Authors: Francelle Bradford White
How One Young Woman
Outwitted the Nazis
FRANCELLE BRADFORD WHITE
The majority of the material in this book is drawn from a variety of sources, including AndrÃ©e's diaries and notebooks, a recorded interview from 1996, written sources such as memoirs and a history of the Orion Group, and other published works. Some is based on conversations the author had with her mother, AndrÃ©e Griotteray, and with other members of Orion, including her uncle, Alain Griotteray. Occasionally, to fill an unavoidable gap in the narrative, the author has had to rely on supposition, supported by the evidence gleaned elsewhere.
hen my mother, AndrÃ©e, began to show the initial signs of the disease generally known as Alzheimer's, I was not sure how to cope with my emotions. At some stage in the past I had been told that when you are upset it can help to express your feelings on paper, so I decided to write about her. AndrÃ©e has done many interesting, wonderful things throughout her lifetime but it was what she did during the Second World War that had always caught my imagination.
In 1945 AndrÃ©e was given the MÃ©daille de la RÃ©sistance. She was also awarded the Croix de guerre, with a citation personally made out in the name of âle GÃ©nÃ©ral' (Head of the Provisional French Government) â an honour not given to all recipients. How could a woman who had shown such courage, intuition and energy (and who remained, into her seventies, so attractive, beautifully dressed and resourceful) fall prey to such a devastating and cruel disease? When she first became ill she was still at the helm of a family business with headquarters in London and subsidiaries in Paris and New York.
As my brother and I fought to cope with her prognosis, I filed my writing away and moved on to deal with the consequences of an illness we still know so little about.
In 2008, AndrÃ©e's brother and my uncle, Alain Griotteray, died aged eighty-five. In 2001 Alain had been made a Grand Officier de la LÃ©gion d'honneur by the then president, Jacques Chirac â an award held only by a limited number of Frenchmen and women at any one time. The address at his funeral, which was attended by several members of the French government, described Alain's contribution to French politics during the twentieth century before focusing on his role, at eighteen years of age, as one of the
youngest leaders of a French Resistance group. As we returned to London after the funeral, I thought to myself that their story deserved a wider audience. Much has been written in French about Alain and AndrÃ©e and their Resistance colleagues, but I knew only too well that most of AndrÃ©e's six grandchildren and their descendants were unlikely to read anything about their grandmother unless it was in English. Besides, AndrÃ©e herself loved Britain and the English language from a young age, as did her mother before her: the strong links that Yvonne established in England are still evident one hundred years later. AndrÃ©e ultimately married an Englishman and raised her own family in England (always speaking English with them); it was right that her adoptive country should know a little more about her. Nine months later, I returned to Paris to begin to research the story you are about to read.
But where to start? I am not a writer nor a historian, let alone an academic. I began by walking the streets of Paris, following in AndrÃ©e's footsteps when she lived and worked there during the war. I took the
, the bus and cycled, as AndrÃ©e did to her job at the PrÃ©fecture de Police (Police Headquarters), where she worked under the supervision of members of the Wehrmacht. I visited the police archives and discovered
Les policiers franÃ§ais sous l'Occupation
, a book by Professor Jean-Marc BerliÃ¨re, who was, I believe, the first person to write in detail about the involvement of the Parisian police in the pogrom of approximately 13,000 Jews on 16/17 July 1942, and about which I knew very little. Jean-Marc had worked obstinately for several years to force the police and the Ministry of the Interior to open their archives. I visited the MusÃ©e Jean Moulin, the MusÃ©e des Invalides and the Jewish Museum; with my son I searched the archives of the Ministry of Defence at the ChÃ¢teau de Vincennes to find the files held on the Orion Resistance Group, as Alain named his Resistance network. My story â their story â was beginning to take shape. I wrote down everything I could remember my mother telling me about what she did during the war. I spoke to relatives, including my uncle, Bernard Leclair. I had a long interview with FranÃ§ois Clerc, deputy leader of the Orion Group and one of Alain's closest friends (and who had known me since I was a baby), and I continued to walk, passing the landmarks AndrÃ©e would have passed â the
HÃ´tel Meurice (headquarters of the military during the war); the Palais du Luxembourg, where the Luftwaffe were based; the Champs-ÃlysÃ©es, down which the Wehrmacht marched every day for four years. These landmarks were all within a few minutes' walk from where AndrÃ©e and her entire family had lived. I thought about what had happened on the streets of Paris during those dark years and then, to cheer myself up, I imagined the city on the day of its liberation, which AndrÃ©e had so often described and about which I was also able to talk with my eighty-seven-year-old friend, Jeanine Louveau.
My brother was vaguely aware of what I was doing and, on my return, he said, âYou had better have these.' In a paper bag were ten journals written by AndrÃ©e between 1934 and 1947. In them AndrÃ©e had described her thoughts about the invasion and the occupation of Paris, along with a record of daily life, her work at Police Headquarters, her friends and boyfriends. There were also several little black notebooks containing notes of appointments, reservations, train times and destinations; these were a vital source of information about AndrÃ©e's travels around France on behalf of the Resistance, especially after the Normandy landings in June 1944 when she seemed to be constantly on the move. Despite the brevity of the information, it was surprising to find she had put so much on record, given the dangers implicit in doing so.
Much of the information in the diaries, by contrast, was written in code â nothing that a professional code breaker could not have translated, but indicative that AndrÃ©e was conscious of the need for caution. As the diaries went on, and especially after the landings, the entries became increasingly emotionally charged and harder to follow, with dates jumping around and entries appearing out of order. Some pages had been torn out. AndrÃ©e was working extremely hard at this time, travelling frequently on a rail network that was being bombed regularly. She was under pressure to get the material she carried safely to its destination before travelling back to work in Paris, but the trains were hugely unreliable, not to mention dangerous.
Despite being bilingual, translating her diaries and notebooks has not been easy. AndrÃ©e spoke very good English but she always wrote in French, and I have found that often she would describe or talk about something in a way in which a native English speaker would never have done, which
has been a challenge. I wanted to capture her voice, including the phrases and idioms I remember her using. My brother also gave me the letters our father wrote to AndrÃ©e between 1945 and 1947, and while I am confident these were kept for us to see, I have tried to ensure that the more personal entries will be kept within our family.
On my next research trip to France I flew to Biarritz, hired a car and drove to Orion, where I stayed at the ChÃ¢teau d'Orion, which had been the headquarters of the Orion Group. I was warmly welcomed by the chÃ¢teau's present owner, Frau Elke Jeanrond-Premauer from Munich, and I met Marguerite LabbÃ©, widow of Jean LabbÃ© and daughter-in-law of Madame LabbÃ©, the chÃ¢telaine during the war years. She told me many stories about what happened during the 1940s and I also spent some time with the mayor of the tiny hamlet, who had helped to arrange a large memorial service and commemoration for the members of the Orion Group in September 1985. More than 1,000 people attended, including Jacques Chaban-Delmas, a former prime minister of France, and Jacques Soustelle, head of the French intelligence services in Algeria during part of the Second World War, plus several leading members of the French Resistance movement. All were there to pay tribute to the importance of the chÃ¢teau to the Orion Group and France's wider Resistance story.
I learnt about the âroutes d'Ã©vasion', the escape routes through the Pyrenees for Frenchmen wanting to fight against the Nazis, and about the inhumane holding camps on both the French and Spanish sides of the mountains. On one side the French held Spaniards escaping Franco's Spain, while on the other the Spaniards held Frenchmen escaping Hitler's occupation. It was a beautiful place, despite the horrors of the past, and as I soaked up the stunning Basque countryside I thought about what it must have been like, back then.
To help fill the many gaps in my growing knowledge of the period, I turned to Alain Gandy's book,
La jeunesse et la RÃ©sistance: rÃ©seau Orion, 1940â 1944
, published in 1992 and written with the help of several Orion members. It has been my âbible'; without it I would not have been able to piece the whole story together and I am very grateful to the author. Similarly, two
of Alain Griotteray's books,
Qui Ã©taient les premiers rÃ©sistants?
, gave me a huge amount of information about the period.
Further gaps were filled by Yves de Kermoal, an Orion member who, along with his wife Patricia, invited my husband and me to stay with them at the Domaine de Rateau, from where we visited the station in Bordeaux where AndrÃ©e had been arrested.
To the best of my knowledge and my ability, everything in this book is based on fact, although when dealing with wartime intelligence one can never be entirely certain of everything, nor always understand the way in which something has been recorded. The events described took place over seventy years ago (and several of the key accounts I've relied on were only recorded many years after the fact); they have been described in different ways by different authors, sometimes with different dates recorded. In a book recently published by the Service Historique de la DÃ©fense,
Les rÃ©seaux de rÃ©sistance de la France combattante
(The Resistance Groups of the Free French), AndrÃ©e is described in the Ministry of Defence records as having been a P2 agent; an agent working solely for the Free French and in no paid employment between 1942 and 1944. Her title was recorded as Chef de Liaison (chief liaison officer). Yet she was clearly also working at Police Headquarters from October 1940 until December 1944, according to both their official records and her diaries. Why the discrepancy? There may not be an explanation for everything.