|approached Denis, still
bound to the tree, unconscious. They untied him, shoved his heavy
body into their car, and departed with a roar. The funeral could
proceed, as I had stipulated. I required the hearse to take the long
way around, in front of the church. I even had the procession stop
in front of the church, contrary to custom, for a minute of silent prayer,
so as more emphatically to establish the legitimacy of my ultimatum.
By this time, the crowd had dispersed and nothing was left on the plaza
to remind us of the ugly scene of barely ten minutes before.
The Maquis kept Monsieur
Denis for two more days and had him executed by a firing squad on Wednesday.
There was no priest, there were no last rites, there was no visit from
his wife. Martial law was applied with the utmost rigor.
Several years later, on
one of my return visits to Lasalle after the war, my friends the Souliers
transmitted the message that Madame Denis wanted to see me. The home
was decorated with all sorts of Vietnamese vases and other artifacts which
they had collected during Monsieur Denis' stay as a colonial administrator.
Madame Denis was deeply moved as she expressed her appreciation for what
I had done for her husband during those difficult days. At the end
of our meeting, during which I protested that I certainly had not done
much, she told me that she wanted to provide me with a tangible souvenir
of my action. Anything in her house that I would want to choose would
be mine. Any object, large or small that would please me would be
her gift to me in remembrance of her husband. Carpets, large vases,
sculptures, and armoires, were among these objects. None of them
had any value for me, still a student and bound, by then, for America.
I thus chose from among the objects offered a small traveling secretary
of drawers, made of tropical wood, which has never left me in the many
years since. It even sits today on top of the Empire bookcase in
my office. In a secret drawer is a photograph of Monsieur Denis,
on which the dates of his arrest and of his death are inscribed.
THE MAQUIS OCCUPIES
With the Allied invasion
of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the attitude of the Lasalle Maquisards changed
radically. They no longer felt that their role should be confined
to the distant mountains. They decided that the time had come to
assert themselves in Lasalle itself and to make clear that this territory,
which they had controlled for so long, really belonged to the French resistance.
On June 8th the Maquis moved from their earlier location in the mountains
to the castle of Cornelly, at the entrance to Lasalle. Seen from
the London perspective, they were courageously opening the second front
behind the German lines.
The population of Lasalle
welcomed the arrival of the Maquis at Cornelly. The end of the occupation
was in sight. The Allies were advancing, and soon a breakthrough
would occur that would force the Germans to abandon the South. Hope
was kindled anew.
What few of us realized,
however, was the gravity of that move, seen from the German side.
The Maquis' arrival at Cornelly was for them tantamount to the