There are times when I find myself almost overwhelmed by the courage and dedication of the men and women of Dutch-Paris and the Resistance. It happened today as I read the statement that a widowed French nurse born in 1893, gave to the British when she returned to Paris from Ravensbrück in 1945.
In September 1943, a Dutch student whom she had known for years asked her if she would lodge Allied aviators. Having answered yes, two Americans came to her studio apartment that evening, to stay 17 days. After they left she sheltered about 50 other airmen in her apartment, sometimes four at a time, although always for shorter periods. She fed them as best she could and put together food packages for their trips over the Pyrenees to Spain. Every single ounce of sugar and every egg in those packages would have had to have come from the black market.
She also, she remarked, had the opportunity to render some personal services to a certain “Thierry” of the British Intelligence Service by lodging his friends and carrying valises with weapons, maps and papers for him.
“Alas,” as she said, “the Gestapo put an end to my activities by arresting me at my home on 26 February 1944.” She and many other members of Dutch-Paris were sent to the infamous prison of Fresnes. Within a month the Gestapo tortured this 51 year-old woman eight times because they had found a calling card signed “Thierry” in one of her pockets.
Obviously, she explained, she made up a story that the Gestapo couldn’t confirm about the calling card. Her interrogator didn’t believe her. She summarized her experience by saying: “The refinements of the cruelty of the Gestapo knew no limits.”
Finally they condemned her to death and sent her to Ravensbrück. After three months in that hell, she was transferred to the salt mines at Beendorf where she suffered from brain injuries and heart attacks in addition to the general starvation, exposure and beatings. But she survived until May 1945, when she was handed over to the Swedish Red Cross. The hospitality of the people of Malmö moved her deeply.
When she returned to Paris she found that the Gestapo had pillaged her apartment, stealing furniture, jewelry, clothing, and linens.
She ended her report by congratulating the British on the good manners of the English, Polish and American aviators she had sheltered in her studio apartment. “To finish,” she said, “I would like to tell you one thing: I sincerely regret that I could not work in the service for longer.”