Vel’ d’Hiv-July 16-17 1942-Round up of the French Jews.

It always amazes me how easy it was for some Europeans to give up their Jewish neighbours. I know it is easy for me to say that in retrospect, because I don’t know how I would have reacted if I was put in that situation. But I have a feeling I would have least spoken out about it.

In the Netherlands 75% of all Dutch Jews, or Jews residing in the Netherlands were murdered during the Holocaust. It wasn’t so much that all Dutch were complicit in this crime. A big factor was the very efficient Dutch civil administration which enabled the occupiers to carry out their plans for the final solution. As I stated before only relatively few Dutch were complicit, but there were a great number that were complacent and hid for the facts that were so plain to see.

In France however, it was the French Vichy government that were complicit and were quite happy and eager to help the Nazi occupiers.

I remember a scene in the movie “Mr. Klein” about a man profiting off the misfortune of French Jews during World War II. In the scene it was the French police knocking at the door of the Jews and not the Gestapo. Although the film is fictional, it does give a good indication of the French attitude towards their Jewish neighbours. This 1976 film directed by Joseph Losey. Alain Delon plays the immoral art dealer, Robert Klein, leads a life of luxury, until a copy of a Jewish newspaper brings him to the attention of the police, linking him with a mysterious doppelgänger.

On July 16th 1942, French police acting on orders of the Nazi occupiers began rounding up thousands of Jews living in Paris. They were assembled at the city’s indoor velodrome the victims were held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, cycling stadium in Paris’s 15th arrondissement. From there they were being deported to Auschwitz. Many died at the velodrome itself, left in searing heat with almost no food, water or sanitation. This shameful chapter in France’s history is known as “la rafle du Vel d’Hiv'”. The French police, code named the round up Opération Vent printanier (“Operation Spring Breeze”)

The roundup was one of several aimed at eradicating the Jewish population in France, both in the occupied zone and in the free zone. According to records of the Préfecture de Police, eventually 13,152 Jews were arrested including more than 4,000 children. They were all put in rail cattle cars to be deported to Auschwitz for their mass murder.

Over 3,000 children remained interned orphaned, until they were deported to Auschwitz as well.

Many wartime French authorities and police played an active role in the deportations, but one Paris policeman, Théophile Larue, took a stand. He warned his Jewish neighbors, the Lictensztajns, of the upcoming “Vél d’Hiv” roundup. He arranged for the family to escape to southern France and obtain false papers. The Lictensztajns were saved by one man who made a choice to uphold his position to protect all citizens, but unfortunately, not all French Policemen took that position.

Théophile Larue didn’t save only the Lictensztajn.

In March 1941, the Larue and his wife Madeleine offered their hospitality to Léon Osman, who thus managed to avoid being sent to the Pithiviers camp. He remained under their care until July 1942, when he was able to escape to the south of France. Osman was on the Gestapo’s list of wanted people; giving shelter to such a person was a grave offense and carried a heavy punishment.
On July 15 1942, Larue gave advanced warning of the planned large-scale roundup of Jews that was to start the next day to eight Jewish families who lived in his building, thus allowing them a chance to flee and find refuge.
The Larue couple sheltered Chuma Brand, and her daughter Fanny in their apartment for a week, in July 1942. Then Théophile accompanied them to the train station in his uniform so as to facilitate their flight to the unoccupied zone. In November 1942, Simon Glicensztajn, also on the Gestapo’s list, found refuge in the Larues’ home for a few days. Moreover, one night, Larue broke in to the police-sealed apartment of Glicensztajn’s sister, Laja Tobjasz, to help remove a stock of merchandise that would provide the family with a livelihood.
Once, when Mrs. Tobjasz returned to Paris from southern France, she was arrested and taken to the prefecture. When Larue heard this, he donned his uniform, went to the prefecture and asked to speak to the prefect.

He said that Mrs. Tobjasz was Catholic and his daughter’s godmother. Although skeptical, the prefect must have had a change of heart, because he released her into Larue’s custody. Théophile Larue believed that it was his duty as a man of honor, and one who had respect for human values to help people in need, even at the risk of putting his family in harm’s way. As a member of the French Resistance, Officer Larue took part in the battle for theliberation of Paris. After the liberation, the Larues continued to be in touch with the families of those they rescued. On September 23, 2007, Yad Vashem recognized Théophile and Madeleine Larue as Righteous Among the Nations.

German authorities continued the deportations of Jews from French soil until August 1944. In all, some 77,000 Jews living on French territory were murdered in concentration camps and killing centers—the overwhelming majority of them at Auschwitz.

For his pivotal part in the deportation of Jews from France, Pierre Laval, formerly the French Prime Minister, was arrested and tried after the liberation of France. He was shot by firing squad on 15 October 1945.

The fate of two German officials most involved in the Vél d’Hiv mirrored the common fates of high-ranking SS administrators. Theodor Dannecker was arrested by American officials in Bad Tölz, Bavaria, in December 1945, and committed suicide while in custody. Helmut Knochen, sentenced by a British court to 21 years in prison for a separate offense, was sentenced to death by a French court in 1954. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and Knochen was released on orders of French President Charles de Gaulle in November 1962.

sources

https://www.france24.com/en/focus/20140716-france-vel-hiv-roundup-jews-nazi-death-camps-deportation-survivor

https://apnews.com/article/9603cd8d7461de30c1fe5c192b14c98c

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-velodrome-dhiver-vel-dhiv-roundup

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/photo/theophile-larue?parent=en%2F11768

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Happy Birthday Charles Aznavour-Not just a singer.

Charles Aznavour born Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian, on 22 May 1924, he was a French-Armenian singer, lyricist, actor and diplomat. Aznavour was known for his distinctive tenor voice:, clear and ringing in its upper reaches, with gravelly and profound low notes. In a career as a composer, singer and songwriter, spanning over 70 years, he recorded more than 1,200 songs interpreted in 9 languages. Moreover, he wrote or co-wrote more than 1,000 songs for himself and others. If that wasn’t enough there is a lot more to the man.

Aznavour was born at the clinic Tarnier at 89, rue d’Assas in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 6th arrondissement of Paris, into a family of artists living on rue Monsieur-le-Prince. His parents were Armenian immigrants Michael (Misha) Aznavourian was born in present-day Akhaltsikhe, Georgia,and his mother Knar Baghdasarian, was an Armenian Genocide survivor from Adapazarı (in present-day Sakarya, Turkey).His grandfather was a cook of Tsar Nicholas II. Charles’s father sang in restaurants in France before establishing a restaurant specialising in food from the Caucasus called Le Caucase. Charles’s parents introduced him to performing at an early age, and he dropped out of school at an early age , and took the stage name “Aznavour”.

His parents fled to France to escape the massacres that more than 20 countries have recognized as a genocide, a charge strongly denied by Turkey.

During the German occupation of France during World War II, Aznavour and his family hid a number of people who were persecuted by the Nazis, while Charles and his sister Aida were involved in rescue activities.

When the Resistance gained momentum in Nazi occupied Paris, the Germans got even more enraged and ruthless. Gestapo tightened its grip on searches and tortures day by day. It was under these conditions that Misha Aznavour, Charles Aznavour’s father, volunteered with the Armenian resistance with great risk to his own life and that of his family.

During an interview Charles once said : “Armenian peddlers, including my father, looked after the stalls of the Jews after they were arrested in the mass deportation of Parisian Jews [“the roundup”] in July 1942. So taking in and hiding Jews in our home during the war was a very natural thing for us to do: they were our neighbors and friends,” he adds. “We had a life together. We were there for them and they were there for us. We had to try to help them, just as it was natural for us to try and help the Armenians who were drafted into the German army and deserted.”

The two Aznavour children, Charles and Aida , who were 16 and 17 at the start of the German occupation in 1940, pitched in to help, not knowing then that they would go on offering shelter to strangers. But then a woman came to the family, asking them to hide her Jewish husband, whose name was Simon. He had escaped from the Drancy internment camp, where the Jews of Paris were sent before being sent to the concentration camps outside of France. For a while, the family also sheltered another Jew, and later on their apartment also served as a hideout for Armenians who’d deserted after being forcibly drafted into the Germany army. Charles and his sister Aida recall that at one stage there were 11 refugees who were all hiding in the family’s apartment simultaneously. They hid in different corners of the house, and at night had to sleep on the floor.

The family prepared false papers for them, and one of the tasks assigned to the two children was to burn the deserters’ German uniforms and dispose of them far from the house.

On October 26,2017 Charles and Aida were given the Raoul Wallenberg Medal , for their family’s efforts to protect Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis during World War II. They received the honor from President Reuven Rivlin, who spoke of his love of Aznavour’s music, saying “La Boheme” was his favorite song.

In 2011 Aznavour released a song with the title “J’ai connu”

“I knew the chains/I knew the wound/I knew the hate/I knew the hurt/ the thirst and hunger/I knew the fear/from one day to the next.”

The song is told from a perspective of a Jewish victim in the concentration camps.

Charles Aznavour died on 1 October 2018, aged 94. I think it is safe to say that he lived a full life.

While doing the research for this blog I was struggling to find a song to finish up with. I was torn between “She” and “Dance in the old fashioned way” I chose the latter.

sources

https://www.aish.com/ci/s/Charles-Aznavour-and-His-Family-Saved-Jews-during-the-Holocaust.html

https://en.aznavourfoundation.org/details-aznavours+in+wwii-222.html

https://www.timesofisrael.com/legendary-singer-aznavour-given-award-for-family-efforts-to-save-jews-in-wwii/

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/culture/.premium-aznavour-sings-praises-of-his-family-who-saved-jews-during-war-1.5381024

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Aznavour#Death_and_funeral

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Happy Birthday Marcel Marceau

I did do a blog on Marcel Marceau about 2 years ago but he would have been 97 today. Therefore I thought it to be appropriate to do another tribute to this silent Hero.

He survived the Nazi occupation, and saved many children in WWII. He was regarded for his peerless style pantomime, moving audiences without uttering a single word, and was known to the World as a “master of silence.”

Marcel Marceau was born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France, to a Jewish family. His father, Charles Mangel, was a kosher butcher originally from Będzin, Poland. His mother, Anne Werzberg, came from Yabluniv, present-day Ukraine.

At the beginning of the Second World War, he had to hide his Jewish origin and changed his name to Marceau, when his Jewish family was forced to flee their home. His father was deported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered in 1944. Both Marceau and his brother, Alain, were in the French resistance helping children to escape to safety in neutral Switzerland. Then Marceau served as interpreter for the Free French Forces under General Charles de Gaulle, acting as liaison officer with the allied armies.

He gave his first major performance to 3,000 troops after the liberation of Paris in August 1944.

In 1947 Marceau created the character Bip the Clown, whom he first played at the Théâtre de Poche (Pocket Theatre) in Paris. In his appearance he wore a striped pullover and a battered, be-flowered silk opera hat. The outfit signified life’s fragility and Bip became his alter ego.

He died on September 22,2007 . A silent Hero who should never beforgotten.

Source

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0545131/bio

The World War 2 hero who saved my sight.

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Just before Christmas 2011 I lost the sight in my right eye. The retina had become detached but after 2 operations the sight could not be saved, in fact my eye shrunk, dramatically  and I have now a glass shell with  an eye painted on it in front of the remainder of my eye.

In November 2014 the retina in my left eye also became detached, so I was facing going blind. I had to undergo an emergency operation in a Hospital in Cork which is 100 km away from my home in Limerick.

In Cork the consultant surgeon advised me he would be putting a scleral buckle in place to re-attach my retina and to save my eye and sight. The operation was a success this time and my eye was saved.

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The man who pioneered this technology was Dr Charles L. Schepens. He was born in Mouscron, Belgium, in 1912  He initially studied mathematics before graduating from medical school in 1935 at State University of Ghent in Belgium.In 1937 he served as assistant to Dr. L. Hambresin in Brussels.

In 1940, he was appointed as a Captain in the Medical Corps of the Belgian Air Force, where he served until the country was invaded by the Nazis in May 1940. He escaped to France and worked with the French and Belgian resistance,  In 1942, under the nom de guerre “Jacques Pérot,” he spearheaded a secret information and evacuation pipeline in the Pyrenees, under the cover of a country lumber mill near the village of Mendive. He was arrested several times by the Gestapo.

He was first arrested by the Gestapo in October 1940 while he still was in Belgium  on false accusations  of using a bus to transport Allied pilots out of Belgium. Although he was released 10 days later, this experience turned the previously apolitical doctor into an activist, and he allowed his office to be used as a post office for underground agents, arranging for the transfer of maps and such information as troop movement.

In 1942, a spy in Gestapo headquarters alerted him that he was about to be arrested, and he escaped to Paris.

In an of the mill  effort to find  an escape route to Spain, he and a group of fellow resistance members came across  an abandoned sawmill near the town of Mandive in the Pyrenees on the Spanish border.

One of the key features was a 12-mile-long cable-car system extending up the mountain and ending near the border.

Dr. Schepens, bought the mill in July 1942 with backing from a wealthy French patriot and had it in full operation by the end of the year. The site became a functioning lumber enterprise, taking orders, delivering wood and meeting a payroll. Not to cause any suspicion Dr. Schepens(aka Jacques Perot)  developed relationships with the occupying Germans, leading his Basque neighbors to think that he was a Nazi collaborator.

Men, mainly men he helped to escape, who did manual labor around the mill could secretly ride the cable-car system to the top of the mountain and slip into Spain, often with the assistance of a shepherd named Jean Sarochar.

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More than 100 Allied pilots, prisoners of war, Belgian government officials and others made their way out of France over the cable railway. The system also was used to move documents, currency, propaganda and other materials into and out of France.

Everything went according to plan until 1943: That year, a captured resistance agent exposed him. The Gestapo came for him a second time. He escaped before they could arrest him. He had told the Gestapo “it is now 10 o’clock. I have 150 workers idle, because they have not been given their orders this morning. Give me 10 minutes with them. I’ll give the orders and come back.”. He then just walked out.

He spent 16 days in the forest before reaching Spain and, eventually, England, where he resumed his medical career.

In the mean time the Nazis held Dr. Schepens wife and children as bait to lure him out of hiding. However eventually his wife and children  made their own daring escape, hiking through the mountains to reach Spain, and were reunited with Dr. Schepens nine months later in England.

After the war, Schepens resumed his medical career at Moorfields.In 1947, he immigrated to the United States and became a fellow at the Harvard Medical School.

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He became famous in the ophthalmic community for his work in creating the first binocular, stereoscopic indirect ophthalmoscope (1946) and in treating retinal detachment with an encircling scleral buckle (1953).

If the Gestapo had arrested him the second time, he more then likely would have been executed. Amazing to think of what could have happened to my eye in that case.

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Sources

https://eye.hms.harvard.edu/news/charles-schepens-featured-in-eyeworld

https://eye.hms.harvard.edu/charlesschepens

Washington Post

https://www.eyeworld.org/article-ophthalmologist-who-created-vitreoretinal-subspecialty-lived-double-life-as-wwii-resistance-fighter-and

https://www.aao.org/biographies-detail/charles-schepens-md

The brave words from a Mother to her Daughter.

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This story is both heartbreaking and uplifting. Heartbreaking because it is a story about a mother who knew she was going to die. Uplifting because her last words were so positive and courageous, despite the fate that awaited her.

Olga Bancic was born on May 10, 1912 to a large Jewish family living in the Bessarabia province when it was still part of the Russian Empire.

In 1936, she traveled to France, where she supported communist activists in transporting weapons to Spanish Republican forces fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Shortly before the outbreak of WWII she gave birth to her Daughter Dolores, the child’s father was Alexandru Jar. After the outbreak of the war Olga left Dolores in care with a French family. Olga joined a resistance group.

She was arrested on November 6, 1943 by the Gestapo, during the interrogation she was tortured.Despite the torture she refused  give information about her comrades.

On February 22,1944 Olga and 22 others were sentenced to death. All male defendants were executed later that day at Fort Mont-Valérien. Olga had been the only female defendant and due to a loophole in the French law which prevented women from being executed on French soil, Olga was deported to Stuttgart. She was executed in Stuttgart on May 10,1944 , her 32nd birthday. She was decapitated with an axe in the local prison’s courtyard.

One of her last deeds was throwing a letter out of a window during her transportation to her place of execution. The letter had a note attached to it saying.:

“Dear Madame: I ask you to please give this letter to my little girl Dolores Jacob after the war. This is the last wish of a mother who will only live twelve more hours.”

Miraculously the letter did reach Dolores, who had been given the name Dolores Jacob, the letter said the following:

“My dear little daughter, my darling little love

Your mother is writing the last letter, my dear little daughter; tomorrow at 6:00, on May 10, I will be no more.

Don’t cry, my love; your mother doesn’t cry any more either. I die with a peaceful conscience and with the firm conviction that tomorrow you will have a happier life and future than your mother’s. You will no longer have to suffer. Be proud of your mother, my little love. I always have your image before me.

I’m going to believe that you will see your father, and I have hope that he’ll meet a fate different from mine. Tell him that I always thought of him, as I always thought of you. I love you both with all my heart. Both of you are dear to me. My darling child, your father is, for you, also a mother. He loves you a lot. You won’t feel the loss of your mother. My darling child, I finish this letter with the hope that you will be happy all your life, with your father, with everyone.

I kiss you with all my heart, a lot a lot.

Farewell my love.

Your Mother”

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The Tulle Massacre- The hanging of 99

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What a sense of relief it must have been when the French people found out that the allied troops had finally arrived on June 6 1944. Unfortunately though D-Day wasn’t the end of the war it was only the start of the end and many innocent lives were still lost between that day and the end of WWII.

The citizens of the town of Tulle found out only 3 days after D-Day that the war was still raging in the most brutal way possible.

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After a successful attack by the French Resistance group Francs-tireur on 7 and 8 June 1944, the arrival of Das Reich troops forced the Maquis(French Resistance) to flee the city of Tulle (department of Corrèze) in south-central France.

Resistance operations in Tulle had been planned by the commander of the Maquis FTP of Corrèze, Jacques Chapou , aka Klébe

The offensive started on June 7 1944 at 5 AM with a Bazooka attack on the barracks of the security forces at Champ de Mars. This action  functioned as the signal to begin the attack.

The fighting centered  around three main areas: the armory, the gendarmerie barracks and the girls’ school, which housed German troops.

The focus the following day was on the girls’ school. the Resistance fighters  set fire to the school building around 3 PM.About 2 hours later , in circumstances that remain unclear and disputed, the Germans tried to leave, if one of them was waving a white cloth, others were carrying live grenades. In all the chaos, the Maquis opened fire with automatic weapons; some soldiers were cut down at close range, by exploding grenades, which would explain the injuries observed on the horribly mutilated corpses. An estimated  were killed.

When the 2nd SS Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ entered the town they found 40 dead bodies of the German 3rd Battalion/95th Security Regiment garrison troops near the school, their bodies badly mutilated.

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On 9 June 1944, after arresting all men between the ages of sixteen and sixty, the SS and members of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) ordered 120 of the prisoners to be hanged, of whom 99 were actually hanged.

Tulle

The citizens of Tulle had been warned by a text on a poster

“Forty German soldiers were murdered in the most horrible manner by a band of communists. For the guerillas and those who helped them, there is a punishment, execution by hanging. Forty German soldiers were murdered by the guerrillas, one hundred and twenty guerrillas and their accomplices will be hanged. Their bodies will be thrown in the river — Poster signed by the commanding General of the German troops.

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In the days that followed, 149 men were sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where 101 lost their lives. In total, the actions of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen-SS, and the SD claimed the lives of 213 civilian residents of Tulle.

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Source

Herodote.net

Back to Normandy

Armée Juive-The Jewish Army

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Many people have this misconception about the resistance of the Jews against the Nazi regime, many think they just gave up without a fight. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

There were many Jewish partisan groups and resistance fighters across Europe.

In this blog I will put the focus on the French Armée Juive, sinply because of the day it is in . On August  19 1944 they were significant in the uprising of the French resistance during the liberation of Paris.

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The Armee Juive means “Jewish Army”. It was a rebellion group who was inspired by their Jewish heritage to use physical resistance to rescue fellow brethren from camps, and launch attacks against the Germans.

The Jewish Army (Armée Juive), was founded in 1942. It was established and led by Abraham Polonski, Eugénie Polonski, Lucien Lublin,David Knout and Ariadna Scriabina(aka Sara Knout, daughter of the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin).

Sara_Knout_3

They continued armed resistance under a Zionist flag until liberation finally arrived. The Armée juive organised escape routes across the Pyrenées to Spain, and smuggled about 300 Jews out of the country during 1943–1944. They distributed millions of dollars from the American Joint Distribution Committee to relief organisations and fighting units within France. In 1944, the EIF and the Jewish Army combined to form the Organisation Juive de Combat (OJC). The OJC had four hundred members by the summer of 1944.

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Its members smuggled money from Switzerland into France to assist Jews in hiding, smuggled at least 500 Jews and non-Jews into neutral Spain,

RetrieveAsset

and took part in the 1944 uprisings against the Germans in Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse. “Solidarité,” a Jewish Communist unit, also carried out attacks on German personnel in Paris. Many Jews joined the general French resistance as well.

In 1944, a consolidated Jewish partisan force known as the Organization Juive de Combat (Jewish Fighting Organization) or OJC, cooperated in an campaign against the retreating German army, and participated in the liberation of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Grenoble and Nice. The OJC’s greatest success was the capture of a German train loaded with soldiers, food, weapons and ammunition. The Jewish partisans, all wearing Star of David armbands, triumphantly informed the terrified German prisoners, “Ich bin Jude (I am a Jew).”

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Chanson d’automne- a coded message

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Chanson d’automne” (“Autumn Song”) is a poem by Paul Verlaine, one of the best known in the French language. It is included in Verlaine’s first collection, Poèmes saturniens, published in 1866 (see 1866 in poetry). The poem forms part of the “Paysages tristes” (“Sad landscapes”) section of the collection.

 

In World War II lines from the poem were used to send messages to the French Resistance about the timing of the forthcoming Invasion of Normandy.

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In preparation for Operation Overlord, the BBC had signaled to the French Resistance that the opening lines of the 1866 Verlaine poem “Chanson d’Automne” were to indicate the start of D-Day operations. The first three lines of the poem, “Les sanglots longs / des violons / de l’automne” (“Long sobs of autumn violins”), meant that Operation Overlord was to start within two weeks.

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These lines were broadcast on 1 June 1944. The next set of lines, “Blessent mon coeur / d’une langueur / monotone” (“wound my heart with a monotonous languor”), meant that it would start within 48 hours and that the resistance should begin sabotage operations especially on the French railroad system; these lines were broadcast on 5 June at 23:15.

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Two men-One name-Two fates

What’s in a name? Usually not much really but sometimes it can be everything. It can even be the difference of life and death.

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In this case the name Jean Stephan, both men were members of the French resistance but their lives had completely different outcomes.

Jean Stéphan was  a French resistant born October 28, 1912 in Rennes and shot on April 13, 1942 at Mont Valérien

During  the German  occupation, he became involved in the Resistance. He joined the Secret Organization (OS) French Francs-tireurs and partisans and took part in the local organization of the National Front, he was put in charge of a sector including Neuilly-Plaisance, Noisy-le-Grand and Gagny. They carried out various acts of sabotage (fire of enemy equipment at Gonesse and Vincennes in 1941, etc.).

On March 21, 1942, he was arrested, as he left the Ville-Évrard hospital where he worked as a nurse, and discovered leaflets of Resistance.

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He was then handed over to the Gestapo and shot a few days later at Mont Valérien.
Mont-Valerien 2011 © Jacques ROBERT
Jean Francois Marie Stephan, born 27 December 1916.
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Another member of the French resistance ,who had been with the Parisien Police, he was stripped from his rank in the Police because of his involvement with the resistance. However he eluded capture by the Germans and Vichy authorities.

The poster above is his “wanted” posted.He was  a member of the resistance in le Maquis du Vercors

He had a very high  place in the resistance because of the position he’d held with the Police. His resistance code name was “Daniel” he is mentioned in the book “Le Soufflet de Forge”
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He survived the war and  he was re-instated to  the french police and nearly got a far as commissioner.he was stationed at 36 Quai des orfèvres in Paris .
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He lived to tell the tale,until the age of 80

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Sister Maria Restituta Kafka and Sister Élise Rivet-Defiant WWII Heroes

 

Sr Maria Restituta Kafka:

Born on 1 May 1894 [at Hussowitz bei Bruenn in the Austria-Hungary Empire, today] Brno-Husovice, in modern day Czech Republic, of humble background, Helene Kafka grew up in the Austrian capital where she worked in the Lainz hospital with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. In 1914 she entered the convent and received the name Maria Restituta. From 1919 until 1942 she served in the hospital in Moedling, Vienna, where she became a surgical nurse and an anaesthetist, esteemed for her professional competence, beloved for her sensitivity and respected for her energetic character, so much that she soon earned the nickname ‘Sister Resoluta’.

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After Germany annexed Austria, the religious worked for justice and the dignity of every human being. Faced with the anti-religious suppression of the Nazis, she responded by reaffirming religious freedom and by refusing to remove the crucifixes in the hospital. She also countered Hitler’s swastika with the Cross of Christ. She also spread ‘A soldier’s song’ that spoke of democracy, peace, and a free Austria. Spied on by two ladies, she was denounced by a doctor close to the SS, who for some time sought an opportunity to distance her from the hospital

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A Viennese cannot keep her mouth shut, she said. When a new hospital wing was constructed, Kafka kept to traditional Catholic practice and hung a crucifix in every room.

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The Nazi authorities demanded that the crosses be taken down, threatening her dismissal, but she refused.The crucifixes were not removed, nor was Kafka, since the Franciscan community said that they could not replace her.

Kafka continued in her vocal criticism of the Nazi government and several years later was denounced by a doctor who strongly supported the regime. On Ash Wednesday 1942 (18 February of that year), while coming out of the operating theater, Kafka was arrested by the Gestapo and accused, not only of hanging the crucifixes, but also of having dictated a poem mocking Hitler.On 29 October 1942 she was sentenced to death by the guillotine by the Volksgerichtshof for “favouring the enemy and conspiracy to commit high treason”. The authorities offered to release her if she would leave the convent, but she refused.

When a request for clemency reached the desk of Martin Bormann, head of the Nazi Party Chancellery.

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He replied that her execution would provide “effective intimidation” for others who might want to resist the Nazis.Kafka spent the rest of her days in prison, where she was noted for caring for other prisoners. During this period, she wrote in a letter from the prison:

It does not matter how far we are separated from everything, no matter what is taken from us: the faith that we carry in our hearts is something no one can take from us. In this way we build an altar in our own hearts.

Kafa was sent to the guillotine on 30 March 1943.She was 48 years old.

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On 21 June 1998, on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Vienna, Kafka was beatified by him. She was the first female martyr of Vienna.

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Kafka, the only Religious Sister to be formally condemned to death under the Nazi regime, was commemorated in Rome on the evening of 4 March 2013, in the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola on Tiber Island, with a liturgy of the word at which Cardinal Christoph Schönborn presided.

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During the service, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity gave to basilica a small cross which Kakfa had worn on the belt of her religious habit. The relic was placed in the chapel there which remembers the martyrs of Nationalist Socialism

Élise Rivet (January 19, 1890, Draria, Algeria – March 30, 1945, Ravensbrück concentration camp, Germany) was a Roman Catholic and World War II heroine

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The daughter of a French naval officer, she joined the convent of the medical sisters of “Notre Dame de Compassion” in Lyon. In 1933 she became “Mère Marie Élisabeth de l’Eucharistie”, the convent’s Mother Superior. After the fall of the French Third Republic to Nazi Germany in World War II, she began hiding refugees from the Gestapo[citation needed] and eventually used her convent to store weapons and ammunition for the Mouvements Unis de Résistance (MUR).

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On March 24, 1944 she and her assistant were arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the prison at Fort Montluc in Lyon.

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From there she was taken to Romainville before being shipped to Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin, Germany. There, stripped of her religious garments, she was forced into hard labor. With the end of the War in sight, the Germans began a massive amount of killings by gas chamber, including Mother Élise, on March 30, 1945, only weeks before the war ended. Rivet volunteered to go to the gas chamber  in place of a mother only weeks before Germany surrendered unconditionally.[She was 55 years old.

In 1961, the government of France honored her with her portrait on a postage stamp and a street bearing her name in Brignais (Lyon) was inaugurated on December 2, 1979.

 

In 1997, she was posthumously awarded the Médaille des Justes and in 1999 the “Salle Élise Rivet” was named for her at the Institut des Sciences de l’Homme in Lyon.

 

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I am passionate about my site and I know a you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

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