Holding Her Head High
The hunger pains were like arrows that pierced her stomach, but Marie held her head high. The small brim of her hat rippled in the breeze and her grey dress fluttered about her legs. She chose not to look at any of the German flags that hung on, or flapped above, nearly every beautiful old stone building in Paris. And she’d grown accustomed to the presence of the rigid, expressionless Nazis who guarded the doorways to these familiar places.
That didn’t mean she accepted the foreign occupation of her beloved country. To her mind, it wasn’t an occupation, it was a plunder and rape of France. But what pained her most of all was that this feeling was not universal. Many of her co-patriots assisted the Nazis. They squealed on their friends, neighbours and even their families. The Vichy Government believed that the Germans would be the victors in the war, and so did many of her friends. They thought it was prudent to be on the winning side, and that it was pointless to show any resistance. In fact, it would be dangerous to do so, they pointed out, since the Germans had become more and more brutal as the months and years passed.
Marie had just heard, first thing that morning, that François, a fellow member of the resistance, had been shot. She’d found that out through the underground communication network – a complicated, crucial web of informers. François had been caught cutting telephone lines. He was only eighteen.
Although she was devastated by the murder of François, and her legs wobbled, Marie continued her walk, doing her best to act as if she was a nonchalant pedestrian, so as not to attract attention. She couldn’t let any of her feelings show.
She’d recently made her dress out of a summer bedspread, using a small white linen tablecloth to make the collar and cuffs. She did all that she could to look chic. She wouldn’t allow herself to contribute in any way to the satisfaction of the Germans. No shampoo? Stuff your hair under a hat. Clothes worn-out or stolen? Make new ones from other things. Do not look shabby. Maintain your dignity. Don’t let them get you down.
She swung her handbag a little as she walked past the café, which now had the atmosphere of a morgue – cold and lifeless. Two years ago, she’d had a glass of wine and shared a joke with her brother as they sat at one of the ornate metal tables outside. But he had been taken by the Nazis and was now a slave in Germany.
Her face must not betray her. She must complete her important mission. The two forged passports were hidden in the lining of her handbag, and the one-page news bulletin, cut into eight pieces, had been sewn into the hem of her dress.
Two German officers marched towards her. They laughed and pointed at her. She averted her eyes, but one of the men grabbed her arm as she attempted to pass. She understood little German, but deciphered enough to realize that they promised her food in exchange for sex. She laughed, and said “non” three times. The officers became more belligerent and the grip on her arm tightened.
A woman pushing a pram on the other side of the street, stopped, pulled out a MP-40 (stolen from the Nazis) from under the blankets and shot the Germans before they had a chance to register what happened.
Marie ran – adrenalin gave her the strength and stamina to navigate the streets to safety. She didn’t hear what happened to the woman. Perhaps she’d been assigned by the resistance to protect her and what she carried.
A couple of days later, the Gestapo murdered twenty innocent French people in reprisal. Marie’s outrage at the cruelty and brutality of the occupiers made her even more determined to make a difference. She wanted, ached, to be more than a courier. It was her duty to her brother, to her country and to François.
The news bulletin that she had delivered to an underground printer, contained a short article on a couple of acts of sabotage that had created significant disruption in the manufacture of supplies for the Nazis. Sabotage. That’s what she wanted to do.
Marie’s determination and stubbornness, as well as her courage, led her to being accepted into a small group that planned to sabotage strategic railway lines which the Nazis used to move supplies for the war. Under cover of darkness, Marie’s group removed the bolts which held track lengths together. Sometimes this would disrupt trains for a few hours, but sometimes it resulted in derailments and more serious set-backs for the enemy.
Although her brother didn’t return from Germany, Marie survived the war. She was an unsung hero, as many French women were. Although she didn’t receive recognition for her work, she knew she’d done what she could. She held her head high until her death at eighty-nine years old.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2019
PS and check out a micro-story called "The Bridge": The Bridge