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  1. In Memory of LAJ_FETT: Please share your remembrances and condolences HERE

Story [The Longest Day] Radio Londres | Kessel Run Challenge 2024

Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Chyntuck, Jan 8, 2024.

  1. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Week 4 prompt: Write a story between 100 and 1,000 words from the perspective of an inanimate object.
    Characters: Mr. Bonneville’s hunting rifle
    Genre: Humour? Fluff? Children’s tale? All of the above?
    Word count: 754
    Notes: I went pretty much all-out on the communists last week, so for this week I thought I’d create an OC that belongs to the French landed gentry.

    ------------------------------------------

    J’aime les chats siamois

    Condé-sur-Iton, Normandy, 5 June 1944

    Mr. Bonneville’s hunting rifle felt neglected.

    In the past, it had seen daily use. Every morning, Mr. Bonneville took it, wiped it, inspected it and slung it over his shoulder. He always kept it close as he strolled through his estate; sometimes he hunted small fowl with it. Then he brought it back to the château and cleaned it again before putting it away until the next morning.

    But then, a day came when Mr. Bonneville did the strangest thing. He pulled up a stool, stood on it and placed the rifle carefully atop the dining room’s antique dresser. He made sure that it wasn’t visible from below, and he apparently forgot about it.

    That was four years ago.

    What made things worse – humiliating even – was that, from its hiding place, the rifle had a panoramic view of the dining room below, and it could see that everything else was used and cared for. The housekeeper made sure that the surfaces were spotless, that the silverware was polished, that the china on display was neat and sparkling. She ironed and folded the tablecloths and the napkins carefully, she swept the room, and she checked regularly that the windows were squeaky clean. She even washed the Siamese cat’s bowl on a daily basis. As far as the rifle could tell, every object in the dining room and, indeed, in the château, continued its normal existence – every object but the rifle itself.

    For a moment the rifle had thought that the radio set would be its companion in misfortune. On the same day Mr. Bonneville had dumped the rifle on top of the dresser, he had unceremoniously shoved the radio set in the back of one of the cupboards, and for quite a long time, he didn’t bring it out. But then, something changed. Mr. Bonneville started entertaining more and more people in the dining room, only they weren’t invited for one of the exquisite three-course meals that the cook prepared. Instead, they always came when the cook and the housekeeper had retired for the evening, and they sat at the table and covered it with maps and papers, and they talked for hours. After a while, they began to bring out the radio set every night. They gathered around it and listened to it religiously, and after they were done listening they put it back in the cupboard. Sometimes they appeared to be excited, sometimes they were disappointed – but in the end, it was the same scene that repeated itself night after night after night.

    And that went on for four whole years, during which the only visitor the rifle had up top on the dresser was Mr. Bonneville’s Siamese cat, who liked to climb on the furniture despite the housekeeper’s reprimands. The rifle didn’t mind the cat’s visits, to be honest – sure, the little furball always shed a few hairs when he came up here, but his tail also swept away some of the dust, and, quite frankly, the rifle was beginning to suffocate under four years’ worth of dust. More importantly, the cat liked to hunt spiders, and in this forsaken place of exile there were spiders that had the most unpleasant habit of weaving their webs around the rifle’s butt or worse, inside its barrel.

    The rifle had somewhat resigned itself to its fate until, in the evening of 5 June 1944, Mr. Bonneville and his guests reacted very differently to the radio broadcast. They had been listening to the same show they always did – a series of non-sequiturs that held no interest whatsoever, in the rifle’s humble opinion – but when the speaker uttered the words “I like Siamese cats,” the little assembly in the dining room burst out in loud cheers. For a moment the rifle thought that the sentence was in praise of its friend that swept dust off the top of the dresser with his fluffy tail, but it soon understood that something was afoot. Mr. Bonneville’s friends took a last look at the maps, exchanged a few words and began to put everything away – and Mr. Bonneville pulled up the stool, stood on it and brought the rifle out of its hiding place. He wiped it clean of the caked dust and the spider webs; he inspected it, as he used to do in those happier times of the past; he inserted bullets in the magazine and he polished it tenderly. “This is your day,” he whispered. “At long last, you’re going to see action against the Krauts.”

    ----------------------------------------

    Endnotes
    I don’t have much in terms of endnotes this week, I hope you guys and gals aren’t disappointed! Condé-sur-Iton is a tiny village in Normandy that I had the opportunity to visit once, a long, long time ago; it’s very much a nowhere place but it has a lovely château, and, well, it’s in Normandy so it fit for this story. The sentence “I like Siamese cats” is, once again, a legit Radio-Londres message from 5 June 1944, although (AFAIK) nobody remembers what it meant or who it was intended for. As for the decision to have wealthy OC Mr. Bonneville participating in the Resistance, it wasn’t an entirely random choice. While the French Resistance was by no means a mass movement, it did include a remarkable cross-section of French society, from the wealthiest, most conservative elite to the most humble casual labourer. In Jean-Pierre Melville’s movie Army of Shadows (a highly recommended watch, but make sure you have something to cheer you up afterwards), there is one such character who explains in great detail how he actually belonged to royalist, far-right political circles before the war but came to appreciate the benefits of the Republic once under Nazi occupation.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2024
  2. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    The viewpoint of a rifle. This is a great way to show how the French resistance met. Hiding your radio and taking it out to listen to London was something my uncles did too.
     
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  3. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The (FavoriteTM) Fanfic Mod With the Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    These two entries have continued to been awesome. :cool:


    Sabotage

    This was such a creative answer to the prompt! And I love that each drabble - much like the rebel cells themselves - formed a small part of a larger whole, until, together, these little bits of sabotage each targeted a vital part of the German war machine and brought it grinding to a halt.

    Having each drabble be named after the coded phrase that sent them into action was a great touch, too. =D=

    I like how this brought home the stakes of everything these men and women were risking - and far too many paid that ultimate price for the strength of their belief in what they were doing.=((

    [​IMG]

    I would love to see more Colonel Fabien if you are so inspired. [face_mischief]

    This is, hands down, my favorite message so far. [face_laugh]

    Excellent use of the prompt Horizon! This was just so tangible!

    I could feel this smile too - well earned as it is in its entirety. :cool:

    I love how this played against the audio components of Radio Londres itself! :D

    Oh, yikes! That is the danger of coded messages, isn't it? =((



    J’aime les chats siamois

    This was an A+ choice of POV! I really felt for Rifle - to have gone from a place of honor, as an item of daily use, to neglect is no small thing. =((

    Poor Rifle. =(( (Why yes - yes, that's what I just typed. The KR is a first for many things. :p)

    I really appreciated the juxtaposition of Rifle being hidden away and left to gather dust while the rest of the dining room is still kept spotless and tidy. This does very much feel like something a rifle would notice - especially as one of its habits with Mr. Bonneville was to be cleaned and polished at the end of each outing.

    [​IMG]

    (Is 100% what went through my head reading this. :p)

    The cat! This was a great inclusion - especially the details about the dust and the spiders and the hairs - and I enjoyed every word of this paragraph in particular.

    THE SIAMESE CAT!

    Aw, yeah. :cool: I am just so happy for Rifle, and his impending moment of glory. [face_love]



    Thank you so much for sharing these stories with us! I can't wait to see what you're inspired to write next. [face_mischief] [face_love] =D=


    [:D]
     
  4. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    What a unique focus for this week's prompt. I like the contrast between the happier times and the time of neglect. "I like Siamese cats", an innocuous phrase that seems to refer to the household pet [face_laugh] but actually holds a welcome meaning which incidentally opens the way for the rifle to be useful again.
     
  5. amidalachick

    amidalachick Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Aug 3, 2003
    I know this is quoting a lot, but there's so much here. First, the rifle as your POV! :D I'm so impressed, and absolutely loving, how creative these 'inanimate object' responses are. But it also seems to me that this is an example of how war can touch and disrupt people's lives, even in these small ways, even if they're not on the front lines.

    Sneaky Siamese cats! :p

    *shudders*

    There was something so joyful about this last paragraph! Obviously as a reader we know the context of the war and the atrocities happening, but it's a happy moment for the rifle. And that made me so happy to read (I hope this makes sense, I feel like I can't properly express what I'm trying to say, but if nothing else I want to make it clear that I really liked it!)! [face_love]

    An absolutely amazing response, once again, and I can't wait for more!
     
  6. JediMaster_Jen

    JediMaster_Jen Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 3, 2002
    Les Français parlent aux Français

    Wonderful use of the prompt to set the scene for us. :)

    You blend historical fact with fiction beautifully here. I don't know either how the messages were ferried, but I can well picture this being completely accurate. =D=

    Sometimes all you need are things like faith and pride and hope to sustain you through the long night that is war. Beautifully stated here. :)

    I read this and I find myself wondering if he did indeed find out after the war. :)

    Side note: If you and your nephew are looking for more WWII stories and such, particularly those related to coded messages, might I suggest taking a look at the Navajo Code Talkers. They were a group of about 400 Native American US Marines who used their Navajo language as an unbreakable code for the United States in the Pacific Theatre. It's a fascinating story, and not only were they utilized in WWII, but the first code talkers were used was back in 1918 during WWI.


    Le bracelet ajoute à votre charme



    The magical rationale of a child. :D

    What a wonderous surprise for the family, to learn that Julien and Tristan made it safely to London. =D=


    Sabotage

    Absolutely beautifully crafted drabbles. Each one stand son it's own and together they give us a seamless narrative. =D= I love that you expanded it to seven to create the entire story. I adore historical fiction and you are creating a masterpiece of this topic. Well done! =D=


    J’aime les chats siamois

    Excellent response to the prompt! The most creative POV of an inanimate object yet. =D=


    I am fascinated to see what you gift us with as a response next week. So far, this has been an amazing read with loads of information and the best blend of fact and fiction I have read. :D

     
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  7. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you all for reading and reviewing! I managed to write my week 5 fic, and not a moment too early, since we're having a big family weekend and I won't have time to focus on writing in the coming days. But before I post it, a few replies!

    @earlybird-obi-wan Thank you! My understanding is that most people hid their radio sets for fear of having them confiscated or worse, of being accused of listening to Radio Londres (or, in the case of your uncles, Radio Oranje). My parents also did it during the dictatorship here, although by then the sets were smaller and portable, so putting them away was considerably easier.

    @Mira_Jade Thank you so much for the detailed review!
    Thanks! As I said, I challenged myself to write proper, self-contained drabbles this year, but I still needed to have an overarching theme. I just don't know how people manage to write a collection of entirely unrelated drabbles, I wouldn't even know where to start. I hadn't thought of it before the KR, but when I looked back at my list of embryonic story ideas, the sabotage operations just made sense.
    The Maquis Bir-Hakeim were truly the most audacious maquis; you wouldn't believe the operations they conducted. Movies, what movies? Reality is so much more exciting than fiction in their case, but of course, there are no happy ends in reality.
    [face_laugh] Let me guess, you took the metro in Paris! Colonel Fabien was quite a character, wasn't he? I find it kind of hilarious that, in his very first attack, he picked his target on the basis of how flashy his uniform was. He assumed that Moser must have been really important when he was just a midshipman. We'll see what the prompts are in the coming weeks; I may write more about him, just for fun.
    There's an even better one that I'm saving in case a particularly humorous prompt comes along. Not telling quite yet, but I'll disclose it at the end of the KR if I don't get to use it.
    Oh, I think the Spanish republicans who were in the Resistance were doubly happy to hit the Nazis whenever they could!
    The tables turned, right? It must have been very satisfying.
    This is indeed one of the reasons why the Maquis du Vercors overreached so badly when they got word of the Normandy landings – they grossly overestimated what their role would be and what kind of support they would and could receive when the focus of the Allies was on securing the landing beaches and progressing away from the shores of the English Channel. I can't get into details here without writing a dissertation, but there were also political conflicts, both among the leadership of the maquis and among the Free French in London, that didn't help at all. But the bottom line remains that they grossly miscalculated what they should do, and it ended in a carnage :(
    Before I get to a more detailed reply, I just want to let you know how much this made me laugh [face_laugh]
    I am so glad that you thought of this, because it's really the vibe I was going for! When I saw the prompt I was reminded of a collection of children's stories by Marcel Aymé published under the title Le passe-murailles ("the man who walked through walls"; sadly it doesn't appear to have every been translated in English). Most of the stories describe the difficulties of life under the occupation, and many of them are fantastical and told through unexpected points of view. There's one in particular I really like in which the Nazis occupiers decide to ration time, of all things – so useful people get to live 30 days a month, whereas useless people such as the elderly only get a week, but then there's a black market of time ration tickets and it all goes to the dogs. I wasn't able to get my hands on the book to re-read it before writing this story (because my bookcase is a mess) but I tried to convey that atmosphere of a children's tale that deals with a serious issue.
    This is where I have to clarify (for the sake of historical accuracy) that the content of the Radio Londres messages was usually completely unrelated to anything in the life of the people who were supposed to receive them, but it doesn't make for very good storytelling :p (A notable exception is "the Alpine chamois leaps" for the Maquis du Vercors mentioned above; the chamois was the symbol of this particular maquis.)
    [face_laugh] As you said, we get to write strange things during the KR. The historians of the future are going to have a hard time figuring it out.

    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Thank you! As I said in my reply to Mira above, the message would normally be even more innocuous and unrelated to anything in the recipient's life, but storywise this worked better :D And now I'm kind of tempted to imagine Mr. Bonneville going out in the night to take out Nazis with his old-fashioned hunting rifle [face_laugh]

    @amidalachick Thanks for the detailed review!
    Thanks again! I also loved the inanimate object entries, they were all so creative. And yes, I also had this disruption in mind. Before the war, a member of the landed gentry wouldn't even really have thought of a hunting rifle as a weapon; it was something they used against clay pigeons or maybe ducks, but suddenly with the occupation having one was forbidden, listening to the radio was something that could land you in prison, etc, etc. All sorts of activities that were previously "normal" were now "controlled", and that's the hallmark of dictatorships.
    Agreed! I just don't want to think of it too much!
    Oh, I completely understand you. I mean, I'm not a bloodthirsty person myself, but I really hate Nazis and I can't think of any circumstances where shooting them isn't the right thing to do, so when I think of D-Day, I always think of it as a happy moment, even though I know that it was a day of tragedy and loss for a great many people.

    @JediMaster_Jen Thank you and welcome to this thread [:D]
    This is a wonderful compliment, thank you! I find writing historical fiction difficult, because it's not easy to ensure a degree of verisimilitude to fictional facts; I'm glad that this worked for you.
    I'm pretty sure he found out the next morning :p After all, it was the message that announced that the invasion was afoot.
    This is definitely something I want to learn more about! Seldes_Katne also mentioned it, and it seems so interesting. Sadly the Wikipedia article is exceedingly short, but I found a few interesting references that I'm going to order. I just hope my nephew doesn't shift his attention to the Pacific Theatre too soon, because I don't know much about it, and I need to read up before he starts asking questions!
    I know, right? This is so totally something my daughter would say.
    I may have mentioned this already in a reply up-thread, but letting people know that someone had arrived in London was an important function of the BBC messages. Of course, that happened only if the person was connected to a resistance group, but for the sake of this story we're going to assume that Uncle Tristan was a figure of some importance of the Resistance. He's actually a character I'm hoping to bring back before the KR is over if the prompts help :)
    Thank you so much!

    And now (drumroll), time for week 5. We're shifting gears for this prompt, I hope you'll all like it.
     
  8. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Week 5 prompt: Write an AU (alternate universe) story of at least 500 words in which your narrator has amnesia, using this picture as inspiration.
    [​IMG]
    Characters: Jean Cavaillès, OCs
    Genre: Drama, action
    Word count: 1970
    Notes: I was very concerned about how I’d write the AU prompt for this challenge, because there are a great many World War II AUs that I wouldn’t be willing to write. However, this particular prompt allowed me to do something I wish were possible: to bring back to life Jean Cavaillès, a philosopher and epistemologist who was one of the greatest minds of his generation. IRL he was executed by firing squad on 4 April 1944. I hope I managed to imagine his survival in a respectful manner, although it goes without saying that I wasn’t able to research amnesia properly in the time we had for this prompt, so I went for something that worked plot-wise and hope it isn’t too far off the mark. As usual, you’ll find (extensive) historical details in the endnotes.

    --------------------------------------------

    Un philosophe mathématicien bourré d’explosifs

    Arras, 5 June 1944

    “Mademoiselle Ariane?” the young courier said timidly from the door. “You said to warn you if there was a message for us on Radio Londres.”

    Ariane looked up from the documents she was examining. Her companion was clearly less than happy with the interruption. “Was there?”

    The boy handed her a slip of paper. She glanced at it; her entire body jerked. “Get me the night contact with London,” she said sharply. “We need more details.”

    “The Trojan war will not take place,” Sébastien read over her shoulder. “What crazy side mission are they sending us on this time?”

    She closed the door. “He’ll be transferred tomorrow.”

    “Who?”

    “Marty.”

    Her lieutenant pondered the name for a moment. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”

    “Of course there is. We’re attacking that truck. We’re breaking him out.”

    The man exhaled slowly. He was clearly losing his patience with her and her obsession with rescuing this mysterious prisoner he kept hearing about without knowing a thing. “We need to keep monitoring the launch platforms, Ariane. Why should we drop everything for a single man?”

    She gave him a withering glare. “Because he’s a hero, Sébastien. He's a philosopher-mathematician loaded with explosives, lucid and reckless, resolute without optimism. If that’s not a hero, what is?”

    * * *

    That blow he took to the head has turned out to be a blessing. He can’t betray anyone now, because he doesn’t remember.

    Oh, he does remember some things. He knows why he’s here, for instance. He remembers the war and the occupation, and he knows that he took action against it. He remembers his travels in Germany in the 1930s; he remembers the rise of Hitler, how the atmosphere became suffocating, how people grew afraid to do, or speak, or think, how Jews were marked with yellow stars. He remembers (and misses dearly) his work before the war, the university, his students, his research. He remembers every detail of the book he wrote during his first spell in prison, when he was detained by the Vichy police in Montpellier. They didn’t treat him too badly, and he was even able to smuggle out the manuscript. He knows it will be published when the war is over; one or another of his friends will see to it.

    But he doesn’t remember names, or addresses, or cutouts, or contacts. He doesn’t remember the sabotage operations that they question him about, the airdrops, the Lysander landings, the files of intelligence that he sent to London. He doesn’t even remember the aliases they claim are his: Marty, Luc, Bucéphale, Daniel, Chennevières; every day they throw a new one at him to bait him into betraying his friends. Now he’s decided to acknowledge all aliases as his own, even those they attribute to others. After all, since they have him, they might as well torture and execute him, alone, rather than go hunting down the comrades he doesn’t quite remember.

    They don’t believe him, of course. They think he’s faking it, and they keep interrogating him, and threatening him, and torturing him, with the expectation that he’ll ultimately give in. He doesn’t want to give in, but now he couldn’t, even if he wanted to.

    On the morning after his trial, they took him to a ditch in the Arras citadel and gathered a firing squad. It was a relief to think that, at long last, it was all over, that they wouldn’t torture him anymore. But it was just another scare tactic. They pretended to shoot him, then returned him to his cell, and on the same afternoon the beatings resumed. That was when they hit him harder than usual on the temple. Apparently they left him alone for a few days after that, long enough for him to recover and be able to survive even more torture – but he’d lost his memory. It became so much easier to resist after that.

    They took him out for mock executions again a few times since then. He used to hope they’d go through with it, but after a while he gave up even on that tiny sliver of hope. They clearly believe that he holds too much valuable information to kill – and they don’t know, or don’t want to know, that the information just isn’t there anymore.

    Today they’re telling him that they’ll transfer him to Lille, and from there deport him to Germany. He can’t allow himself to believe them; maybe it’s another one of their tricks. But they don’t torture him as badly, and when the two thugs bring him back to the damp, grey room where they’ve been holding him for heavens know how long, he’s able to stand up gingerly and make his way to the tiny window. It’s level with the ground of the citadel’s courtyard outside and he can only see boot-clad feet passing by, but in this corner he can catch a little of the afternoon light. He’s lost track of time. The weather is milder now and his cell is somewhat less cold and humid; there’s even a small vine wrapping its stems around the bars, so dainty and fragile amidst the pain and violence. It must be late spring or early summer, and he was taken in… November? He wonders what happened to the others who were arrested together with him, but he knows that she is safe. He can’t recall her name, but he remembers that he sent her to England. They can’t get to her there.

    He remains standing in the corner until the sun disappears behind the walls of the citadel, then he limps to the wooden platform that serves as a bed and lies down, unable to find a position that doesn’t bring about stabs of pain in the many cuts and bruises that cover him. He breathes in deeply, then exhales, and to forget his aching body he focuses on the memory of his book. He never had the opportunity to write up the footnotes and references after he slipped through the fingers of the police. He should do that sometime.

    And as the night descends on occupied France in the evening of 5 June 1944, Jean Cavaillès lies in his prison cell, mentally composing the notes and clarifications that will complete his academic legacy.

    * * *

    “I don’t get it,” Sébastien said. “How can London know so much from way out there when we’re right here?”

    Ariane suppressed a smile. “London receive information from hundreds of networks. We’re only one of them. Clearly in this case they have an informant on the inside.” She turned to the head of the FFI group that had agreed to help. “Can you pull it off?”

    The commando nodded. “With good timing, yes. This isn’t our first rodeo.” He turned to the map. “We’ll attack here” – he pointed at a sharp bend of the road – “take out the driver and the escort, then the guards. Load everyone in our cars, and we’re gone before they can say Heil Hitler.”

    “You realise that the guards inside the transport will have orders to shoot the prisoners if anything goes wrong,” Sébastien intervened.

    The man gave him a feral grin. “Then we’ll just have to kill them before they do. We’ll use silencers for the driver and escort. Those inside won’t hear a thing.”

    * * *

    They fetch him from his cell at the crack of dawn and drag him to the courtyard. It’s the first time in weeks that he’s in the open and he inhales great lungfuls of air despite the pain in his chest. He must have a broken rib, perhaps several, but it doesn’t matter, not one little bit – not when he gets to be outside and to see the sky, however briefly.

    They load him in the back of a truck together with a dozen others – one or two of them are vaguely familiar, but he doesn’t acknowledge them and they ignore him – and he sits on the metal floor. The shackles rub against the raw skin of his wrists, but he pays no heed, studying instead the setup. He’s in no condition to jump off the truck and run, but others seem to be in better shape than him. Perhaps he can help one of them escape.

    Two armed guards climb in behind them and pull up the tailgate, and the truck departs towards Lille. The landscape doesn’t offer much cover here in the flats of Pas-de-Calais, but he knows that in half an hour they’ll enter the coal mining area where villages huddled at the foot of the old slag heaps will offer propitious terrain to escape. He keeps his focus on the guards until they arrive there. The German soldiers seem nervous; they are constantly glancing out at the sky, as if expecting an air raid in broad daylight, and they are muttering among themselves. He catches a few words: hostages, exchange, Normandy, invasion, and suddenly it dawns on him. They landed. The Allies have landed, liberation is coming. He has to struggle hard to not yell in joy. Instead, he waits for a moment when the guards peek out at the sky again and bows to the side ever so slightly to whisper the news to a fellow inmate. He doesn’t look back, but the faint susurrus behind him tells him that the information has spread. Suddenly, this group of exhausted, defeated men tenses up. Now they’re all ready to escape.

    The truck is driving through Vimy. Two civilian cars begin to follow it, probably farmers on their way to town. They’re in the coal fields now, and even though he doesn’t know the region all that well, he anticipates that the moment to disable the guards and run is drawing near. Suddenly one of the farmers decides that the truck is too slow for his liking and speeds up to overtake it, just as they enter a sharp bend of the road at the exit of the village. He can’t see what happens next – the tarpaulin wrapped above the cargo bed hides the road ahead from view – but the prisoner transport slows down even further and comes to an abrupt halt.

    One of the guards leans outside and calls out in German for an explanation while the other brings his rifle to bear on the prisoners. He launches himself at him before he can shoot, and suddenly all hell breaks loose.

    Armed men emerge from the second car that is still behind them and take down the soldiers, while more rush in from the sides of the road to secure the truck. The tailgate is flung open and people are shouting in French for them to come out. He scrambles to his feet and lets himself slide onto the road, he holds out his hands for the man with the pincers to cut off his shackles, and he takes a few steps as a free man. It may not last long – most fugitives are recaptured within a few hours of their escape – but he wants to enjoy the moment.

    That’s when he notices the sole woman among his rescuers. He isn’t quite sure who she is, but he knows that he knows her – and now, he can allow himself to recognise her. He smiles.

    * * *

    It took Ariane a few moments to identify him. He was pale, hunched, tired, all skin and bone, his clothes torn and soiled and dirty, his hair long and dishevelled – but his bright blue eyes were as sharp as ever as they took in his surroundings. Heavens knew what the Nazis had done to him during the time they held him, but it was over now. The Cohors network had retrieved its leader.

    She walked up to him as her comrades urged the prisoners to get into the escape cars. “Hello, Marty. Welcome back.”

    ------------------------------------------

    Endnotes

    Jean Cavaillès (1903-1944) was one of those truly larger-than-life figures that appear only once in a generation. He was a man of exceptional intelligence whose contribution to the philosophy of science was cut short by his premature death, but also an outstanding teacher and mentor, with many (former) students who followed him on the path to resistance. He was able to follow the rise of national-socialism in Germany during his many academic trips there in the 1930s and was in favour of armed resistance and direct action from early on during the war. He was among the founding members of Libération, one of the largest Resistance movements, and went on to create an intelligence and direct action offshoot network called Cohors. The English-language Wikipedia article about him is nowhere detailed enough to do him justice, but there is a much better one in French if you speak that language (or are willing to struggle with Google Translate).

    What drew me to read about his life at first was the fact that, when he was a prisoner of war in 1940, he was one of the very, very few French officers who took a stand against the exactions committed by the Nazis against French colonial troops, a topic much-neglected in western historiography. He was also acutely aware of the persecution of German Jews in the 1930s and had some knowledge of concentration camps at a time when most people simply didn’t believe they existed. As I read more, I realised that this philosopher wasn’t an academic living in an ivory tower; philosophy permeated every aspect of his life and there are records of the fact that he quoted Kant and Spinoza to the Gestapo to explain why he refused to answer their questions even under torture. Sadly, I haven’t been able to read much of his philosophical works; it’s rather obvious that they’re intended for people much smarter than me.

    I can’t provide a complete biography here, but I do want to highlight a few true elements that appear in this story.

    In September 1942, Cavaillès was arrested following a failed sea evacuation operation. The arrest took place between Montpellier and Narbonne in southern France, in the so-called ‘free zone’ (i.e. the part of France that wasn’t directly occupied by the Nazis), and was thus conducted by the collaborationist French authorities. He was held in the Montpellier prison, where he wrote a book that he described as “his philosophical testament”. The book was published posthumously by his friends Georges Canguilhem and Charles Ehresmann under the title Sur la logique et la théorie de la science; they had to add the footnotes and references that Cavaillès himself never got to write. After an eventful legal journey that had to do (mostly) with the Nazis invading the ‘free zone’ on 11 November of the same year, Cavaillès managed to escape from the internment camp where he had been transferred. Incidentally, he’d had a previous opportunity to escape during the transfer from Montpellier to the internment camp, but he chose to cover instead for his comrade Christian Pineau. Pineau was a decade older than Cavaillès and was far less likely to escape successfully, but Cavaillès insisted that Pineau go first because he had a family.

    I simplified considerably the timeline of his arrest by the Gestapo in Paris in the second half of 1943 in this story (he was arrested a first time, then released, then arrested again and was apparently moved from prison to prison for quite a while). The bottom line is that he was betrayed by a courier and was captured in November 1943, together with other members of the Cohors network, including his sister and his brother-in-law. Shortly before this, he was scheduled to be evacuated to London by Lysander, but he gave his place on the plane to Arlette Lejeune, his secretary who is believed to have also been his fiancée, in order to protect her from their impending arrests, as he was fully aware that they were under German surveillance. He was tortured extremely brutally by the Gestapo, yet didn’t give away anything; on the contrary, he attributed to himself a number of actions that had been conducted by other members of the network in order to secure their release.

    He was registered for deportation to Germany on a convoy planned for 22 January 1944 from an internment camp in Compiègne, where he was being held, but he was separated from his comrades and taken away by the Gestapo to a location unknown one day earlier. It appears that the Nazis, who thus far had only identified him under the alias ‘Marty’, had become aware of other activities he was involved in (indeed, the very long list of Cavaillès’s aliases during this period is a testament to the scope and diversity of the operations he conducted). He was ultimately transferred to Arras in northern France, where he was judged and found guilty by a military tribunal and executed by firing squad. For a very long time, it was believed that his execution took place on 17 February 1944, but recent research determined that it actually took place on 4 April. What happened to him during these two months remains a mystery. He was first buried in a communal grave in the moat of the Arras citadel, then transferred to a grave marked ‘Unknown #5’ in the local cemetery, before he could be identified by his sister thanks to a family picture in his wallet. His remains were finally transferred to the Sorbonne chapel, together with other academics and student members of the Resistance who were killed during the war.

    The line “A philosopher-mathematician loaded with explosives, lucid and reckless, resolute without optimism. If that isn’t a hero, what is?” (“Un philosophe mathématicien bourré d’explosifs, un lucide téméraire, un résolu sans optimisme. Si ce n’est pas là un héros, qu’est-ce qu’un héros ?”) was uttered by his friend Georges Canguilhem during the inauguration of the philosophical society Association des amis de Jean Cavaillès in their alma mater, the Ecole normale supérieure in Paris, in 1947.

    The fact that he had bright blue eyes isn’t something I made up. It’s often mentioned in the memoirs of people who knew him that he had an unusually sharp and intense gaze, and that it made him command the audience in any room he entered, whether an academic auditorium or a secret meeting.

    I also borrowed from two other historical figures for this story, namely:

    • Henri-Léopold Dor, who was arrested by the OVRA (the Italian equivalent of the Gestapo) in the Italian occupation zone of France in 1943, and subjected to a particular form of torture known as the giro. Prisoners were made to go around in circles in a harshly lit room for hours, even days on end, then beaten and interrogated. Dor realised at one point that, as the torture went on, he was losing his memory, and he made himself continue going around in the torture chamber in the hope that he would lose it entirely. His ordeal is recounted by Marie-Madeleine Fourcade in her memoir L’Arche de Noé (Fayard/Le Livre de Poche, Paris, 1968).
    • Lucie Aubrac, one of the best-known women of the French Resistance, who organised a daring commando raid on the convoy transferring her husband out of the prison of Montluc in Lyon. This wasn’t by any means the only attack on a prisoner convoy during the war, but I did borrow a number of details from it. It’s been depicted on screen many times; you can watch a dramatised version from Claude Berri’s 1997 movie Lucie Aubrac here, and a 1990 interview with Raymond and Lucie Aubrac here (in French) where they describe the details of the operation. Incidentally, Lucie Aubrac and Jean Cavaillès had been friends and colleagues since well before the war, and she was a co-founder of the movement Libération.
    The acronym FFI stands for Forces françaises de l’intérieur, i.e. French Forces of the Interior, meaning chiefly the unified armed resistance that was operating in occupied France under the orders of de Gaulle by the time of the Normandy landings (those who were operating outside of France, in the colonies or as part of the Allied armies, were the FFL, Forces françaises libres, i.e. Free French Forces). There were a myriad factions and subfactions within the FFI, but again I chose to keep it simple for the sake of storytelling.

    The area between Arras and Lille in northern France is absolutely fascinating. It was France’s great coal mining area during the Industrial Revolution, and it is dotted with terrils, i.e. slag heaps, mounds of dirt that was extracted from the mines and discarded. The region is otherwise completely flat, and the terrils, the tallest of which reaches 188m, stand out sharply against the horizon. Because the terrils in this area are not made of toxic materials, they’ve developed unique ecosystems over the years, and some of them were designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2012.

    “La guerre de Troie n’aura pas lieu”, i.e. “The Trojan war will not take place”, is, once again, a legit coded message that was broadcast by the BBC on 5 June 1944. It’s also the title of a famous 1935 pacifist theatre play by Jean Giraudoux that uses the Iliadic myth as a metaphor to criticise the behaviour of political leaders in the first half of the 20th century.

     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2024
  9. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Riveting action. His ordeal is set forth in very realistic details as is his resolve not to betray his friends and to remain ready to escape. @};-

    Amnesia is a very plausible consequence of such horrendous treatment; that he has presence of mind still to whatever extent is quite remarkable. .

    I love Ariane's focused strategy and the smile at the end. I would love an expansion/sequel of this AU if the KR prompts allow. [face_batting]
     
  10. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Excellent AU to have him surviving and being rescued by the resistance. A man to be remembered by all. (We had Hannie Schaft)
     
  11. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you for the reviews and thanks to everyone who stopped by to read!

    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Thank you! Cavaillès was quite the escape artist; he had actually escaped from custody twice before the Gestapo got their hands on him. As for continuing this AU... why not, after all! Let's see if the next prompts spark an idea or two.

    @earlybird-obi-wan Thank you! Bizarrely, Cavaillès has remained relatively unknown outside of academic circles, even though streets, schools etc. are named after him in France. I'm assuming that it's due at least in part to the fact that his publications, which are very specialised and difficult to read, aren't accessible to the casual reader; when you look at famous intellectuals who participated in the Resistance, they usually wrote novels, not epistemological treatises. But he definitely deserves to be remembered and commemorated. This is a man who was brave, committed and selfless, and given the murky history of France during the war someone like him should stand out.

    Thanks again to all readers, reviewers and lurkers! Next story coming right up.
     
  12. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Week 6 prompt: Write a story between 600 and 1,500 words with your OTP (or other romantic pairing) that includes one or more flashforwards and takes place entirely in the same setting.
    Characters: OCs
    Genre: Drama, angst
    Word count: 1497

    -----------------------------------

    Nacht und Nebel

    Lyon, 5 June 1944

    The residents of the apartment building at 47 rue de la République didn’t give much thought to the two young women who lived in one of the garrets. Perhaps before the war, they would have assumed them to be girls from good families who wanted to experience the Bohemian lifestyle that flourished during the Roaring Twenties; but Cécile and Isabelle were well-behaved young ladies, and in these days of war and poverty they simply came across as victims of the situation who, like everyone else, struggled to make ends meet. After all, the smaller-bodied one, Cécile, was still a student at the School of Fine Arts, and the blonde one, Isabelle, was known to work menial jobs. Even the building’s concierge, a gossip if there ever was one, thought it touching how they supported each other in these difficult times. They were devoted to each other like sisters, and that was how the neighbourhood saw them.

    Few people knew what they truly did for a living. No one knew who they truly were.

    They had kept their love a secret, even from the friends they trusted with their lives. There was no point in attracting unwanted attention, not when their activities were bound, sooner or later, to come under police scrutiny.

    On that summer evening, Cécile was hunched over the tiny table, putting the final touches to her counterfeit police stamp, when Isabelle came to rest a hand on her shoulder. “You need to take a break now. It’s time for the evening broadcast.”

    Cécile bit her lip in concentration as she finished smoothing out the rounded edge. She then swiftly cleared the table while Isabelle busied herself with the radio set. It was only when she heard the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that she understood why she was so tired. It was nearly midnight and the transmission of Radio Londres began as soon as Isabelle struck the right frequency.

    They listened to the secret messages in silence. Being their Resistance group’s forger, Cécile wasn’t involved with this aspect of their activities, but she liked to listen anyway. The broadcast was gibberish, but it was gibberish that sent her imagination in overdrive, and she dreamt of all the children’s stories built from these sentences that she would illustrate after the war. The bulletin was winding down and Isabelle seemed somewhat disappointed, but she suddenly perked up upon hearing “Edward’s dog had five puppies on 7 January.” She stood up and put the radio set away.

    Cécile knew that her question was outright childish, but she couldn’t help but ask it anyway. “Will it be dangerous?”

    Isabelle raised an eyebrow. “What?

    “What you’ll do tomorrow. Will it be dangerous?”

    Isabelle took her delicate fingers in hers and gave them a reassuring squeeze. “Someone has to do it, Cécile. I can’t tell you details, but know that I won’t be alone.”

    * * *

    It was early morning when he entered the café and ordered his usual p’tit blanc. He wasn’t about to drink white wine, of course, but the owners of La Manille thought of him as a casual labourer and he was keen to maintain his cover for as long as possible. The weather was mild on this day of June. He took his glass outside and settled at one of the tables on the pavement, from where he could easily keep an eye on the building across the street.

    The blonde woman arrived just after 8 a.m, entered the building to recover what she needed and came out again. As soon as she took a turn in the main street, he stood up and emptied his wine in a flowerpot. He saw in the corner of his eye that the men disguised as builders, postmen and vagrants who had been stationed every fifty metres up and down rue de la République were stirring as well. They allowed her a head start and began to follow her across the city.

    * * *

    “What about you?” Isabelle asked. She forced a businesslike tone to remind Cécile that, with standard precautions, they had a degree of control over their fate. “You shouldn’t be here tomorrow until I’m back.”

    Cécile yawned. “I have a morning class, then I have to go to my supply shed. I’m not sure this stamp is good enough” – she pointed at the carved rubber disk that was still on the table – “but I won’t really know until I get a fresh inkpad to try it out.”

    Isabelle looked at her carefully. She had dark circles under her eyes. “Did you eat anything today?”

    “I’m not really hungry,” Cécile mumbled. “I haven’t had much appetite since the bombardment.”

    Isabelle caressed her cheek tenderly. It always puzzled her that sweet, sensitive Cécile had chosen to live this life of constant fear and hiding; yet for all her fidgeting, she was strong as a rock. “You’ve lost a lot of weight lately. When we’re back here tomorrow afternoon, I’ll cook you a proper meal, okay?”

    * * *

    The shops in passage de l’Argue were teeming with customers despite the dearth of products on offer; the streets on either end of the arcade were busy with passers-by. Lyon was slowly returning to normal after the bombardment just ten days earlier, and most people were clearly unaware that, during the night, major military operations had taken place in Normandy. They simply went about their business and that was exactly what he needed.

    The comings and goings near the passage’s entrance provided cover as he waited for the girl. He hoped with all his might that she’d come today; she normally visited the little shed behind the hotel on the corner every three to four days but he hadn’t seen her in over a week. He was worried that she’d already taken her supplies elsewhere and that he’d lost her. After all, the Gestapo had moved to place Bellecour after their previous headquarters were bombed by the Americans, and place Bellecour was far too close for comfort. He couldn’t suppress a triumphant grin when he saw her walking down rue de la République and making her way to the arcade like any casual shopper.

    She really was a pretty little thing: slim, petite, with delicate features and soft dark hair that framed her freckled face, perhaps a bit skinny like most women were these days but still with all the right curves in all the right places – the sort of woman he might have been shy to approach before the war, when he was still an awkward youngster intimidated by people above his social standing. But those days were over. Today, he would talk to her more than she ever expected.

    * * *

    Isabelle knew better than to argue when Cécile refused to have dinner. She knew the thread of steel and, indeed, stubbornness, under the artist’s fragile exterior, and no amount of insistence would convince her to change her mind once it was made up. She simply said that they should go to sleep and wrapped her arms protectively around her once they lay in bed. Like every night, Cécile sought solace in Isabelle’s strength; Isabelle found comfort in Cécile’s warmth.

    In the morning, they had a quick wash and gulped down their ersatz coffee without saying much, and when they were dressed, they got ready to leave, hoping that they would, once more, go unnoticed amidst the throng in rue de la République. Before they opened the door, they exchanged a perfunctory kiss, like they did every time they tried to hide under the trappings of a daily routine the deep-seated fear that this might well be the last time they saw each other.

    * * *

    They did see each other again, once: in the basements of 33 place Bellecour, at the far end of rue de la République, when Cécile was brought in for questioning by the milicien who had been waiting for her in passage de l’Argue. Isabelle was already there, her clothes torn, her skin flayed, her face swollen with bruises and cuts. The explosives she had recovered from the cache across the street from La Manille were spread out on the table as evidence of her crimes. The men who had shadowed her across the city were now her torturers.

    They didn’t speak to each other, or look at each other, or acknowledge each other in any other way. They didn’t admit to recognising any of their friends as they were dragged in, one by one, over the course of the day. Clearly the Gestapo had been tracking their little outfit; they knew exactly who they were, what they had been doing and where to find them that morning. But Cécile and Isabelle didn’t concede anything, or disclose anything, or confess to anything. They remained perfectly silent and they didn’t grace their captors with as much as a word.

    And no one in rue de la République remembered what they had been to each other when they disappeared in the night and fog.

    -------------------------------------------

    Endnotes


    Nacht und Nebel, i.e. ‘night and fog’ in German, was the name of a directive issued by Hitler in 1941 that targeted Resistance members in occupied countries of western Europe. The basic idea behind it was that captured Resistance agents would be made to disappear and that their friends and family wouldn’t be able to learn of their fate. This was intended as a deterrent against further political activism. At the same time, it spared the Nazi government the pressure of public opinion and accusations of war crimes as they could flatly deny any knowledge of the disappeared person’s whereabouts. Prisoners labelled ‘NN’ were deported to prisons, labour camps and concentration camps in Germany and the fate of many remains unknown to this day. Although this wasn’t a measure that targeted Jews, the expression was used as the title of the 1956 documentary Nuit et brouillard directed by Alain Resnais that focuses on the Holocaust at large. (A word of warning if you choose to watch it: it isn’t for the faint of heart.)

    I was determined when I started this series to feature characters from at least some of the groups that were targeted by the Nazis for extermination, mostly because I’m annoyed by their frequent portrayal as sheep for the slaughter both in history and in fiction. My original plan for the OTP prompt was that I’d feature a couple of gay men, but once the prompt arrived the characters demanded to be women. I therefore need to mention here that the Nazis didn’t really have a strong policy against lesbians (unlike gay men, who were actively hunted down and ‘reeducated’ or killed). The lesbians who were arrested, deported and killed were usually targeted for a different reason, such as being Jews or political activists, although in some cases it was also noted that they were ‘asocial’. On the other hand, the French collaborationist authorities did criminalise both male and female homosexuality and encouraged ‘good’ French people to report lesbian as well as gay couples to the police, with the consequences it entailed.

    Rue de la République is one of the central streets of Lyon and a very beautiful one at that; it’s lined mostly with monumental Haussman buildings as it was opened at the height of the Second Empire. It ends in Lyon’s main square, place Bellecour, where the Gestapo had its headquarters from May 1944 onwards at #33 (which became #32 when the buildings around the square were renumbered at some point after the war). The Gestapo headquarters were previously in the Centre Berthelot, a military health college that was partially demolished during the great bombardment of Lyon by the Allies on 26 May 1944 ahead of the Normandy landings. Before that, they were in the Hôtel Terminus, which gave its name to the 1988 documentary directed by Max Ophüls about Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo chief known as the ‘Butcher of Lyon’.

    Café La Manille is a historical café in Lyon, established in 1860 in rue Tupin, just off rue de la République. The passage de l’Argue is also a historical shopping arcade that connects rue de la République to rue de Brest. You can “visit” all these places through Google Street View.

    A few real-life Resistance members from whom I drew inspiration for this story are:

    • French artist and graphic designer Jean Stetten-Bernard (1913-2008), who famously established a ‘forgery workshop’ in Vourles, near Lyon, and created over 100,000 forged documents of every possible kind during the course of the war. His first counterfeit stamps were hand-carved on linoleum, as described in this story; he was later able to secure a partnership with a photoengraving workshop that allowed him to produce them on an industrial scale.
    • French-Peruvian writer Madeleine Truel (1904-1945), who was also a forger and was arrested by the Gestapo while collecting ink from her supply stash in Paris. She died during the death march from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to Lübeck.
    • Jewish-Romanian communist Olga Bancic (1912-1944), who was a member of the Groupe Manouchian Resistance organisation in Paris, and whose role was to bring weapons and explosives to the men who conducted attacks, then to collect them and slip away (many women had this task in direct action groups, as the police were less likely to stop and search women than men). She was arrested together with the rest of the Groupe Manouchian in 1943. Because French law didn’t allow for the execution of women by firing squad (which was the fate of her male comrades), she was deported to Stuttgart where she was beheaded.

    A p’tit blanc (literally a ‘li’l white’) is just a glass of white wine in French argot. It was (and possibly still is) very common for working-class men to start their day with a p’tit blanc in a bistro; I’ve seen it with my own eyes in Paris.

    I also want to note that the technique of ‘filature’, i.e. shadowing of a suspect, was created by the French police in the 19th century, and it must be said that the French developed it into an art form. My mention above of disguised men stationed every 50 metres is actually very realistic, as this was the best way for the person being shadowed to not spot their tail. The French police played an important role in hunting down Resistance agents, and very often they let people free long after they had identified them in order to monitor them and ultimately capture the entire group of Resistance fighters in one fell swoop.

    The Milice française was an all-in-one police auxiliary and paramilitary force established by the collaborationist French authorities in 1943. It operated as a complement to the SS and Gestapo; it’s no exaggeration to say that it recruited the dregs of humankind. Anything else I could say about them isn’t ToS-compliant, so I’ll leave it at that.

    Lastly, as usual, the sentence “La chienne d’Edouard a eu 5 chiots le 7 janvier” (“Edward’s dog had five puppies on 7 January”) is a legit Radio Londres message that was broadcast in the evening of 5 June 1944.

     
  13. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb response to this week's prompt. Seamless flow between present and future scenes.

    I continue to be impressed by the deep level of research you put into this KR. @};-

    It is heart-tugging to read of those whose principles and courage impel them to resist tyranny suffer cruel and brutal fates.
     
    Kahara, amidalachick and Chyntuck like this.
  14. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Poignant and showing how they were hunted by the Gestapo and French authorities.
     
    Kahara and Chyntuck like this.
  15. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you for the reviews and thanks to everyone who stopped by to read!

    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Thank you! I did do quite a bit of research for this KR, but I actually had a good starting point from a project I'd done as a student about the way France treated its colonial troops in WW2 and beyond. The answer is "not well" of course, but while I was researching that (and there's really not much in western historiography about colonial troops in WW2, or at least there wasn't back in the 1990s) I found myself reading all sorts of things about the occupation, so I had quite a bit of material to work from before my nephew started asking questions, and before I got the idea to write all this.

    @earlybird-obi-wan Thanks! France is really this weird case when it comes to memories of the occupation. They built this collective memory that they resisted as a country, but the sad truth is that the collaborationist authorities were just as bad as the Nazis, and on particular items such as lesbians they were actually worse.

    Thanks again to readers, reviewers and lurkers! Next story coming right up.
     
  16. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Week 7 prompt: Write a story between 100 and 1,000 words that is set in a dream and told from the perspective of an EC (established character)
    Characters: the two unnamed men who are arrested at 00:03:20 of the movie
    Genre: Surrealism? Yeah, probably.
    Word count: 779
    Notes: This is the first story in this collection that references events from the movie, in which the landing of American paratroopers in the small town of Sainte-Mère-Église in the early hours of 6 June 1944 is one of the major narrative threads. A house was on fire in the town square when the landing happened and the church bells were ringing the alarm. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the movie to follow this story, provided that there’s anything to follow. Also, if you need to be reminded of the tune of the Mexican folk song La Cucaracha, just head over here.

    --------------------------------------

    Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris est allemand…

    Sainte-Mère-Église, 06 June 1944

    Something wasn’t right. A house was on fire behind the church. The flames blazed through the collapsed roof, reaching for the heavens like the tentacles of an angry beast; yet the municipal band had gathered on the town square to play La Cucaracha as if this were an exceptionally festive occasion. The assembled residents of Sainte-Mère-Église cheered every time a piece of incandescent debris flew across the black sky like a shooting star before falling back to the ground, and the church bells rang joyful chimes.

    A dog cried in the distance, a long, harrowing wail of despair. He wondered if the fire had spread and ran up the street in the animal’s direction, but everything seemed normal as he moved away from the centre of town. Except that… he wasn’t in Sainte-Mère-Église anymore. He was on a dirt road in the deserted countryside; even the hedgerows that covered the entire region were gone. The landscape had transformed into a wide, flat plain, and all there was to see was a dark villa standing alone amidst the fields. The dog had gone silent now – everything was very quiet and eerie all of a sudden. He wondered if he should head back to the main square, but then he saw a flickering light behind one of the windows and he decided to knock.

    It was the old farmer from Foucarville who opened the door for him. As always, the left sleeve of his shirt was pinned to his chest – he had been hit by a shell during the Great War and his arm was amputated below the shoulder – but his bright white, straw-like hair was as dishevelled as ever, framing a wrinkled face where his eyes shone bright and hard as gemstones. Behind him, the interior of the mansion seemed abandoned, with dust sheets covering the furniture of the cavernous hall; yet the mouth-watering aroma of… was that lamb roast? – wafted from the kitchen as if someone were cooking a feast.

    “Monsieur Gilbert, I don’t understand –” he began.

    “Not now, lad,” the elderly farmer interrupted. “Dinner is almost ready and the abbot is getting nervous. I need you to help me pull it out of the oven.” He pointed at his empty sleeve by way of an explanation.

    Gilbert guided him to a vast dining room and directed him to sit him at the table, where a priest from a nearby monastery was waiting for them, dressed in his full ceremonial regalia. “At last,” the abbot said. “Someone to talk to. I’ve been trying to engage the family ghost in conversation, but he’s not very talkative.”

    He lowered himself cautiously in his chair while Gilbert disappeared through a side door and returned with a large platter. He had two arms now. “Please, Monsieur Gilbert, Monsieur l’abbé – what is happening? I need to go back to town, a house is on fire.”

    The priest nodded solemnly. “Yes, my son. A house is on fire, the town is on fire, the world is on fire. The ultimate hour has come. It is the day of reckoning. Do you not hear it?”

    There was… there was a thundering noise, somewhere far away. Something throbbed and something rattled, something else was crashing over and over, there were blasts and bangs and claps and roars and screams – and the bells rang and rang again. Over it all, the band was still playing La Cucaracha, and it became louder and louder – and suddenly the acrid smell of smoke assaulted his nostrils, and the music swelled, and the walls of the dining hall began to collapse…

    He was jolted awake in a dark, dank room. Someone was humming the Radio Londres ditty “Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris is German” to the tune of La Cucaracha in the far corner. The last few secret messages he’d listened to streamed through his head: the villa is silent; the shooting star will return; the gardener’s dog is crying; the ultimate hour has come; the one-armed man hugs her; the ghost isn’t talkative; the abbot is nervous; the lamb roast is done; the library is on fire…

    Yes. He’d received from London the order to blow up the Germans’ local vehicle depot. He’d been caught, and the SS were holding him in a basement off the town square, together with his co-conspirator.

    His friend turned to look at him and smirked. “Finally awake, are you? You’ve been dozing on and off all night.” He gestured towards the ground-level window. Beyond the square the house was still smouldering; paratroopers were rounding up the Germans in the light of dawn. “You slept through the liberation, mate. The Americans are here.”

    --------------------------------------

    Endnotes


    I had to choose no-name background characters from the movie for this story, because all the named characters for whom I could cook up a story are actual historical figures, and I wasn’t able to determine if they died more than 70 years ago as required by the board rules against real-person fiction.

    Sainte-Mère-Église in Normandy was the first liberated town in France on 6 June 1944. While small, it was important to the Allies because of its strategic location on a road that the German Army could use to send reinforcements against the troops landing on Utah and Omaha beaches; therefore, the U.S. 82nd Airborne and U.S. 101st Airborne Divisions were airdropped to conquer it. I don’t want to go into details of what happened so as not to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it, so I’ll just note that, while the initial phase of the airdrop is portrayed accurately, the later phases are somewhat embellished for dramatic purposes. In real life Sainte-Mère-Église was under American control by dawn and remained so despite multiple counter-attacks by the Germans; its central square now features a milestone that states “kilometre zero of the Liberation of France.”

    Foucarville is a village 7 km north-east of Sainte-Mère-Église.

    The ‘Great War’, in the case of France, is World War I, when France suffered 1.5 million fatalities in addition to 1.9 million wounded, the vast majority of them young men. This translates to approx. 30% of men aged 17-45, and as such it’s left an indelible mark in the French collective memory.

    “Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris est allemand” (i.e. “Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris is German”), sung to the tune of the Mexican folk song La Cucaracha, was a parodic ditty that was broadcast daily on Radio Londres to deride the propaganda of Radio Paris, the official French state radio that was under German control during the occupation of France. You can hear French comedian Pierre Dac singing it on Radio Londres here. The people of occupied France knew to not take the “news” from Radio Paris seriously, and the ditty was very popular by 1943.

    Lastly, the messages listed in this story (“la villa est silencieuse, l’étoile filante repassera, le chien du jardinier pleure, la dernière heure a sonné, le manchot la serre dans ses bras, le fantôme n’est pas bavard, l’abbé est nerveux, le gigot est cuit, la bibliothèque est en feu,” i.e. “the villa is silent, the shooting star will return, the gardener’s dog is crying, the ultimate hour has come, the one-armed man hugs her, the ghost isn’t talkative, the abbot is nervous, the lamb roast is done, the library is on fire”) are once again legit Radio Londres messages, but they were not broadcast on 6 June 1944 since my characters were arrested on 5 June. I took them from this archival recording of Radio Londres. The speaker indicates that it was broadcast on the 615th day of the German occupation of France, which puts us sometime in the first half of 1943.

     
  17. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Great piece. Dreaming about the fire and waking up knowing that the Americans were there.
    I have been there in that church where the wounded were cared for and where the paratrooper hung from the church-tower
     
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  18. Kahara

    Kahara Chosen One star 4

    Registered:
    Mar 3, 2001
    I really enjoyed how the unnamed OC's dream wove all the elements of the radio messages together with dream logic to create such a haunting and restless series of visions. And the fact that the dream reveal comes at the end was a great touch, as we get to learn why he was dreaming so anxiously about this assortment of strange things.

    The juxtaposition of destruction and celebration/relief is really powerful, and of course later it's shown that there were probably more than a few outside noises that got incorporated into the dream.

    [face_laugh] I just really liked this part!

    And the messages really do add up to a very weird-sounding whole if you take them at face value; this was such a fun way to go about the "dream" prompt! :D
     
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  19. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you for the reviews and thanks to everyone who stopped by to read!

    @earlybird-obi-wan Thanks! You and I need to meet up and trade memories of these places. I've read that the paratrooper puppet that's on display now is on the wrong side of the church tower; apparently in RL he was on the other side (not that it would have been any less terrifying.)

    @Kahara Thank you!
    I was pretty stumped by the prompt, initially – until I realised that by stringing together a bunch of Radio Londres messages, I could come up with the strangest of dreams, so I picked a random broadcast and made myself write a story that used all the sentences!
    As someone who used to be able to sleep even in the loudest din (that's something that changed with old age :p ) I've had quite a few of these dreams that integrate stuff that's happening in the real world for the most bizarre result.
    Haha! "The ghost isn't talkative" made it near the top of my list of favourite Radio Londres messages when I heard it. I'd really, really like to know who came up with these sentences, or at the very least I want some of what they were taking.

    Thanks again to all readers, reviewers and lurkers! Next story is coming right up.
     
  20. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Week 8 prompt: Write a story of at least 400 words in which a villain has to protect a hero and include the line of dialogue “I always wondered what that was like.”
    Characters: OCs
    Genre: Drama
    Word count: 2839
    Notes: This story references a whole lot of RL stuff for which I did my best to include explanations in the text, but it still comes with extensive endnotes. I’ll just mention here that one of the key points has been at the forefront of the news in France recently, as the remains of Missak Manouchian, who was one of the leaders of the Resistance group around which this story revolves, were transferred to the Pantheon in Paris on 21 February to commemorate the 80th anniversary of his execution by firing squad.

    -------------------------------------------------

    Morts pour la France

    Paris, 5 June 1944

    Cyla suppressed a sigh when her husband brought out the radio set and plugged it in. It had been months since Radio Londres had last transmitted a message for their group and they weren’t actually expecting one, but Staszek went through the motions of listening to the evening broadcast every night, as if to prove to himself that the MOI – the immigrant workers’ organisation – was still a player in the Resistance. She gave him a sad smile that he didn’t notice and sat back in the uncomfortable chair that was placed near the window.

    From her vantage point, she could peek between the curtains without being seen. She listened absent-mindedly to the string of gibberish while she kept an eye on the black car parked on the corner. Rue des Boulets was dark and deserted, as Paris was under curfew once more, and while it broke her heart to see her adoptive city turned into a ghost town, it also made it easier for her to observe any comings and goings. The broadcast lasted longer than usual but she wasn’t paying attention. Her focus was on the policeman below – on the man who had first rounded up her family, then captured her friends. She knew that the latter had been shot a few months prior; the police had made sure that their execution was well publicised through thousands of red posters that portrayed them as foreign criminals who disrupted the peace for the French. She wasn’t entirely certain of the fate of the former but she couldn’t allow herself to hold on to hope two years after they’d gone missing. Details were sketchy, but she was quite certain that those who had been loaded onto cattle wagons and taken to the East would never come back.

    She could remember the day she had returned to her childhood home in rue des Immeubles-Industriels to find that her parents were gone as acutely as if it were yesterday. The street that had once been bustling with businesses and families was now empty and quiet; the doors of many of the workshops were left open and the ground was strewn with a miscellany of clothes and personal items, as if everyone had been made to leave in a hurry. She stood there in shock until Staszek dragged her away, whispering in her ear that it wasn’t safe, that they had to hide. Her memory of the next few days was hazy. She couldn’t tell where they’d been or what they’d done. All she could recall was the stories that had reached them through the grapevine of the appalling conditions under which the Jews of Paris were held in the Winter Velodrome, of the heat, the dirt, the mind-numbing thirst and the suicides – until they were transferred to the camps in Drancy and Pithiviers, and from there to a place near her birth town of Oświęcim whose name was only ever spoken in fear.

    The policeman in rue des Boulets had been among those who had taken her family. The policeman in rue des Boulets had then taken her friends.

    It was the shuffle of feet that pulled her out of her reverie. She looked back into the room to see that Staszek was putting away the radio set. “There won’t be anything for us, ever again,” she told him flatly. “The party thinks we’re done for. They’re not even trying to contact us.”

    He sighed tiredly. “That may be true. But there were lots of messages today, even more than yesterday. Something is about to happen.”

    She stood up and came to stand in front of him. “Yes, Staszek, something is about to happen. But not under orders from the party, or from London, or even from Moscow – from us. We’re going to prove to the whole world that the MOI still have fight in them.” She tilted her head towards the window. “He’s out there again. We’re doing it tonight.”

    Staszek hesitated. “Are you sure? We haven’t prepared –”

    “We’re as prepared as we’ll ever be,” she interrupted. “And we need to make our move before he decides that he’d rather arrest us. He’s alone. This is our time.”

    “But our hideout –”

    “Our hideout is ready. We don’t have anything left here.” She paused and looked at him. “I’m doing it tonight, Staszek. Whether you come with me or not.”

    “You can’t do this alone,” he protested. “This operation needs two and you know it.”

    “I’ll manage on my own if I have to,” she shot back. “I’m not waiting anymore. We planned, we observed, we baited, we plotted. Now we do it. And if you have cold feet, I’ll do it alone.” She paused and glared at him. “Are you coming?”

    He bowed his head and took a deep breath, but when he looked up again she saw the glimmer of determination in his eyes. “I am. Let’s go.”

    He took a single flower from the vase on the rickety console and a piece of charcoal from the drawer, pulled her in a brief hug and opened the door. She followed him down the stairs and allowed him a head start once he was in the street, then tiptoed outside herself and vanished into the shadows.

    * * *

    It was Inspector Frédéric Lucet’s fourth consecutive night of monitoring the Czarlinskis, and he was getting tired of it.

    When he’d been invited to join the Special Brigades shortly after the big roundup of July 1942, he was assigned to the second division and, for the past year and a half, he had been hunting those people who were responsible for the rot that had taken hold of French society and caused the country to collapse like a house of cards when Germany attacked in 1940. Communists, foreigners, Jews – they should all be wiped out, as far as he was concerned, and it was true that the Brigades’ activities against the MOI had been a resounding success. But after eighteen months of slow, patient, meticulous work tracking individuals, locating their hideouts, shadowing them to meetings and taking them out, there wasn’t much left of the pitiful little organisation of immigrant workers who had had the gall to conduct terrorist operations in broad daylight in Paris. Quite frankly, he didn’t see the purpose of leaving a few of them free in the hope of identifying even more. It was just a fact that the MOI were done for, and the French police would be far better off arresting the survivors they had identified and moving on to bigger, better things. After all, there were traitors galore.

    But that wasn’t the opinion of his superior officers, and here he was, sitting in his car in the middle of the night and waiting for something to happen – as if the Czarlinskis, who hardly ever left their apartment even during the day, were going to come out during curfew and lead him to other activists.

    He was therefore surprised when the door to the building opened and a dark figure came out – the man, most likely, judging from the silhouette. He retreated deeper into the driver’s seat as the shadow moved along the street, hugging the walls to remain unseen, and watched it make its way to the corner of rue de Montreuil. Once Czarlinski had taken a left – walking just past his car, for God’s sake, and not even noticing him; how amateurish could he be? – he opened the door cautiously and began to follow him.

    The rubber soles that the Police Prefecture distributed to members of the Special Brigades allowed him to move swiftly and silently, and he caught up with the Pole just as he took a turn into boulevard Voltaire. He peered around the corner to see that Czarlinski had paused in front of the building that separated rue de Montreuil from rue des Immeubles-Industriels and was writing something on the wall. He then bowed to leave something on the ground and was straightening up when the rhythmic rattle of German boots on the pavement echoed through the avenue.

    A patrol. They would arrest Czarlinski, and it would all be over at long last.

    But Lucet couldn’t allow that to happen. He had made a name for himself as the Brigades’ most skilled shadow, and he wasn’t about to let a bunch of mindless Krauts ruin his professional reputation. As soon as Czarlinski dove into the side street, he stepped out on the boulevard and walked up to the Germans.

    “Inspector Frédéric Lucet, Special Brigades,” he snapped, holding up his identity card. “I’m tracking a suspect who is leading me to his organisation.”

    Thankfully the patrol leader didn’t argue with him. He spun on his heel, hoping that he could still catch up with his prey. He paused ever so briefly in front of the piece of wall where Czarlinski had busied himself. One of the old red posters could still be seen there, displaying the faces of the MOI terrorists who had been arrested and shot in February – Manouchian, Boczov, Rayman – and underneath, written in black charcoal, were the words “They died for France.” A single flower lay on the pavement, as if this were a memorial monument.

    He experienced a surge of anger – how dare he, that foreigner, that communist, defile the name of the nation like that – and he sprinted along rue des Immeubles-Industriels to find the Pole. He didn’t have to look far. Czarlinski was halfway down the street, crouching on the pavement to tie his shoelace as if he didn’t have a care in the world. As Lucet approached him silently, he stood up again and ambled leisurely towards rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, where he turned right.

    The policeman had just reached the door to the last building in the street and was preparing to peek around the corner once more when he felt the barrel of a pistol on the nape of his neck. A female voice whispered in his ear: “Not a sound.”

    * * *

    Staszek’s heart was still pounding as he stole back to 1 rue des Immeubles-Industriels. Running into a German patrol hadn’t been part of the plan, and it had taken all he had to not panic and flee. Cyla, on the other hand, was entirely unfazed. She had simply retreated a few steps into the building and was waiting for him. She held the pistol to her captive’s head with a steady hand, as if she’d done this her whole life, and once more he had to admire her unflappable calm. Sometimes he thought that ice flowed through her veins – it was what had gotten her through so many operations conducted by the MOI, after all.

    They led Lucet across the courtyard and into the laundry room. The building had remained empty since its inhabitants had been rounded up and taken to the Winter Velodrome, but this room was furthest from the street and thus offered a measure of protection against unwanted attention. Once Staszek had bound the policeman’s hands behind his back and brought him to his knees, Cyla came to stand in front of him. The pistol was now fitted with a silencer. She pointed at his brow. “I believe that introductions are in order,” she said coldly.

    The collaborator snorted. “I know who you are. Céline Rayman, Jewess, wife of the foreign communist Stanislas Czarlinski.”

    Her nostrils flared. “That would be Cyla. Cyla Czarlinska, née Rajman. And my husband’s name is actually Staszek. Unlike you, we didn’t have the privilege to be born in France, Inspector. But we chose France and France adopted us. We’re proud of our heritage.” She gestured towards the empty apartments beyond the window. “Do you remember the people who lived here? They had all chosen France. Mr. and Mrs. Stern, who fled the Germans you so loyally serve, and who found shelter in this country. The Goldfarbs – they had the workshop next to ours, they were such hardworking people. The Bermans – I went to school with their daughter, and the grandmother used to look after me when I was a child.” She smiled wistfully. “The Halperns, who were always at odds with everyone. And of course, the two Rajman families – my parents, on the second floor, and my aunt and uncle on the third. And my cousin. Do you remember him at all?”

    He snorted again. “Of course I do. Marcel Rayman, also known as Michel, Faculté, Simon –”

    Rajman,” she corrected. “And his name was Mieczysław.” She drove the tip of the silencer into his forehead.

    He huffed. “Point your gun at me all you want. He was a dirty Jew, like you. No one misses him, and no one will miss you when you’re gone.”

    She smiled coldly. “Few will miss me because you and your ilk made sure that all the people I knew and loved are dead. But here’s the thing. Everyone, in this street, in this city, in this country, will remember that Marcel Rayman – Mieczysław Rajman – died for France. Tell me, Inspector, what will you be remembered for? Do you think that, after the Allies are here, anyone will be going out at night to write ‘he died for France’ for you on the walls of Paris? Because your name will be there. I’ll make sure that the list of members of the Special Brigades is posted again for all to see, even if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

    “We also know who you are, you see,” Staszek interjected. “Inspector Frédéric Lucet, husband to Élise, father to Fernand and Joachim. Formerly of the police station of the 11th arrondissement of Paris, currently of the second division of the Special Brigades.” His voice grew dark. “An active participant in the Winter Velodrome Roundup that cost us my in-laws and their neighbours. An active participant in the tracking and arrest of Missak Manouchian, Joseph Boczov, Marcel Rayman, Thomas Elek and the rest of our comrades. When we repost the list of the Special Brigades after the liberation – and yes, we saved a copy of the list that was broadcast by Radio Londres, in case you were hoping it was lost – we’ll make sure to include all the details. We’ll even send it to your children.”

    At this, for the first time, Lucet seemed to lose a little of his bravado. “You leave my children out of this.”

    “Do you fear we’ll do to them what you did to countless other children?” Cyla retorted ominously. “To all those who died of thirst in the Winter Velodrome, for instance? But no. We’re not monsters like you. We’ll just make sure that they know exactly who their father was.”

    There was a long silence. Staszek observed his wife as she stood above the kneeling policeman like an avenging angel, her grasp on the pistol as firm as ever. “I always wondered what that was like,” she said finally. “You know, to kill a Nazi.”

    “I am not a Nazi,” Lucet protested. “I am a loyal citizen of France.”

    She barely arched an eyebrow. “Really? You could have fooled me.” He tried to interrupt her but she went on. “I always wondered what it was like to kill a Nazi or your kind of loyal citizen of France, then. I never got to do it myself, you see. Oh, I was there nearly every time. I brought the weapons to our men, then I took them away while they made their escape. But I was never the one who pulled the trigger.” Her face hardened. “Tell me, Inspector, did you ever wonder what it would be like to be killed by a Jew? Because even if the Allies never make it to Paris, this is how you’ll be remembered: a collaborator who was killed by a Jew.”

    Lucet raised his chin defiantly. “It will be a badge of honour.”

    They glared at each other for a moment. Staszek could see the fury in her eyes and he expected her to pull the trigger any minute now, but an idea was forming in his mind. “You know, Cyla… there are better ways to kill someone than shooting them in the head.”

    She kept her focus on the collaborator. “Tell me.”

    A few minutes later, Staszek had gagged Lucet and trussed him up like a chicken while Cyla put the finishing touches to the sign she would leave at his feet. “It will be a day or so until your colleagues receive our message and come for you,” she told the squirming policeman who was now bound to the laundry bench. She turned to her husband and held out the piece of wood. “What do you think?”

    Staszek glanced at the sign. “Defeated by a Jewess,” he read slowly. “I like the sound of that.”

    For the first time since the roundup, he was rewarded with a smile that actually reached her eyes. “Me too,” she said. “A Jewess… it hurts even more.” She bowed to pat their prisoner on the shoulder. “Farewell, Inspector Lucet. Until the Allies come.”

    -----------------------------------

    Endnotes

    The acronym MOI stands for ‘main-d’œuvre immigrée’, i.e. ‘immigrant labour’. This organisation started out as a communist-sponsored labour union in the 1920s, where immigrant workers were grouped by language. The bulk of its members were Italians, Poles, Russians, Hungarians and Germans; it later added a specific Yiddish-speaking section for Eastern European Jews and grew even more as Spanish Republicans sought asylum in France after Franco’s victory. During the war, it evolved into a direct action group under the FTP (Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, the armed wing of the Communist Party).

    In Paris in particular, the MOI grew to be the most active and radical direct action Resistance group, and indeed the only active direct action group in 1943. Now known as the ‘Groupe Manouchian’ after its leader, Armenian poet Missak Manouchian, this group consisted of Armenians, Spanish and Italian antifascists, and Eastern Europeans, the majority of whom were Jews, all of whom had nothing left to lose as their status as communists, foreigners and/or Jews meant that they were actively hunted down by both the French and Nazi authorities. They conducted a total of 92 operations against German assets, ranging from derailment of trains to assassinations of Nazi figures. Their most prominent operation was the assassination of SS Standartenführer (colonel) Julius Ritter in broad daylight in Paris on 28 September 1943. Other than Manouchian, some important names of members of this organisation are Joseph Boczov (József Boczor) and Thomas Elek (Tamás Elek), both of whom were Hungarian Jews, as well as Marcel Rayman (more on him below). Anecdotally, the famous French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour and his family were also members of the Groupe Manouchian.

    The Special Brigades (‘Brigades Spéciales’) were a French police force created in 1942 by the Vichy regime to hunt down ‘internal enemies’, i.e. Resistance activists. They worked in close collaboration with the Nazi authorities, hence the fact that, in this story, the policeman can tell a patrol to not go after someone who breaks curfew (although I’m not entirely sure how realistic this is.) Their second division was dedicated to hunting down communists and focused principally on taking out the MOI. The majority of the policemen who joined the Brigades were violently xenophobic, antisemitic and anticommunist and it’s well-known that torture was a common practice to extract information from prisoners. They were also particularly skilled in shadowing suspects, and it’s a historical fact that the Brigades issued rubber soles to their staff so as to stifle the sound of their footsteps when following someone.

    The long and the short of it is that the Special Brigades were ruthlessly efficient in tracking down the Groupe Manouchian, and that the majority of its members had been arrested by November 1943 after three long surveillance operations that began as early as January 1943. Twenty-three were put through a sham trial in February 1944 and executed by firing squad. The police then proceeded to print 15,000 copies of the infamous ‘Red Poster’ (‘Affiche Rouge’) that featured pictures of 10 of the activists together with the crimes that were attributed to them and described them as ‘the army of crime’. The goal was to conduct a xenophobic and antisemitic campaign claiming that the Resistance was led by foreigners, Jews and bolsheviks. It backfired spectacularly, as many Frenchmen and women saw the executed Resistance fighters as heroes and took to writing ‘Morts pour la France’ (‘they died for France’) on the posters and leaving flowers under them. It must be noted that ‘mort pour la France’ is a legal expression in France that’s awarded as an honour to people who died in service of the country; you’ll see it on war monuments and commemorative plaques pretty much wherever you go.

    The Special Brigades were feared but also despised by the Resistance, who perceived them as the worst sort of collaborators. A Resistance member that had managed to infiltrate the service was able to communicate a list of all Special Brigades members to the Free French in London. This list was read on Radio Londres on 31 March 1943; it was then printed out and put up on posters by various Resistance groups in Paris under the title ‘une brigade de tortionnaires et d’assassins’ (‘a brigade of torturers and killers’).

    The Winter Velodrome Roundup (‘Rafle du Vélodrome d’Hiver’ or ‘Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv’ in French) took place on 16-17 July 1942. It was the largest roundup of Jews in France during the war; 13,152 Jews were arrested, of which 8,160 were held for five days in the Winter Velodrome under appalling conditions, in stifling heat and with hardly any food or water. The conditions were so bad that there were more than 100 suicides during these 5 days. Those who attempted to flee were shot on the spot; however, a few teenagers managed to get out, which is how the horror became known to the people of Paris. The prisoners were then transferred to internment camps in Drancy, Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande, from where they were further transferred to Auschwitz. Less than a hundred survived. One important fact about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup is that it was conducted entirely and exclusively by the French police; France as a nation only recognised its role in the Holocaust when Jacques Chirac became president in 1995.

    One of the areas of Paris that was targeted in this roundup was the rue des Immeubles-Industriels in the 11th arrondissement. In the 1930s, this street had become populated by Jewish immigrants primarily from Poland, most prominent among them Marcel Rayman or Rajman (1923-1944), who is mentioned in this story. The son of Polish Jews who came to France in 1929, Rayman joined the MOI at the age of 18 and quickly distinguished himself by his courage and his intelligence. He rose through the ranks and was often sent as an instructor to newly formed groups in addition to the many daring operations he conducted, including the assassination of Ritter mentioned above. According to his younger brother who survived deportation to Auschwitz, the last thing he told him after they were arrested was: “At least I’ll die for something. I don’t regret anything. If every Jew had killed as many as I did, there wouldn’t be a Nazi army.” (“Je mourrai au moins pour quelque chose. Je ne regrette rien. Si chaque Juif en avait descendu autant que moi, il n’y aurait plus d’armée nazie.”)

    The characters in this story are OCs. I’m not aware that Marcel Rayman had any paternal cousins; he did, however, have maternal cousins who survived the war. Like Isabelle in the Nacht und Nebel story up-thread, I gave my OC Cyla the role of a courier who carried the weapons used in operations and then spirited them away; in RL there were a number of women who played this role in the Groupe Manouchian, most importantly Olga Bancic who is mentioned in the Nacht und Nebel endnotes.

    A French speaker would pronounce Rayman as ʁɛːmɑ̃ (with the ‘ay’ pronounced ‘eh’ as in fairy and the final ‘an’ pronounced as the ‘en’ in rendezvous), whereas the proper Polish pronunciation would be reh-ee-man as in English), hence the reason why Cyla corrects Lucet repeatedly during the story.

    Lastly, about the ending: yes, it’s totally unrealistic, and yes, if I were Cyla I would shoot the policeman without a second thought. It’s just that this story turned out to be so dark that I wanted to put a little bit of optimism in there. Another unrealistic element is the fact that the building at 1 rue des Immeubles-Industriels remained empty after its inhabitants were rounded up; in RL the houses forcibly vacated by Jews were immediately reallocated to so-called ‘Aryans’.

    My notes are almost as long as the story itself, so I’m going to stop here even though I could go on and on about the various controversies around the Groupe Manouchian. I just want to note in closing that French-Armenian filmmaker Robert Guédiguian directed a movie about the Groupe Manouchian in 2009 titled L’Armée du crime (The Army of Crime). The movie was highly praised by critics, and the actor playing the role of Marcel Rayman gives an extraordinary, intense performance; however, it’s a heavily fictionalised version of events and its portrayal of Rayman as a hot-headed, impulsive young man is apparently very far from historical reality.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2024
  21. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Very well done changing the dark tone =D= Lucet cleverly got Cyla to agree to a different outcome. @};-
     
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  22. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Dark and realistic with Lucet the villain still alive when Cyla leaves him.
    There is also a Dutch book and film about this period in Paris 'Haar naam was Sarah' (her name was Sarah)
     
  23. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you for the reviews and thanks to everyone who stopped by to read!

    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Thanks! I had thoroughly depressed myself when I reached the end of the story, so I really needed to insert a bit of something positive in there. I know that leaving the policeman alive is entirely unrealistic, and not only out of vengefulness – it would be far too dangerous for Cyla and Staszek to not kill him. But then the entire premise wasn't very realistic either, since the attacks conducted by direct action groups were hit-and-run, and yeah, as I said, I really needed these characters to have something to look forward to.

    @earlybird-obi-wan Thank you!
    If you're referring to the movie with Kristin Scott Thomas, I've actually seen it. It was gut-wrenching to say the least.

    Thanks again to readers, reviewers and lurkers! Next story coming right up.
     
  24. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 11, 2014
    Substitute prompt: Write a story between 300 and 1,200 words in which your characters must deal with that most classic of fanfic tropes, There Is Only One Bed
    Characters: OCs
    Genre: Drama with a nugget of humour
    Word count: 1012
    Notes: The prompt for week 9 just didn’t work for me, so I’m going for the substitute prompt. As usual, historical details in the endnotes, you know the drill.

    -----------------------------------------------

    Il y a le feu à l’agence de voyages

    Paris, 5 June 1944

    Being a simple courier, Anne-Marie had never had the opportunity to participate in anything exciting for her Resistance group, and it suited her just fine. All she was ever asked to do was to ferry a bunch of papers from one location to another, or to escort a person from one safehouse to another. The key to her task was to make sure that she wasn’t followed. She kept her head down, she did her job, and she knew to duck when the going got tough. She didn’t want to be a hero and it had kept her alive much longer than many of her comrades who had been captured by the Gestapo and made to disappear in the night and fog.

    Today was another of these simple assignments. She’d fetched the English pilot from the safehouse in rue Richelieu and was leading him to rue de Grenelle. From there, someone else would take over to exfiltrate him out of Paris and point him in the direction of home – she wasn’t quite sure how it was done, but she knew that her group had ways to return downed pilots to England. It was as they arrived near the meeting point that she realised that something was amiss.

    She actually sensed it before she saw anything in particular. The comings and goings in this narrow section of rue de Grenelle just didn’t feel right for a late afternoon in early summer, and what was that black car parked on the corner of rue du Bac? That was when she glanced up at the windows of the apartment that had served as their headquarters for the past several weeks and saw that a rag was tied to the guardrail, fluttering in the breeze. A wave of cold terror washed over her. The flat had been found. Her friends had presumably all been arrested, and she was left with an Englishman that she needed to hide until… until whenever, she didn’t know, but they needed to hide.

    She snuggled up to him and slipped her arm under his. Thankfully he wasn’t an idiot and played along; yet it was obvious that he didn’t believe she was actually flirting with him. He let her steer him towards boulevard Raspail without saying a word. It was only when square Boucicaut came into view, and beyond it, the Hôtel Lutétia, that he tensed up a little – the Lutétia was the headquarters of German military intelligence in Paris and even from a distance one could see that it was crawling with Nazis – but she didn’t give him time to express his misgivings. Instead, she took a sharp turn in rue de Babylone and led him into the Bon Marché.

    With all the penuries and rationing issues, the once-luxurious department store was little more than a ghost of its former self, but it was still a good place to lose any tails. Once she was sure that they weren’t followed, they made their exit on the other side of the building, walked leisurely along rue Saint-Placide and took a right – and there it was at long last: the Hôtel du Cherche-Midi, the backup plan for the day all other backups failed.

    She walked up to the woman sitting at the reception desk and said: “My cousin from Chartres recommended that I ask for a room with a view.”

    The elderly lady looked up. “We have many visitors from Chartres, but only one seems to enjoy the view.” Anne-Marie let out a silent sigh of relief upon hearing the agreed answer; she’d never used one of these last-ditch procedures before and she half-expected it not to work. The woman went on: “I have just what you need. Follow me, please.”

    She led them to a mid-sized room on the third floor. “The door over there opens to the service stairs, should you need to make a quick exit,” she said knowingly. “The radio set is in the closet. I’ll bring you your meals here until you figure out where you’ll be going next.”

    * * *

    It was nearly midnight by the time the Radio Londres broadcast began. Anne-Marie had explained to the pilot what had happened and why they were here, and he’d taken it all in stride. He just sat on the tiny couch, crossing one leg over the other in what came across as a very aristocratic pose, and he waited patiently for the hours to trickle by. Meanwhile, she was in such a state of nerves that she had chewed her nails virtually to the bones of her knuckles.

    If anything, her anguish grew when she heard the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth. What if nobody else had escaped? What would she do then? She forced herself to sit still while the speaker’s familiar voice read through the random sentences, but she literally leapt out of her chair and did a happy dance when she heard “The travel agency is on fire.”

    The pilot gave her a puzzled look. “Did something happen?”

    “Someone else made it out,” she told him happily. “They warned London to transmit this message for us. We’ll lie low here for a few days, and then I’ll put out feelers to see who is still available to help.”

    The Englishman smiled teasingly. “You mean it’ll be just the two of us in this room for a couple of days?”

    It was only then that she realised she was alone with a man whose name she didn’t even know, that they were stuck in a hotel room that they couldn’t leave, that there was only a flimsy folding screen to isolate the washbasin, and, most importantly, that there was only one bed. She blushed crimson as her eyes fell on the neatly tucked covers.

    The pilot let out a hearty bout of laughter. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. I saw a pile of blankets in the closet. I’ll take the floor.” He stood up and held out his hand. “I’m Alec, by the way. Alec Burton, Royal Air Force.”

    She shook it enthusiastically. “Anne-Marie Girard, mouvement Combat.”

    ---------------------------------------------

    Endnotes

    One of the purposes of the Radio-Londres messages was to warn people of an impending danger. The sentence used in this story is, as usual, a legit message broadcast on 5 June 1944; the complete version is: “From Daphne to Monique: the travel agency is on fire, no need to go there” (“Daphné à Monique: il y a le feu à l’agence de voyages, inutile de s’y rendre”). I have no idea who it was intended for IRL, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a warning.

    A method commonly used by the French police and the Gestapo when they had raided a Resistance location was to establish a souricière (literally a ‘mouse trap’), meaning, they left agents there to capture whoever came to visit. An equally common trick used by the Resistance was to have an agreed danger sign (such as a rag tied to the guardrail, a flower pot placed on the windowsill or a particular way to close the blinds) to warn potential visitors that the police was there; of course, there were many cases where those arrested didn’t have the time to put the danger sign in place.

    Resistance groups, especially the smaller ones, often confined themselves to one particular type of activity: some did intelligence gathering, others direct action, others yet published newspapers and flyers, etc. Some groups, such as the one featured in this story, focused on helping escaped prisoners of war and downed pilots to safety.

    Combat was one of the largest movements of the French Resistance and one of the founding members of the National Council of the Resistance (Conseil National de la Résistance) in 1943. It’s perhaps best known for the newspaper bearing the same name that began publication in 1941 and continued after the war until 1974. French writer Albert Camus was the editor-in-chief beginning in 1943.

    The various locations mentioned in this story are RL streets and places in Paris (except the Hôtel du Cherche-Midi, which I made up). I’m not much of a shopper, but I couldn’t resist mentioning the Bon Marché. It’s the ultimate department store, founded in the first half of the 19th century; the building alone is enough to make you travel to another era. It was Emile Zola’s inspiration for his novel Au Bonheur des Dames. Also, entering a department store to lose a tail is such a common trope in espionage fiction that I really wanted to use it in order to feel a bit like John Le Carré, although his preferred setting for this type of scene was the soviet chain GUM.

    The most interesting location mentioned in this story is the Hôtel Lutétia. A luxury hotel located near the Bon Marché, but also near the National Assembly and the Senate, it played an important role in France’s political, economic and cultural life in the first half of the 20th century. When the Nazis occupied Paris in 1940, it was taken over by the Abwehr, the German military intelligence and counterintelligence service. After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, it became a reception centre for people who had been deported to concentration camps. A group of survivors used to meet there monthly for lunch until some 20 years ago.

    Lastly, about my OC Alec Burton: first of all, his surname is a nod to actor Richard Burton, who plays an RAF pilot in the movie. Most importantly, I have plans for this character (@Mira_Jade knows what I’m talking about) and you can expect to see him in a bonus story or two after the KR is over.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2024
  25. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Very nice glimpse into a circumscribed bit of resistance activity. It makes sense that the smaller cells would have specific duties to perform. I'm glad Anne-Marie saw the signal that things weren't safe. Alec seems a very likeable sort, and I'm eager to read the bonus content. [face_batting]
     
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