate familiar instances of Nazi brutality and the same strokes of pure luck that kept a few prisoners form the gas chambers, But You Did Note Come Back focuses on the affliction of women. The effects of suffering and depravation were devastating and sometimes permanent . . . It’s also tragically true that anti-Semitism and religious conflict, as she points out, once again represent major threats to contemporary France. The book ends with a question as harrowing as it is fundamental.” —John Taylor, Arts Fuse

“In the pages of this book . . . words are spoken which have not been spoken before.”
Le Monde des Livres

“In literature, every so often, there comes a miracle, a book, a text, an author, a writing style, a way of recounting something, refusing any pathos and any exposition that says things about life and death . . . This elderly woman is not to be messed around with. The pessimism of Imre Kertész or Aharon Appelfeld is not for her.” —Le Magazine Littéraire

“Her testimony is of an extraordinary force . . . Now more than ever, it is necessary
that we listen to the testimony of this survivor.” —Le Figaro

“You can still see very clearly a little girl in the rebellious, cheerful, and slightly cloaked face of this petite woman of eighty-six.” —Elle (France)

“This book shook France, and it will shake Germany too . . . A declaration of love to the father she lost in the camps that will leave no-one unmoved. Above all, But You Did Not Come Back is the testimony of a relentless fighter, describing in hard-to-bear detail her survival of the barbed wire, the railway platforms, the crematoriums, and also what came after that: the life as someone who survived. The arc that Marceline Loridan-Ivens traces in her book reaches from the early postwar period to the Paris of 1968 to post-Charlie-Hebdo France . . . That her return from Auschwitz did not bring her peace is the dark core of her account.” —Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“A profoundly moving testimony of the challenges of survival, a wake-up call to those who ignore the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, and a stunning tribute to her late father, But You Did Not Come Back is heartbreaking, important, and unlike anything that has preceded it.” —André Aciman

“I read this book in one sitting, it was unputdownable, an astonishing account of a family caught up in the Holocaust’s turbulent wake, so deeply sad and very, very moving. Most striking to me was the brutal honesty and clarity of her relationship with her father who, despite his murder by the Nazis, is still very much with her more than fifty years later, and the question, so troubling, as to whether it would have been better if he had come back instead of her.” —Thomas Harding, author of Hanns and Rudolf


Winner of the National Jewish Book Award (Biography, Autobiography and Memoir)
Named a Book of the Year 2016 by the Economist
Named a Memoir of the Year by the Times (UK)


I was quite a cheerful person, you know, in spite of what happened to us. Happy in our own way, as a revenge against sadness, so we could still laugh. People liked that about me. But I’m changing. It isn’t bitterness, I’m not bitter. It’s just as if
I were already gone. I listen to the radio, to the news, so I’m often afraid because I know what’s going on. I don’t belong here any more. Perhaps it’s an acceptance of death, or a lack of will. I’m slowing down.

And so I think about you. I can picture the note you managed to get to me back there, a stained little scrap of paper, torn on one end, almost rectangular. I can see your writing, slanted to the right, and four or five sentences that I can’t remember. I’m sure of one line, the first line: ‘my darling little girl,” and the last line too, your signature: “shlo’me.” But what came in between, I don’t know any more. I try to remember and I can’t.

I try, but it’s like a deep hole and I don’t want to fall in. So I concentrate on other things: Where did you get that paper and pencil? What did you promise the man who brought me your message? That may seem unimportant today, but then, that piece of paper, folded in four, your writing, the steps of the man walking from you to me, proved that we still existed. Why don’t I remember? All I have left is Shlo’me and his darling little girl. They were deported together. You to Auschwitz, me to Birkenau.