Dora Bruder’s Secret

The film, Le secret de Dora Bruder (Dora Bruder’s Secret), was imagined and realised after the biographical novel, Dora Bruder, written by Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel prize for literature.  Captivated by a single image and the associated missing persons alert, Modiano documents his quest to find traces of a young Jewish girl who went missing in Paris for several months during the German occupation of France.

By Paris-Soir – Paris-Soir 31 décembre 1941, Public Domain,

The film  records the places that Modiano was able to link with the very short life of Dora Bruder. The places depicted in the film are her homes, her schools, parks where she might have spent time, and cinemas that she very likely frequented; these places are her traces and her imprints on and in Paris. During the period of time in 1941-1942, Modiano is unable to find any evidence of her existence. Since unfortunately the stories of so many young lives involved in the Holocaust tend to be intimately invaded, Modiano chose to not invent or surmise her activities or her whereabouts. In this way, Paris, and the places where she spent time during her months as a fugitive are hers and hers alone–they are her secrets that nobody, not the Gestapo, not the French government, not even her parents would know. The film is a visual interpretation of of the known places and spaces of Dora Bruder, but it is not conjecture. The film serves to depict that though this young girl died in the Holocaust, her traces on this city (Paris) will never be lost, that she is not forgotten, but also that she has right, even in death, to her privacy and to her secrets.

Translation of voice over at the end of the film taken from the narrator of  Patrick Modiano’s text:

“Saturday September 19…the city is deserted, as if to mark Dora’s absence.   Since then, the Paris where I tried to find her trace has remained as empty and silent as that day.  I walk through the empty streets. For me, they remain empty, even in the evening, at the hour of traffic jams, when people hurry toward the metro stops. I can’t help thinking of her and feeling an echo of her presence in certain neighborhoods. The other evening it was at the Gare du Nord. 

I  will remain ignorant of how she spent her days, where she hid herself, with whom she spent her time during those winter months when she first ran away and during those several weeks of spring when she disappeared a second time.

That is her secret.

 A simple and precious secret that assassins, regulations, authorities of the so-called occupation,  bureaucracy, prison, detention camps, History, and time—all that sullies and destroys—will not have been able to take away from her.”     (Translation by Janie Vanpée)

The Promenade Dora Bruder in the 18th arrondissement in Paris commemorates both Dora Bruder’s life and Patrick Modiano’s hommage to her brief, and unknown, passage through the streets of the city during the Nazi occupation.


Ray Van Huizen ’20 is a junior at Smith College who is currently abroad in Paris, France for the year. They are a double major in French and Sociology. They are interested in how theoretical and practiced sociology might be introduced to the general public through the use of film and other modern visual aids. After Smith College, Ray plans on continuing their education with a PhD program in the field of Queer Theory and Gender Studies.





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