Author: Siân Rees
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Siân Rees with his Lucie Aubrac: The French Resistance Heroine Who Outwitted the Gestapo has authored the first English-language biography of this amazing underground operative who managed to outwit the Gestapo and succeeded in freeing her husband, Raymond, from imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis. Aubrac was one of the legendary heroines of the French resistance during World War ll whose story was even made into a romantic film.
Aubrac was born in Mâcon on June 29 1912 and died March 14 2007. She was a Catholic married to Raymond Samuel, a Jew, whom she met in Strasbourg in December 1939. As we learn, Raymond Samuel later became known as Raymond Aubrac, as he had to change his surname due to open anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews during the Nazi occupation of France.
She was determined to become a university graduate and history teacher notwithstanding the many challenges she faced including extreme poverty. She achieved her ambition and graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris in 1938 enabling her to teach history and geography in the lycée.
Her first position as a teacher was in Strasbourg and a few months before her arrival, Germany had annexed Austria without any resistance from Britain, France, USA and Russia. It was in 1939 when a friend of Lucy's introduced her to Raymond and her life changed abruptly.
Like Lucie, Raymond had combined his studies in Paris with left-wing militancy, although he had been more discreet than Lucie. The marriage between Lucie and Raymond lasted over sixty-eight years and they loved each other passionately, to the extent that either would have given his or her life for the other. As Rees mentions: “Lucie and Raymond Samuel were an indivisible couple from the moment of their marriage, and to tell the life of one after December 1939 is also to tell the life of the other.”
When France was defeated in 1940, Lucie was a teacher in the unoccupied zone in Lyon. It was at this time that she met Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie, who was hoping to organize resistance to the German occupation. Out of these encounters the first resistance groups were formed and Lucie and Raymond became founding leaders of d'Astier's organization, Libération-Sud, which was to become one of the most important resistance movements in France.
It should be pointed out and as more thoroughly described in the book, there were many women involved in the resistance, but relatively few occupied such a prominent position as Lucie. This in itself had marked her as an exceptional resistance fighter. Her role was not only to distribute the underground newspaper Libération but also served as a courier, arms carrier and saboteur. And more remarkably, she was very instrumental in helping Raymond, and other escape imprisonment. No small feat! In fact, during the first years of the war, Lucie and Raymond continued their professional careers, she as a teacher, he as an engineer, while at the same time living double lives under various pseudonyms.
Lucie's first child, Jean-Pierre was born in 1941 and thus she was living a triple existence, teacher, mother and resistance fighter. In a previous memoir, Lucie wrote: “being the mother of a baby was an excellent cover to divert suspicion from the Germans, and at one meeting between her husband and General de Gaulle's envoy, Jean Moulin, in a Lyon public garden, her presence with her baby boy proved particularly useful.”
For many years after the war, Lucie and Raymond were revered in France, but this nearly ended in 1983, when the couple found themselves accused of secretly aiding the enemy. It is possible that the fact that they remained communist sympathizers long after the end of the war may have had something to do with the controversy and conspiracy theories concerning their activities. What is more astonishing is that as late as 1997 there still remained various factions that were bent on discrediting Lucie and Raymond by blaming them for the betrayal of Jean Moulin to the Gestapo.
As mentioned in the press release I received along with the book, “The book draws from letters, newspaper articles and other archival materials as well as several interviews to detail not only Lucie and her husband's wartime endeavors but also their near fall from grace, when, late in his life Barbie accused them of becoming Nazi informers in 1943.”
In the end, what we have is a poignant narrative describing a brave and resourceful woman who went to extraordinary lengths for love and country.