Confronting Father’s Mountain of Exaggerations

Maurice Herzog's Daughter Takes on Alpine Embellishments

Summit of Deceit: Maurice Herzog (seen here in 2005) allegedly embellished his 1951 memoir ‘Annapurna.’
Getty Images
Summit of Deceit: Maurice Herzog (seen here in 2005) allegedly embellished his 1951 memoir ‘Annapurna.’

By Benjamin Ivry

Published October 13, 2012, issue of October 19, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

This refusal to mentor his children especially affected her brother Laurent (1965-1999), a promising young university student who was afflicted with mental illness. After repeated psychiatric internments, Laurent died prematurely of a heart attack. Félicité writes that Herzog despised Laurent and was unable to recognize that he was struggling with a “malady of Himalayan dimensions.” To his sister, Laurent was a “hero with such a sweet smile, a mental invalid who fought an ultimate battle in spite of himself.”

By identifying her unfortunate brother as a more genuine hero than her famous father, the author locates integrity in a family unit otherwise splintered by tragedy and domestic discord. (Married in 1964, her parents would divorce a dozen years later.) There was another valorous spirit in the Herzog family, according to “A Hero.” Félicité’s mother, Marie-Pierre de Cossé-Brissac, was born in 1925 to an anti-Semitic French family of noble standing. When she was young, Marie-Pierre’s father informed her about her romantic future: “Do anything you like, but don’t marry a Jew. We’re one of the only families of the French nobility not to be Jew-ridden.” During the Nazi Occupation, Marie-Pierre’s mother approvingly gave her “Mein Kampf” to read and took her to the notorious anti-Semitic exhibit “The Jew and France” in 1941.

Despite the fact that her mother hosted high society parties for Nazi collaborators, Marie-Pierre was never indoctrinated. In 1945, she fell in love with Simon Nora, a French Jewish Resistance fighter (and brother of the eminent historian Pierre Nora). Her family reacted by having her interned in a Swiss psychiatric clinic, from which Nora and some of his Resistance comrades liberated her on the day of her 21st birthday. In January 1947, they were married, whereupon Marie-Pierre de Cossé-Brissac’s family disowned her. Her first marriage would last only seven years (she and Nora were divorced in 1954), and when she decided to remarry, she again chose a Jewish partner. Yet, Maurice Herzog, whom she wed in July 1964, enjoyed the status of a national hero and was a minister in a right-wing government, which made him more acceptable to Marie-Pierre’s parents.

Admiring her mother’s defiant philosemitism, Félicité depicts a woman of heroic resolve. As matriarch of a literate and, indeed, literary family, Marie-Pierre published a fictionalized recollection of her family’s wartime Nazi collaboration in the 2005 novel “The Ruby.” She has also written an autobiography, “Autumn Memories,” poignantly recounting the loss of her son Laurent, published in 2009. Maurice Herzog, for his part, has remained silent of late about his family’s private life, and readers should probably not expect any impassioned reply to his daughter’s “A Hero.” After all, “Pirkei Avot,” the tractate of the Mishna that is often translated as “Ethics of the Fathers,” offers one definition of a hero as someone who “controls his passion.”

Benjamin Ivry writes frequently about the arts for the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.