Updated: Apr 20, 2018
When Antoinette West was reading my novel, The Resistance Between Us, she told me about another intimate moment in her own life that had affected her deeply. It occurred just prior to the events in Oradour-sur-Glane I wrote about in a previous blog.
During her stay with her grandparents in the French countryside during World War II, Antoinette befriended a little girl who lived across the road from them. They played together for hours, whenever they could.
Then Antoinette's Grandmere sat her down one day to have a deadly serious conversation. Antoinette said she had never heard her Grandmaman use such harsh, threatening tones.
Her grandmother said the Nazis were coming, and she must never, ever, mention the little girl who lived across the road. She was not to answer questions from anyone about playing with her, what her name was, or where she and her family were hiding.
"I knew for the first time in my life—just by her voice—how important it was to do exactly what my grandma said. I had never heard that voice before, nor did I ever hear it again."
Antoinette said she was deeply afraid. Now she knew her own family, the neighbors across the road and the Jewish family they shielded could all be murdered if she disobeyed her Grandmaman.
When the Nazis passed through her village, Antoinette did not argue when told she could not see her secret friend. Nor did she mention her friend's name or family to anyone, French or Nazi. (When the Wehrmacht was losing, it was not unusual for the SS to question children about names and details that would lead them to Resistance members and their hiding places. In return the children were given sweets or trinkets.)
This manipulation of a child's conscience in order for the Nazis to obtain pertinent information was a result of what the Germans had already done to their own people during the war. Erica Mann, daughter of the famous American/Czech/German novelist and essayist, Thomas Mann, wrote School for Barbarians, a textbook of Nazi methods used to indoctrinate classrooms of German children. Hitler's brand of patriotism required repeating word-for-word to school and other authorities private dinner conversations about politics and the war that children heard from their parents.
Children were to turn their parents in for even mildly questioning the Reich. Arrests based on a child's testimony could lead to incarceration and possible death for his or her parent(s) at concentration camps like Dachau.
There was no freedom in one's home—and no liberty except in the silence of one's own heart.
This issue surfaces for Ingrid Fellner in The Resistance Between Us, when Sylvia, a young Jewish female refugee gives birth to a tiny baby boy in Ingrid's below-stairs pantry.
The baby will change the life of the entire household.
Ingrid cannot hide the infant from her savvy nine-year-old daughter, Marta, and must warn her immediately and severely.
"I have to tell you more about the Nazis who come here," Ingrid says to Marta. "And the young mother and her baby downstairs. We have to protect them and ourselves. Promise me you will never tell anyone about them. It would destroy our family, and this young mother and her baby, if the world outside our house ever finds out. It has to be our secret."
"So, they must be Jewish. Right, Maman?"
Ingrid worries about the risk of keeping mother and son safe in her care. It underscores Ingrid and Marta's increasing vulnerability—especially when Gestapo regularly visit Ingrid for casual entertainment: visits that are really covert raids for Jews.
Citizens of Occupied France could take nothing for granted: not their personal freedom, nor the levels of trust they once shared with their family and neighbors—or even worse, some of their own children.🌲
Copyright March 2018; all rights reserved