|heavy South German, from
Baden-Württemberg, showed me with melancholy the photographs of his
wife and children. He dreaded being sent to the Russian Front and
told me that he would certainly love to remain in France. I ignored
the hint, as I did not know any unit which could have handled a German
deserter. We parted amicably after a last glass of wine.
In November 1943, in the
last days of Stalingrad, we noted a large troop movement at the railroad
yard. White-painted tanks were being loaded on flatcars in broad
daylight. Trucks and artillery followed. It was a magnificent
show of departure for the Russian front - so magnificent that it did not
seem real. By nightfall all the material had departed, ostensibly
to the North. Yet, two days later, we found trucks with the same
regimental markings as before in the streets of Montpellier. They
also showed, in some of the cracks of the wood, remnants of whitewash,
recently removed. The Germans had put on a beautiful show for our
benefit, hoping that we would signal the reinforcements sent from the South
of France. We were honored by this attention from the German Kommandantur,
but we also canceled the report we had made about the departure of the
tanks, trucks, and howitzers, and sent notice that the Baden-Württemberg
regiment had returned to the barracks.
A BREACH OF SECURITY
Only once during the year
and a half of our underground activity did we ever get a red alert.
We employed several young
students to distribute our cards and anti-Pétain tracts. These
boys did not arouse suspicion, being only about fifteen years of age.
One of them was Jean, from a small town to the north of Montpellier and
a pensioner at the Lycée. We employed him on weekends,
when he could get away from the school. Though Jean had absolutely
no need for a false identity card, he had persuaded René to give
him one. We had asked Jean not to use it, and he had agreed.
But he carried this forged document around in his wallet!
One Saturday afternoon,
Jean left the seminary through the main entrance and walked down the narrow
alley to the Boulevard Renouvier below. He had with him some tracts,
but fortunately, nothing else. For right below the seminary, on the
Boulevard, stood a policeman who had apparently no duties other than checking
identities. He asked Jean for his card. Jean showed him his
authentic one. Looking into Jean's wallet, however, the cop found
the other card. Jean had to admit it was a fake, and was dragged
off to the precinct, where they discovered the tracts in his briefcase.
Then Jean panicked: The cop had seen him coming down through the
alley from the seminary! Wouldn't it be logical for the police to
organize a search of the seminary? Were the policemen already on
the way? How could he advise us of the imminent danger?
Thus Jean sat in his cell,
with his head in his hands, crying softly. An older policeman, strolling
by, inquired about his troubles. This was the opportunity Jean