Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Excerpt: Grandmother's private war of resistance

Eglé de Villelume-Sombreuil Gatins fought a private war right under the noses of the German forces occupying Paris [during World War II]. She sneaked escaped prisoners to the then-still free south of France, hid papers for Free French forces and aided the budding Resistance as best as she could. Unlike many of her countrymen and the cowardly Vichy government—and not a few collaborators of her own class of society—she had little use for the Nazis and the French puppets who were running what was left of the French government, or for the Vichy policy of working hand-in-glove with the Nazis’ anti-Semitic extermination programs. She particularly resented the military parade the Germans staged down the Champs d’Elysées every day of the occupation in Paris, so jarring to one who had seen the magnificent victory parades down the same long boulevard after the Allied victory over the Krauts in World War I.

In the early years of the occupation, in 1940-41, goodly numbers of escaped French prisoners of war were still fleeing through Paris, trying to get to the south of France, which was then still classified as a “free zone.” “So, we looked for passage and with money we could pass people through there,” Eglé recalled. “Thank God, we got some money, and the most important thing was a man in Montmartre who could make phony papers. He could make the best phony papers—you could not tell the difference from the real ones. That’s how I could get so many people out.”

The escaped prisoners, Eglé explained, were directed to a safe passage near Macon, a small town in Burgundy, about 35 miles north of Lyon, where a Red Cross committee provided them money “after they’d crossed the line,” (that is, the boundary between occupied France and the “free zone” in the south of the country). Eglé also recalled being able to assist several British escapees using the same escape route. “When the free zone was taken over by the Germans, it became much more difficult, but we managed to do so anyway. We had to watch out, though, because not everyone thought the same way as us, that is to say, they weren’t opposed to the Germans,” she said.

Grandmother Eglé’s work with the Red Cross in Paris, as well as her helping prisoners escape, was recognized after the war as a signal achievement that garnered her the highest award possible for French civilians, the Legion d’Honneur.


Rachael's mom said...

Hi Joe,
This is going to be such an amazing book. I hope that I can get a recording of it soon. Ever since I was a young person this part of history has spoken to me. I guess I cut my teeth on The Diary of Anne Frank.

Robinette said...

Congratulations, Joe! Exciting to have seen all this unfold to this point. Can't wait to read the entire book.