‘It is not a story, it is a life.’

If we’re ever together and you just want to piss me off, turn me into Humorless History Girl Who Takes Things Too Seriously, make a surrender-monkey joke about the French. Remind me how we poured French wine down sewers and renamed the fries in the cafeteria Freedom Fries and talked all day long on TV about how the French are pussies who make cheese and run at the first sign of a fight.

Go ahead:

She made false documents; received and transported weapons and money; planted explosives where Germans gathered. One time, she pasted plastic explosives on the wall of a movie theater in Paris where the SS was meeting. “We heard the boom,” she recalled. “It worked! Imagine!”

Among Charlotte’s many responsibilities was guiding men to Toulouse, where passeurs took them to the Spanish border. “Here at night they crossed the Pyrenees to the Spanish frontier and were brought to bordellos as safe houses,” she said. “Some spoke only Yiddish. Some went to join the Resistance in North Africa.”

She recalled riding her bike, with its basket loaded with weapons and weapon parts, when German soldiers confronted her. At that split second — with no time to think — she let her bicycle fall at the feet of the soldiers. They assisted her in getting to her feet, and she rode off.

Often, situations arose that required an instinctive response. One day, she boarded a train for Nice, carrying a suitcase with weapons. Her journey required a train change in Marseille. She chose to sit among the German soldiers because it was far more common for the French soldiers to inspect French passenger bags. The Germans talked with her and helped her off the train in Marseille. They checked her suitcase with their own luggage in the train station, as there was a wait for the connecting train to Nice. “If you want to see a real French football match while we wait for the train, I will take you,” Charlotte told the soldiers.

With that they all went off to the game. When they returned to the station, the German soldiers removed her suitcase — green with a double floor for hiding weapons and money — from the baggage check. They handed it to her and boarded the train for Nice.

People who rag on the French for not signing on to every military misadventure for which we send them an Evite not only forget things like this, they forget WWI, they forget the immediate aftermath of 9/11, they forget Lafayette, they forget everything except the rage in front of them. Which is how wars start in the first place.


11 thoughts on “‘It is not a story, it is a life.’

  1. To be honest, I like the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” joke because it’s a lovely turn of phrase and sounds hilarious when Groundkeeper Willie says it in The Simpsons. But that’s all.
    But yeah, the idea of the French as weak-willed nancy boys is another part of wingnut mythology that will never die. Didn’t Dick Cheney say something like the French had forgotten the lessons of WWII while at a cemetery for soldiers who died in the invasion of Normandy? Or something equally appalling and moronic?

  2. Anybody who accuses the French of surrendering at the drop of a hat or running away from a fight has obviously never been to Douaumont. For nearly a year they did everything but the rational thing of running away, sacrificing themselves by the frigging hundreds of THOUSANDS just to hold the line at Verdun and push the Germans back. It may not have been planned well, and later writings show that morale always a concern, but nobody should say they don’t have spines of steel.

  3. People who haw-haw-haw about the French being pussies ought to take in the WWI Memorial in Kansas City. After hosting the world’s first industrialized war, coupled with losing roughly 1/3 of a generation of men during the war, I think they deserve just about all the slack we can cut them. National wounds like that take generations to heal. (And, for the record, I don’t buy into the whole right-wing insult about the French being weak-kneed in the first place.)

  4. For every heroic resister like Charlotte there were many, many French collaborators. Without the communists, there would have been practically no resistance at all. Sad to say it, because I love France. Ref: “The Sorrow and the Pity” — one of the great films of the 20th century.
    As far as the invasion of Normandy. There were damn few French participating except for the ones who’d been evacuated at the time of Dunkirk. The French — AS A WHOLE — pretty much abandoned resistance after the German invasion.
    The French suffered greatly during both World Wars but their political and military leadership was dreadful both times.

  5. Don’t forget, it was the French who sank a Greenpeace ship because they didn’t want them dicking around with their nuclear testing.

  6. France was bled white during WW1, losing 1.3 million dead out of a population of 30 million. Imagine a war today that killed 13 million Americans and you get an idea of the scale of loss. I would think this kind of event would change the solipsistic war fever of even the most cement-headed neocon.

  7. Not that many Americans haven’t faced crippling and harrowing times, but in general, most of us are completely ignorant of what thousands of Europeans went through in WWII and WWI. Good/bad/noble/fucked-up those wounds and scars are part of a legacy we cannot relate to here. America is a tiny young baby of a country, and as a people, we are obscenely fortunate and untested, even counting 9/11, the Depression, bad economies, etc.

  8. Many countries have moments of greatness and in nearly all of them, an equal number or greater of infamy. For France there will always be the “La Gloire” that was Napoleon as well and the “ridicule” of The Dreyfus Affair. So to try and lump a country with a long history into a cramped little niche of “surrender monkeys” does a disservice to that country and to the educational system of the one making the stupid generalizations.
    Since the end of WW2 the French political situation has been nearly as bad as that of Italy, and since the end of VietNam ours here in the good ole US of A hasen’t been much better, and as of late, it has become just as bad.
    We may not have waved any white flags on the battlefield lately, but we sure as hell have waved the white flag as far as our rights are concerned. A country can usually recover from a lost war, but how can a people recover their lost rights as human beings which they have surrendered without a struggle? The French may have been beaten in 1940, but at least they put up a fight. What have we done?

  9. Yeah, I hate the much-loved “joke” about the French being cowardly. But I will note that in France most people roll their eyes and say that of course now everyone says they were part of the resistance–and everyone knows that could not be true. But I do think it is very, very easy to judge people while not having been in that position. Resistance fighters, when caught, were executed and anyone who helped them were tortured. Anyone been to Oradour-sur-Glane? It was a village that was burned to the ground and all the people in it killed because the Germans had been told the Resistance in the village was holding an SS officer (and they even got the wrong village). So yeah. The stakes were high to resist and I think it’s easy for us, from our recliners, to sit in judgment.
    And Dick Cheney? You can BET he’d be the first in line to collaborate with any occupier. Whatever will save his nasty skin.

  10. I’m sorry to point this out, but she was also Jewish. All you have to do is wander around the Marais, and see all the plaques commemorating the places where Jewish children were rounded up, to get what motivated women like her. Yes, there was an active French resistance, but the Jews had something additional to fight for.

Comments are closed.