Fighting to prevent war

This is my review of Resistance: Memoirs of Occupied France: Translated by Barbara Mellor by Agnes Humbert.

Although I read this in French, which I would recommend for the natural, unpretentious style and vivid idioms, these comments may be useful for the English version.

An early feminist with the confidence of a senator's daughter, left-wing with a career in a Paris museum, two grown up sons, divorced from her artist husband, when the Vichy government decided to collaborate with Hitler, Agnes Humbert felt obliged to take action. Her "Journal de Résistance", for practical reasons probably written mainly after many of the events covered, is less about her work typing and distributing propaganda, and much more an account of life as a political prisoner, sent to Germany as a slave worker.

She makes us aware of the ingenuity of prisoners, their overwhelming desire to communicate, and the poignant rapid adaption to a state in which one can barely remember any other way of life. She describes in detail lying on the floor to enable one's voice to pass under the cell door, making a ball out of fruit wrappers, only for a sadistic guard to hear the sound of her playing with it and transfer her to a dirtier cell with no window as a punishment.

The grimmest section is the record of life operating the machinery in a rayon factory, which meant exposure to acid, blistering the skin, damaging eyesight and affecting breathing. This may well have contributed to Humbert's death later in her sixties. Despite her efforts to produce shoddy goods (reels of silk with hidden knots) I could not help noting the irony that her factory work probably contributed more to the Nazi cause than the activities which landed her in prison damaged it.

The final part shows her resilience, regaining a joie de vivre very quickly once freed. Her spirit uncrushed, she challenged the local German women to set up a soup kitchen and hospital for everyone in need, regardless of origin, and was pro-active in denouncing local Nazi activists. Her scathing view of the Poles is a little hard to understand, although one can sympathise with her irritation over the Americans' lack of vigour to see justice done, and their preference for "taking the easy path", not having suffered in war as she had done. At the end, she showed a degree of tolerance, able to see that some Germans were good people despite lacking the courage to resist Hitler.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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