“The Cost of Courage” by Charles Kaiser

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Temple Micah.

Micah reader in June 2017 by Brenda Levenson

Published in 2015, Charles Kaiser’s true story of French Resistance to the Nazi regime, The Cost of Courage, challenges the belief of France’s passive acceptance of the Nazi occupation in World War II. The book is the result of interviews that Kaiser conducted over two years with Resistance members of the Boulloche family with whom his uncle, a colonel in the United States Army, roomed after the liberation of Paris in August 1944.

Unlike Germany, in which the so-called resistance was limited to individual and isolated cases, as depicted in Hans Fallada’s novel Every Man Dies Alone, ten percent of the French population, or over 4 million people, are estimated to have served in a movement that was coordinated and organized from early on. Because little is generally known among many Americans about the involvement of the French in combating German occupation, our discussion elicited questions rather than opinions.

Three adult children of the Boulloche family, Christiane, Jacqueline and André, are the main protagonists of the book, their experiences often hair raising and suspenseful. Our readers questioned what led these young people who grew up in the safety of affluence, to engage in the dangerous situations they repeatedly faced. One person used the word “passion,” a strong and apt explanation of what propelled the many who risked their lives for freedom from the invader, love of their country and for the French Republic.

General de Gaulle loomed large in our conversation as the man who initiated the Resistance, through his early appeal addressed to his co-citizens from the BBC in London, to which he fled immediately, along with a group that would eventually include Pierre Mendès-France who was to become prime minister in 1954, the second Jew in France to occupy this position. Charles de Gaulle has been viewed as anti-Semitic, which he may well have been as a member of the aristocracy and thus an ardent Catholic, but he was also a man of great intelligence, of vision and of courage, pitted against the cowardice of those who rallied around Marshal Pétain and the Vichy régime, puppets of the Nazi occupants. General de Gaulle’s voice on the BBC every evening gave hope that the war would end.

For those who might question the role of the Resistance in World War II, Kaiser quotes General Dwight Eisenhower who wrote that “throughout France the Free French [the Resistance] had been of inestimable value in the campaign. They were particularly active in Brittany, but on every portion of the front we secured help from them in a multitude of ways. Without their great assistance the liberation of France and the defeat of the enemy in Western Europe would have consumed a much longer time and meant greater losses to ourselves.“

Following the example of many, Christiane and Jacqueline Boulloche were initially reluctant to speak of their experiences. “When the war ended, de Gaulle and the Boulloches felt much the same way: the only chance they had to survive was to avoid dwelling on the past,” writes Kaiser. But those who were either active in the Resistance or victims or the occupation, as survivors of concentration camps or as political prisoners subjected to torture, the consequences they shared were irremediable and often tragic. Of the three children who were members of the Resistance, André was the only one arrested towards the end of the occupation in Paris. He survived three concentration camps, returning to life a changed man. He married shortly after the war, divorced and remarried. He entered the world of politics and would die several years later in a plane crash on his way to a speaking engagement. Interviewed by Kaiser, André’s children discussed their father‘s post-war personality. “He had terrible violence in him which he contained…. But sometimes it got out of hand…. He could also be a violent disciplinarian with his children— and his dog,” writes Kaiser. Many families of concentration camp survivors share similar testimonies. PTSD was unknown then.

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