My Thanksgiving With the French Resistance
A Twelve Year Old Being hunted by the Gestapo – Others Standing Against a Wall Waiting to be Shot for 12 Hours – A Peek Behind a WWII Curtain
I was honored to have Thanksgiving dinner in Atlanta yesterday with a group from the Franco American Veterans Association. The food was wonderful, and the company delightful, a day I will never forget.
I have no video footage of WWII resistance fighters in my archives. Those who joined as children at the time have stories that even a Hollywood screenwriter could not have come up with. The old adage of ‘truth is stranger than fiction is the picture frame for their exploits.
As often happens I learned about their coming here via an email. This one came from the French Consulate where I had attended a once in a liftime ceremony in September.
A dozen American WWII veterans were given France’s highest decoration, the Legion of Honor, dating back to the Napoleonic Wars. Working as a Veterans Today editor sometimes gets the red carpet rolled out, always a treat for any of our volunteer writing and editing staff.
This story just got bigger and bigger by the hour while researching. I had never heard of the Association Anciens Combattants Franco Americains before. They are the folks who run all of the ‘thank you America’ WWII memorial services all across France every year, and they turned out to be a colorful and very interesting bunch.
Another wonderful twist was learning that it was all started in 1995 by the American Major John Rodgers, who landed on Utah Beach with Patton’s Army, and ended up his military career in Vietnam.
Having married a French girl he found himself back in France for retirement and wanted to preserve the heroic memories of the French resistance who had helped so many American airmen and later soldiers, after D-Day.
Some of their early work involved placing monuments at bomber crash sites where the survivors were saved from capture and smuggled out to Spain or England via the resistance networks. This was not done without costs as they were penetrated and broken up from time to time with the resulting harsh treatment of the Gestapo. This is one of those stories.
Few know their names, what they did or how they died. The Association works to keep their memory alive.
Jean-Jacques Auduc was 11 years old when his father told him he would be working for the resistance. The whole family was involved, even Grandma who hosted the traveling radio operator.
When I asked him about the danger of the whole family being caught when one was picked up he told me that risk had to be balanced against the safety of knowing your family would not turn you in for the Gestapo reward.
Emile Klein’s network was busted up this way. The network leader ran the local garage and took on a Parisian refugee who wanted to get away from the Allied bombing by working in the suburbs.
After he learned that the boss and his assistant were in the resistance he betrayed them for the 50,000 franc reward.
The garage owner and assistant were captured, tortured, given the full treatment, fingernails pulled out, burned, and other unpleasantries, but revealed no information which gave up the netword members. Mind you, these were people who had not been trained in dealing with torture like is done now.
Emile also started out as a messenger, but found himself awaiting execution with his village hostage group after the resistance had killed two German soldiers nearby.
He described to me how the SS had told them that if they even saw anyone looking out a window of the schools they were moved to they would throw grenades inside. This was after they had spent from 11am to 11pm the day before lined up at the execution wall.
As fortunately happens sometimes, the advancing Americans columns forced the Germans to pull back and saved the village hostages from a sadder fate. Emil described grown men crying, not due to the no food or water for two days, but the intense fear over what could happen to their families.
One village had already been burned in their church in retribution for the resistance killing of Germans during the retreat.
I don’t mind adding my opinion here that killing a few German soldiers during their retreat had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of any battle, and unnecessarily put large numbers of civilians at risk.
Widely unknown even today is that executing hostages for partisan killings was legal under international law at the time, a little item that slips through the history cracks, also for partisan reasons.
The American Civil War saw the Yankee forces do this on occasion. You won’t find this in any school books, but in the official archives.
Jean-Jacques parents got caught and ended up in Ravensbrook concentration camp. They did survive the war, but his mother died in 1949.
When discussing with him the old problem of WWII vets never wanting to discuss the war, he told me that this was the same among many of the French vets and resistance fighters, also.
His parents never talked about Ravensbruck, explaining once to Jean-Jacques that if they did no one would ever believe it.
His father lost two brothers killed in the network, and as the years went by their two widows were always at family reunions as bitter reminders. And yes, the widows did blame Jean-Jacques’ father for the deaths of their husbands. Hence, discussing the war days was never a popular subject for many years.
Jean-Jacques had already been decorated by the time he was twelve for running spying and sabotage operations. They taught him to arm a magnetic mine and how to spill his marble bag under a German truck so he could get under it to collect them up and place the mine.
The German soldiers even helped him collect his marbles. An hour later the truck blew up but no one ever tied the two events together.
Another time London wanted visual information on a Luftwaffe base that had three squadrons of planes instead of the usual only one.
Adults were not allowed to get within eyesight of any of these air bases, but Jean-Jacques did, flying his kite just on the other side of the perimeter fence. He was able to spot that the underside of the planes were wooden, and unpainted…decoys…and reported that back.
The British responded by bombing the base with wooden bombs just to let the Germans know that they knew.
Eventually the war ended and the politicians began their traditional form of warfare. De Gaul had always had his problems with the British. Jean-Jacques paid for this. Because he had been in a British network, France compensated him for this war time loses with a big Zero…no pension, no medical care, nothing.
After the war Jean-Jacques became a forester for 40 years ‘so I did not have to be around people’. In his retirement he has come out of the closet, or the forest I should say.
People are his life now, and he is sharing his story more widely now due to Atlanta author Ken Kirk’s 2011 book called Messages in Handlebars, on Jean-Jacqes’ story and some of the other resistance fighters. Ken’s wife Claire is fluent in French and was a great interpreter.
Sharing Thanksgiving Day with these people was like being in a dream, but it was real. We will try to make it more real for others by getting more coverage of their work. I could find no YouTube video of them so we will try to fix that, and of course cover them as needed in VT.
The 70th anniversary of the liberation is coming up, and probably the last one where participants will be attending. I dearly hope to somehow be able to do over.
I will never forget what my dear friend and mentor Jeff Davis (yes, a descendent of CSA President Jefferson Davis) shared with me during the last interview I shot of him before he died. When he joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans General John B. Gordon camp in the early 1950’s here in Atlanta, where I am also a member…that on Confederate Memorial Day there were STILL living Confederate Veterans attending. It just blew my mind.
We all need to see to it that our young people have some similar stories to tell their grandchildren many years from now. We here at Veterans Today will do our part as best we can. And we hope maybe, someday, someone will be telling our stories.
During World War II, the French Resistance played a vital role in the Allied victory. Supported by Brittain’s Special Operations Executive in London, Resistance networks were formed, led and equipped by SOE agents.
The Auduc family provided essential support to the network formed around Le Mans, France, by an American OSS agent and a French SOE agent. The Auduc’s oldest son, Jean-Jacques, became the youngest Resistance fighter to be awarded the Croix de Guerre.
The downing of two B-17’s on July 4, 1943, brought the Auduc’s face to face with the five surviving U. S. airmen and changed each other’s lives forever as the airmen were first sheltered and then repatriated to England. The graves of those airmen who perished were resolutely guarded by French citizens.
The Auduc family and their fellow resistants teach us how much people will sacrifice to gain freedom from an oppressor. American, British, Canadian and French worked in cloaked secrecy and harmony to rid the world of the greatest evil in recorded history.
U. S. airman Sgt. David Butcher stayed with the Resistance for eight months, training its members in the use of the weapons parachuted to them. Other downed airmen were assisted by underground networks to escape to Spain and eventual repatriation to England.
American Army Captain and OSS member Fred Floege twice parachuted into France on missions for the SOE. During his second mission, he organized and led a large group of resistants in the east of France who stymied German movements before and during the D-Day landings.
This is a true, previously untold story of undaunted resistance to the Nazis. Alfred Auduc awes with his reckless determination to thwart the Nazis even while imprisoned in concentration camps along with his brother and other resistants from his region. His mother at age 66 harbors a radio transmitter and its operator while receiving munitions drops on her farm.
The end of the War is not the end of the Auduc’s story. Through them we learn how the Marshall plan helped to restart European’s lives. But we also learn how the deep scars of their incarceration pain them throughout their lives.
For many years, Jean-Jacques Auduc has belonged to a French association whose mission is to remember Allied sacrifices to liberate their country. Jean-Jacques relates his story to French school children; he proudly carries the American flag at commemorative events; and, he restores and maintains Allied monuments.
Jean-Jacques chooses to use his meager funds in this way rather than on a TV set or a computer or the internet or other comforts. Perhaps the proceeds from this book may allow him some comforts in his eighties.
My wife, Claire, who translated the several bios which are included in this book, Jean-Jacques, who so much wished to have his family’s and friends’ stories preserved, and I thank you for your interest. Kendrick Kirk
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