|the Colonel in Albi, who
would probably take us back into our unit, from which we had been let go
without proper authorization. We had already paid back the 200 francs,
putting us in the clear with the administration.
There was, however, another
side to the Loriol camp. Separated from us by a no man's land of
100 yards and a high fence of barbed wire, stood barracks similar to ours,
housing political prisoners, men and women. Twice a week a German
Command Car and a truck would draw up and take some of them away.
These prisoners, as I could make out from occasional shouts, were German
refugees, rounded up for the Gestapo by Pétain. Their ultimate
destination: the German concentration camps or "shot while trying
to escape." I do not think that this particular crime has ever been
charged to Pétain or that either the French or the Allies knew much
about Loriol, where anti-Hitler Germans were handed over to the Nazi butchers.
Though safe on our side of the fence, we became rare witnesses to Pétain's
servility to Hitler from the very first days of the Armistice.
Three weeks after our arrival
at Loriol, two gendarmes put us into handcuffs again and escorted
us by train to Albi. Immediately upon our arrival, the Colonel received
us in his office and apologized for the administrative mix-up. The
unit was made up of soldiers who had no home to go back to, or who did
not want to live in the Occupied Zone. Most of them were idle and
showed low morale. Since my brother and I looked like intellectuals,
the Colonel appointed us to become assistants of the Lieutenant in charge
of administration. The young career officer was a likeable fellow,
only five years our senior. One of the most valuable bits of advice
he gave us concerned our bridge-playing during office hours, which he condoned
as long as the work was done. He advised us to let no one know that
we were bridge players, or we would wind up as the fourth hand at the Colonel's
wife's game, for interminable evenings with the higher-ups. I learned
also, during this bureaucratic interval, how to address letters and write
reports, which began, invariably, with a centuries-old formula of greeting.
I still address my letters to officials of the French Administration, of
whatever kind, in these or similar terms. I am not entirely sure
whether these formulas are still in use, but they are convenient, and at
least they announce clearly to the recipient that I was once connected
with the military.
Sifting through the mail
one morning, I discovered some new directives regarding students still
in the army of Pétain. The decree permitted those who had
been bona fide students in 1939 to obtain indefinite furloughs in order
to continue their studies. Since my brother and I had a home in Grenoble,
we could be given permission to return there to finish our Baccalauréat.
We arranged, with the Lieutenant's help, to have the forms sent to us,
and within five weeks we received permission to return to Grenoble and
pick up our studies where we had left off. Both of us were to study
at the Lycée Champollion for the First Part of the Baccalauréat,
which we had failed.