Rosette Lamont: A Remembrance
- By Cynthia Haft
Editor’s Note: There are many rewards in working for a literary magazine that has lasted nearly six decades. None greater, though, than the chance to receive messages of the sort that came in just the other day, when we heard from Dr. Cynthia Haft, a former student of the French scholar and theater critic Rosette Lamont. Lamont translated into English essential works by Charlotte Delbo—a French resistance fighter, deported to Auschwitz, who survived to make memory her lifework. Dr. Haft also happens to be Delbo’s goddaughter; in fact, she introduced Lamont to Delbo, and the rest, as they say, was history. Our magazine owes great debt to Rosette Lamont, who passed away in 2012; we published her nearly a dozen times—most notably, perhaps, her essay on Delbo’s work and her translation of Delbo’s “Phantoms, My Faithful Ones.”
(Program inscribed with a message to Haft from Rosette Lamont: "Voici le programme de ce très beau spectacle. Avec ton nom bien en evidence. Tu aurais beaucoup aime cette production.")
She was the joy of life encapsulated. To be sure, a very tiny capsule —but don’t good things always come in small packages? Through her eyes spoke her heart, her smile, and her passion. As my French literature professor at the Masters and then Doctoral level, in 1971 Rosette directed my doctoral dissertation on “The Theme of Nazi Concentration Camps in French Literature,” later published in the Hague. Its primary subjects were three authors: Charlotte Delbo, Jorge Semprun, and Elie Wiesel. Of these, Rosette was familiar with the last two; she began to read Charlotte as we started to discuss her work. Then I introduced her to Charlotte in Paris, because I knew the two had to meet. And soon after, Rosette had changed Charlotte’s literary life forever.
Rosette published a translation of Charlotte’s trilogy, Auschwitz and After. She also wrote articles and published other shorter works by Charlotte, most importantly “Phantoms, My Faithful Ones” in the Massachusetts Review. She truly loved, admired, and revered Charlott’es life and lifeworks. She invited Charlotte to speak about her work in the United States—fulfilling another of Charlotte’s dreams. Until overcome by her illness and the sadness in her own life, Rosette remained faithful to Charlotte.
Rosette was struck by tragedy twice. Her beloved mother was murdered while Rosette and her husband were in Paris; her mother had accompanied her there during a sabbatical leave. This fractured the joy of Rosette’s life, no doubt for the rest of her time. And then her husband Fred—whom she chose later in life—left her. No one close to Rosette had approved of, or even liked, Fred. We had all hoped to be proven wrong. To our great despair, we were not.
Rosette was made of love and for love. Love of literature. Love of the pen. Love of writing and composing, though she was always more a critic and believer in others than an author herself. She remained devoted to her goals and her loves for as long as nature permitted her to do so. By championing their work, Rosette also permitted others to achieve their goals, just as she did when she brought the works of Charlotte Delbo to American readers.
A great debt is owed.
CYNTHIA HAFT is a translator and researcher currently living in Jerusalem. Haft met Delbo in New York while Haft was in her teens and translated a number of Delbo's works into English.