This biography illuminates for an English-speaking audience the lives of Lucie and Raymond Aubrac, heroes of the French Resistance of World War II.
Many Americans know little of “la Résistance” and its key players, but the Aubracs are revered in France for their daring guerilla warfare against Nazi occupiers. In this enlightening biography, Rees (Moll: The Life and Times of Moll Flanders, 2011, etc.) focuses on Lucie, an intense and driven young woman. “Refusal has been a principle all my life,” Lucie once said, and she more than lives up to this quote. When the Germans invaded France, the Aubracs faced a difficult decision: should they endure fascist rule or simply flee to the United States? Their decision to remain and fight led them to constant danger. Lucie arranged jail breaks, tied herself to the undersides of trains, and oversaw forged documents. She proved to be a tireless fighter, broadcasting for the BBC and organizing a death-defying ambush. In the later chapters, Rees examines a controversial question: were the Aubracs actually informers for the Germans, as one Gestapo officer claimed? While this is a wrenching possibility, the author adds additional layers to her story, showing how the Resistance was rife with division and doubt. The Aubracs were disappointed, in the wake of World War II, to find French colonialism just as abusive as Nazi operations in France. The 1940s were a desperate time for Western Europe, and the Aubracs’ exploits seem less sterling in retrospect. “War records, war secrets, war shames,” writes Rees. “They were all a constant bubbling undercurrent to political life in France…joy was mingled with fear that some very uncomfortable stones were going to be turned over.” Still, the author manages to celebrate Lucie’s extraordinary life, warts and all. Like the novelist André Malraux and adventurer Jacques Cousteau, Lucie was extremely active in the war’s aftermath, but she and Raymond were often disenchanted by the politics of the Fifth Republic.
A refreshing addition to World War II literature.