|occupation zone along
the Alps, which included my home of Grenoble, which was, however, under
the administrative authority of Vichy. Albi was in the southern or
"non-occupied" part and Pétain assured us in numerous radio addresses
that he, as a benevolent father, would be responsible for our well-being.
Everybody was sure, at
that time, that within a few months the Germans would invade England and
win the war, snuffing out the weak "government in exile" created on June
18th by General de Gaulle. The United States, totally unprepared,
paralyzed by isolationists, would acquiesce. We thought ourselves
lucky to have escaped relatively unscathed.
Finally, we heard from
our parents. They had been at the City Hall in Grenoble when Mayor
Marquet, running through the offices, shouted to his subordinates, "Get
things in order, the Germans are coming!" Our parents fled from Grenoble
to Bordeaux, straight across France. They made their way back, through
the chaos, when the Germans did not arrive.
No reason remained for
us to stay in Albi, and so we were duly demobilized. With 200 francs
in our pockets and 800 more promised upon our return, we hopped freight
trains that took us eastward through the central mountains of France.
This time we were less than twenty men to a boxcar, with no Messerschmitts
overhead. We enjoyed the green landscape, and dreamed about taking
up our studies again, which for some reason now seemed a wonderful opportunity
rather than an onerous task.
INMATES AT A CONCENTRATION
Upon presenting ourselves
at the Gendarmerie in order to receive the remaining 800 francs
of our severance pay, we discovered that red tape was catching up with
us. We were surprised to learn that we had committed fraud by accepting
the initial 200 francs, since "volunteers for the duration of the war"
were not eligible for demobilization. The war was not over, it was
explained to us: Only an Armistice had been signed. We were
to remain in the army, and to make sure we would not defraud the army again,
we were arrested, handcuffed, and put into a holding cell. The authorities
soon determined that we should not be held in jail, but transferred, until
further clarification of our status, to the newly established Concentration
Camp of Pétain, located at Loriol, in the Rhone valley, 120 kilometers
southwest of Grenoble.
As concentration camps
went, our French half of Loriol was not too grim an affair. Compared
with the German camps of the time it was a resort. There was indeed
barbed wire all around, and prison fare: watery coffee in the morning,
and, twice a day, a clear lentil soup with a few slices of dark bread.
But there were no roll calls, work details, or menacing guards. My
brother and I, being Protestants, were allowed to walk into the town of
Loriol each Sunday, without a guard, to attend church services. There
was no reason for us to bolt. The Commandant had assured us that
we were being held only until our situation could be clarified with