A former reporter and award-winning author rescues the almost unbelievable account of one family’s experience in Nazi-occupied France.
Between the cruel caricature of a nation of collaborators and the purposeful, Charles de Gaulle–promoted myth of a country full of valiant resisters lies the truth for most of the French during World War II. In the same manner a young girl’s diary once vivified the Holocaust and the fate of 6 million for a postwar audience, Kaiser (The Gay Metropolis: 1940-1996, 1997, etc.) tells, through the Boulloche family, the story of lives turned complicated by the bizarre realities of Vichy France. He fills us in first on the toll World War I took on France, on the Boulloche family pedigree, and on the iconoclastic, republican spirit of the parents, Jacques and Hélène. Although by no means pro-German and for honorable reasons of their own, neither they nor their oldest son joined the Resistance. Nevertheless, their arrests, deportations, and deaths in the infamous internment camps all resulted from their silent approval of the decision by André and sisters Christiane and Jacqueline to actively oppose the Nazi occupation. Hitler, Eisenhower, Patton, Churchill, Roosevelt, and, of course, de Gaulle appear frequently in the background of this narrative and help supply just enough historical information to orient readers. In the foreground always, though, are the young Boulloches and their close confederates. Smuggling arms, recruiting friends, gathering information, enduring torture, tales of escape, secret knocks, Gestapo interrogations, fortuitous encounters, sabotage missions, clandestine apartments—all are part of their story. Their resolve and bravery and even the “romance” of their exploits are plain to readers but not to the survivors who knew too well the price the family paid. For 50 years they remained, even to their own children, largely silent about all of it. Thanks to a family connection forged in the war’s immediate wake, Kaiser has managed to gather all the painful details, and he assembles them masterfully.
At once heroic and heartbreaking, this story leaves an indelible mark.