How One Young Woman Outwitted the Nazis
I have enjoyed reading Francelle White’s account of her mother’s wartime adventures this week. The book is a refreshingly unadorned account of a young life spent working for the Paris Prefecture of Police, under German occupation, for the most part in the service of the BCRA’s ‘Orion’ reseaux. The book was published by Elliott and Thompson in 2014 but is still available on the second hand market and on Kindle. It has been on my shelf unread for years. I pulled it out this week as I’m ploughing through as much resistance related material I can in pursuit of my latest target - Henri Déricourt.
Andree Griotteray’s story was a refreshing diversion from the treachery of Déricourt. A mere 19-years old when the Germans captured Paris in June 1940, she was a member of a very select group of what later resistants’ were to call the ‘Class of 1940’: she and her brother Alain resisted the Nazis from the start, and without hesitation or reservation. They produced an underground news sheet, and Alain was later to create the Orion reseaux, before escaping to French North Africa in 1943. He was back a year later.
White’s excellent book captures both the humdrum reality and sometimes the absurdity of resistance, without over-glamourising what was the most extraordinary bravery of her mother. She stresses why attention to the detail of security enabled some networks to survive better than others:
…retracing one’s steps was forbidden, and all members were under strict instructions not to allow themselves to be followed - or if they were, to avoid their own homes and to make all possible attempts to lose their assailant. They were warned about the possibility of concierges acting as informers, spying on their movements, and they were told to keep well away from their friends, an order which must have been very difficult for a group of young twenty-somethings. They had to be more careful about the new friends they made, questioning rigorously the integrity and honesty of any new member they wanted to recruit. They were told never to meet openly in bars or restaurants unless there was an emergency. With the exception of Alain and Andree, no member of the group was ever aware of the existence of more than two other members…
Likewise, Alain forbade the use of transmitters, as being too dangerous. This caution paid enormous dividends. A sad feature of the work of SOE in France were the security blunders which led to a good many of the 118 SOE losses (from a total of 470 sent, a casualty rate of 25%) in France. (Of this number 39 were female, of whom 13 - 33% - were killed.) Both the Abwehr and Gestapo worked hard throughout the occupation to blunt the work of the multiplicity of resistance networks which popped up across France. Dominique Lormier’s study of the Gestapo in France (Pygmalion, 2013) estimated that by 1944 there were 2,500 men and women in the pay of the Germans (Abwehr and Gestapo) in France, together with 6,000 in the pay of Vichy France and a further 24,000 who willingly gave information on their friends and neighbours. On the one occasion that Andree was arrested and questioned by both the German police and the Gestapo, it transpired that she had been informed on by a French person suspicious of her regular rail trips between Paris and Bordeaux. Her ability to stay calm and not break under the pressure of an intense interrogation by Germans on a fishing expedition (they in fact knew nothing of her resistance activities), saved her life.
One of the most extraordinary stories of her entire underground career was how she played a role in engineering the escape from the last train of fellow resistant, Martial de la Fourniere, who was destined for Buchenwald. But I won’t reveal too much here: you will need to read this story for yourself. You’ll be pleased that you did, for this is a heart-warming and illuminating book, beautifully written and calmly told.
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