London-based reporter Robbins tells the story of a Holocaust hero.
Michel Thomas was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Poland, although he moved to Germany as a boy. He quickly made many German friends, but never truly felt German. As a teenager, he began to realize he was an outsider: as the Nazis gained power, being Jewish was dangerous. At 19, in 1933, he tried to move to France, but the French authorities turned him back at the border when they found that he didn’t have a visa. Finally, he sneaked into France from Saarland and headed to Paris, where he lived a hand-to-mouth existence, fell in love, and became curiously enamored of Nietzsche (who was also much esteemed by Hitler). In Vichy France, Thomas joined the Resistance, but he was captured and sent to the concentration camp at Le Vernet. Eventually he escaped and resumed his work with the Resistance under a series of false identities. Throughout his life Thomas was a great ladies’ man, with women fawning all over him and taking great risks on behalf of his safety. At the end of the war, he fought triumphantly with the Americans against Germany, and later on he worked in Munich to round up former Nazis, helping America and England to get information about the identities and whereabouts of leading German scientists. He was an outspoken critic of the Vichy government, insisting that it was not a German puppet, “but was an independent and enthusiastic proponent of home-grown fascist, anti-Semitic policies.” Robbins concludes with a fascinating tale of Thomas’s encounter, after the war, with Klaus Barbie.
The portrait of Thomas that emerges here is decidedly hagiographic, but his latter-day profile in courage is an inspiring read all the same.