The life of Constance Ray Harvey at times sounded like something from the movie Casablanca. During World War II, after tours in Milan and Bern, she was stationed in Lyon, where she worked with the Belgian and French Resistance,which included getting members of the Belgian government out of France. She smuggled documents to the U.S. Military Attaché in Switzerland, Barnwell R. Legge (at left in the photo), who helped arrange the escape of many interned U.S. fliers and was awarded the Legion of Merit for his work.
In November 1942, Harvey was interned along with other American diplomats when the Nazis took direct control of Vichy France (read more here about their experiences). After the war she received the Medal of Freedom for her courageous efforts; her medal is now with ADST. (See photo at bottom of page)
In these excerpts, she also talks about the friends and colleagues she knew and respected who were imprisoned in concentration camps. She also discusses the remarkable General Henri Giraud, who was captured during both World Wars and managed to escape. After his second escape in 1942,when he climbed down the side of the mountain fortress where he had been kept for two years in prison, some of the Vichy ministers tried to send him back to Germany and probable execution.
But Eisenhower secretly asked him to take command of French troops in North Africa and direct them to join the Allies. Only after Admiral of the Fleet François Darlan’s assassination in 1942 was he able to attain this post, and he took part in the Casablanca Conference with de Gaulle, Churchill and Roosevelt in January 1943. He served as co-head with de Gaulle of the Free French Forces but was forced out after continual disagreements with de Gaulle.
Constance Ray Harvey was interviewed by Dr. Milton Colvin and Ann Miller Morin beginning in 1988. You can read more accounts from World War II and about Frances Willis, the first career female ambassador.
Getting Information Back to Washington
Q: Constance, now the war is on, France has been defeated and Great Britain driven from the continent. You have moved from Switzerland to Lyon, where the French Government of Marshal [Henri Philippe] Petain is in power.
HARVEY: I was vice consul in Lyon under the Vichy Government, of course. I went there on New Year’s Day of ’41. I still had an apartment in Bern, but I rented it to the British military attaché. I went back to Bern…rather frequently. I had a car and I sometimes drove back and forth…
I have something to tell you about the demarcation line…It was one of the cleverest things that they [the Germans] ever did…not to overrun the whole of the country. Because what happened was, of course, that the real resistance developed in occupied France, and the people in the south who hadn’t lost everything were doing everything they could not to lose the rest of the country. France, at that time, had a million and a half prisoners of war in Germany, and the threat of something happening to the prisoners or the south being overrun was a tremendous psychological grasp that Germany had over the rest of France.
After France was completely occupied, then the resistance of the French picked up….
Q:…[T]he military attaché in Switzerland, Barnwell R. Legge, did he stay in Switzerland or did he then come to France?
HARVEY: No, he was in Switzerland all during the war. Years later, when I was back in Washington after the war was over, I learned, not from him, but from somebody quite different, that he sent the best information our government got during the whole of the war about what was going on on the eastern front. Legge had people all over Europe, a network of people, and I became one of his people. Early on…[the British] attaché for air, a very brilliant Englishman, asked me if I would work for him. I said, “Oh, Freddy, no. I love you, Freddy, but I couldn’t do that. I have to be with my own people. I couldn’t work for you, Freddy.”
But when Legge asked me, I said, “Oh, sure. What do you want to know, brother?” (Laughter)
What I did, we had a very good arrangement. The pouch went through Geneva and Vichy and then back through Lyon to Bern and then on the way across Spain to Portugal and on to Washington. When the pouch came back from Vichy to Switzerland, I was the last person in Lyon to buckle up this big bag. I put into it whatever I thought was suitable. Not even my chief knew all that went into that bag. But I knew it went straight to Legge and that that was one of the best possible, quickest, and surest ways of communicating with our government in Washington. There wasn’t any doubt about it, because Switzerland had other means also.
Moreover, I had a lot of people who came to me on various errands. [A Swiss man who had] been in the business of industrial diamonds for years and he just kept on buying industrial diamonds, even in German-occupied territories…Instead of taking them to Switzerland, he brought them to me, and I would supply them to our government in this underhanded fashion. (Laughter) That was one of the jobs I had for Legge.
There were all kinds of information which could be brought to our office. One of my chief tasks was taking charge of Belgian interests….Our office was also in charge of all of British Commonwealth interests, but the other vice consul, George Whittinghill, handled that and had a vacated British office across the Rhone River. I was doing the Belgians in our office in the Place Beauvau, which was on the right bank of the river.
Smuggling People Out of France
George was very active and probably knew more about the real French Resistance than I did. [When he was transferred in ‘42]…I took over British interests also and went over to that office for a certain number of hours a day.
I knew a lot about the Belgian situation. One of my clerks had been for many years the economic advisor to the American embassy in Brussels, and when Belgium was occupied, he was transferred to Lyon….
We had a lovely time getting out…prominent people, practically all of the Belgian Government in exile…When we got out the man who was the former Belgian military attaché in Vichy, with a nice passport under a false name to go across Spain, we thought we’d done quite a good job. These were all, of course, Belgian passports which had been fixed up, usually arranged by Jacques Lagrange and his wife. Jacques was the Belgian clerk who usually created these works of art at home with the proper photographs and descriptions, which were quite imaginative. It looked right and official. And all of these people went out with nice Belgian passports issued by the kindly protecting power, and signed by C.R. Harvey.
After the war, one of these people came into our embassy in Brussels and said, “Here’s the passport that was given to me by Miss Harvey. I’ve always remembered her.” (Laughter)…
The Belgians had a very good underground network. As a matter of fact, our office sometimes looked like a recruiting office, because when the Belgian radio, which broadcasted from London to Belgium, began to urge young people who wanted to go out to join either the Belgian Army in the Congo or to come to London, they’d say, “Make for the American consulate in Lyon.” They would come in. Sometimes these people certainly looked rather “suspicious,” and were the ones that we could not get out with passports. They had to be taken out “black”, i.e., by special guides….
Q: Did you not have to worry that your link would be broken through an informer? Were you not constantly on guard?
HARVEY: …Nobody knew of my connection with Legge …except George Whittinghill [who was also working for him]. Nobody else…
Except that…my final consul general, Marshall Vance, came out from the States just before it became impossible to get into France, he sort of closed his eyes to what was going on. The day after Pearl Harbor, he called George and me into his office and he said, “I know, kids, what you’ve been up to. I was told before I left home.” (Laughter) “Now that we’re in the war, you can tell me what you’re doing…”
French Attitudes to Petain, the Brits, the Americans and the War
Q: [What were] your impressions of that time, particularly of your impressions of the attitude of the French toward Marshal Petain?
HARVEY: Of course, the French were very divided, right in families. You had to know intimately the person you were speaking to, because it was really a civil war in France. There were the people who were very anti-Petain, others who felt they couldn’t do anything but put up with him, and others who clung to him emotionally. That was what surprised me, because I knew my Italians and how emotional they were, how they decided things according to their feelings. They became great admirers of their dictator. But I could never imagine the critical, rational French falling for this situation, but they certainly did.
I think that one story which I may have told you off the cuff explains it pretty well. I was very pro-English, pro-British, although I personally never lived or was stationed in England, and I remember saying to one of my close French friends one day, who had been in the Army himself, had been captured and escaped in the very first days of the war, “Why doesn’t France pull itself together and continue to join up with England, to help save England? Why doesn’t France get back into the war?”
And he looked at me and said, “Oh, you don’t know what it was to see men running.” And I felt deeply, deeply ashamed of myself when I realized what the defeat and humiliation had meant to that country. Of course, in a sense, that also explains the power of de Gaulle later.
Q: It just was a wrenching experience for the nation, with this great military history, to essentially be defeated and be humiliated in the process.
HARVEY: Yes, and so rapidly. In World War I, it was a terrible, murderous war, but in a sense, at that time, the country wasn’t overrun. You see, practically overnight, in 1940, in such a short time, a complete collapse. This was really very, very shocking to the French. They weren’t really prepared for that sort of thing at all psychologically. I think a great many of them just had to have a “father figure” to hang onto psychologically, and the general was there.
Q: Was there to some degree an anti-British feeling because Britain had not been defeated?
HARVEY: I think, above all, latently there’s a great deal of anti-British feeling still in France, probably even today. This is something that goes way, way back, and you can find it in England, too, definitely, even before Napoleon. That was reactivated by various things, as you say. The British bombing at Mers el Kébir [off the coast of French Algeria in July 1940], of course, had been a shock to them, especially to the French Navy. Of course, of all people, it was the French Navy who hated the British more than anybody else….
We Americans were not frequented by the people who were anti-Anglo-Saxon… I mean, we knew that they existed and we knew we had to be careful…I happened to have some very good friends in Lyon, because I went with one letter of introduction to a prominent family when I arrived there, which was very helpful. They were very pro-British. But you had to know who in a family was pro-Vichy, and who was against it. You couldn’t trust anyone just because he was related to or had a certain position…You had to know each individual well, and you had to be very careful what you said….
The people I knew kept up their hope that the British were going to hang in there, and they did admire them, even some people that didn’t like them that much. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily liked de Gaulle. That was quite a different story. Of course, anyone who had anything to do with the Navy was not likely to like the British in any case, but I don’t think I ran across many naval people there in the middle of the country.
I had one French friend, this family I knew well, very well indeed. He did business with the Germans right up to the last moment. All the time I was there, he was going up to Paris and further north on business with the Germans. I knew perfectly well he was betting on the British winning the war, but he wasn’t giving up his business because of that. They, of course, wanted very much for the Americans to come…
I had a house in the country because I couldn’t have an apartment or anything in the city; I just had a room in a hotel. But I had a house in the country in the department of the Ain, and there I had people down for weekends to this country house. To get food, you had to go scrounging. I would go around to one place where they sold butter right from where they made it black market. The man who ran this, the fruitier, as they called the man who does butter and cheese in the country, he would call me aside. He’d say, “Mademoiselle, come, come. Let’s have a little drink in the room above the shop. I want to talk to you.”
So I would go up with him to this little room above the shop, and he’d put his great hands and arms on the table, lean forward earnestly, and say, “When? When? What should we do in the meantime? When are the Americans coming? Are we supposed to work now?” This was just one of the common people. But there were lots of people who were looking for their real savior…the Americans…
There was always a feeling of friendliness, in general, for the Americans…You see, the Americans were not just Anglo-Saxons to them; they were the people with whom they’d been involved in our Revolution and then we’d taken on theirs and so forth. They remembered that, and they remembered us as friends.
People were divided about the Vichy Government. We couldn’t help but see both kinds in a way, but people made little waves. They didn’t dare talk too openly, you see, because they never knew when the Gestapo would arrive and scoop you up. We had Gestapo coming into the office constantly. We were very careful not to find out too closely who came into that office. We didn’t ask too many questions. We found it better not to know always. Some of them, we knew pretty well were members of the Gestapo, which was quartered right across the street from my hotel, in the hotel where my consul general was lodged.
People got around things in funny ways. There was nothing to be bought in the shops….I had a maid whom I would send to buy anything she could find, and one day she came back with a teapot. She said, “It was the only thing I could buy anywhere.” I said, “That’s great.” I’m still using it….
In a picture shop where they did beautiful picture framing and sold pictures, they had nothing left to offer because no merchandise was created during all this period. But in one window they had a great big picture of Petain, and in another was a great big picture of Laval. Under the picture of Petain was “Epuisé. [Exhausted]” And under the picture of Laval was a sign “Vendu. [Sellout]…”
One day, a horse came down the main street of Lyon…where our office was, and everybody stopped and clapped. (Laughter) Nobody had seen a horse in they didn’t know how long!
One had to be very careful with whom one spoke, because they might be on one side or the other and go and tell what you said. So before you got into politics of any kind, you had to know the person really well with whom you were speaking. The French are apt to chatter a bit too much. I was traveling on a train from Vichy back to Lyon once, and happened to sit next to one of the rather famous French generals, General De La Laurencie, and he started to talk to me, you see, because he was very anti-Petain. I was terrified with what he was talking about…
General Giraud vs. General de Gaulle
Q: What you can tell us about your meeting with General Giraud?
HARVEY: Before I talk to you about Giraud, whom I got to know probably in late July of ’42, I want to back up a bit and tell you a little bit more about the work I’d been doing regularly for our attaché in Bern, General Legge. I told you about one or two things that I did for him, but I went personally to Switzerland every once in a while, carrying documents to him and reports which we had from the occupied zone and from other places and, of course, from Belgium and so forth.
Once, for instance, I arrived and we met in a field outside of Geneva. I presented him with some documents which I knew what they were, and which had been brought down to me by one of the agents that we had working in the north, who brought information to us. They were the maps of all the emplacements of the antiaircraft equipment of Germans all in and around Paris. He turned sort of white and said, “Oh, for goodness sake, you just brought this in by hand?”
I said, “Oh, yes, no problem…”I had a Ford car, and when you crossed the frontier, there was always a member of the Gestapo right at the frontier with a French officer, watching as you went back and forth…That Ford car had a glove compartment for which there was a separate key, not the key to the rest of the car, the ignition…
So when I went in, I…just locked up papers inside the glove compartment and turned the key down inside my bosom. When I went into the place to check out with the French officer and the Gestapo to go into Switzerland, I left my car open, with the keys just hanging from the ignition. … Sometimes people had hidden things in the machinery under the hood, and they sometimes looked under the hood. I thought that was something to avoid…
I remember the general said, “I shall remember that, Constance.” So later, when he gave me the Medal of Freedom, I guess he remembered…
Toward the end of the summer of 1942, Giraud had arrived in France and having escaped from a German prison east of Dresden. We didn’t know much more than that, I had a good friend, Leon de Rosen, a Frenchman working with the American Red Cross, helping distribute milk and other supplies….He got Red Cross parcels and other things to people in the occupied zone. He moved around a good deal, and he was a very patriotic Frenchman.
One day he said to me, “Constance, you know Giraud is here in this area, and I’ve told him about you and he wants to meet you. He’s very anxious to have a way of communicating safely with the Americans, and he doesn’t see any way in which he can do that…” He was at Vichy, but he left …in May… “He is here and staying at the Chateau de Fromente outside of town, and I could take you up there if you would like to meet him.”
I said, “Oh, yes, sure, I’d love to. That would be very interesting…” I didn’t say anything to anybody…
He said, “I will stay outside in the car. You are to go in. Just go in, open the door, go in. Don’t stop to ring the bell. Just walk in.”
I went in. It was, to me, a memory I shan’t forget. It was a beautiful entryway, black and white marble floor, a staircase, and there was no one there but this very tall,… elegant-looking gentleman. Apparently there was no one else in the whole building. I think the servants had all been sent away. Then we met and talked, and he said that he was very anxious to try to get in touch with Americans, but didn’t see how he could. He couldn’t go back to Vichy… There had been attempts to assassinate him….
He said, “My young friend thought maybe you might be able to help me.”
I said, “Yes. A good friend of mine is the military attaché in Bern, and I see him, and I could easily take a message if you want to send one…”
So we talked for a little while, and I told him I had gone to school in France, and then he said, “Let’s get De Rosen in, and we’ll talk together.” So De Rosen came in, we strolled in the garden, and had a nice chat about things, and I departed.
I went back once more some weeks later. I guess I got another request to go. I went alone that time, and I didn’t take my American car. I had, by that time, also acquired a little old dirty Peugeot for such occasions and thought that was better. So I drove up the hill outside of town to the Château, and went in and saw him once more there.
Then I saw him a third time, a few weeks later, by appointment. He sent word that he wanted to see me. I was to go to a very humble part of Lyon, the working-class quarter, and just go in the door and up to the apartment on the second floor….
When I arrived, I found a room with nothing in it but a couple of chairs and a table and an enormous bouquet of carnations on the table. Carnations from a French gentleman for a lady visitor, you see, just to make it look attractive. So we talked again, and both times he gave me papers to take to Legge. One of the times, I don’t remember which time, but probably during that third visit, he gave me the papers which were his proposals for the landing in the south of France. He had mapped out exactly how he wanted to have it done and how he would personally take command. I took those papers to Legge. That was the last time I saw Giraud.
One of Giraud’s adjutants was Colonel de Linarès. I went to see de Linarès a couple of times, and he always gave me documents to take to Legge. Sometimes I think I had messages from Legge to hand in the other direction.
Then toward the end of October 1942, Giraud left the area and went to join his family near Aix-en-Provence, and I didn’t see him again until after the war, when he came to see me in Zurich.
Q: How was that meeting after the war, when he came to see you in Switzerland?
HARVEY: Oh, that was fascinating. When he came back to Switzerland, I think it was in ’48, my last year at Zurich. Here he is back, seeing friends in Zurich. [Looking at photographs] These are some of them, the people he saw when he was brought through Switzerland, when he escaped from Königstein fortress on the Elbe… He spoke German very well, and he got himself across the border out of Germany and first into a part of Switzerland.
Q: He climbed out on a rope or something, didn’t he? And here he is, this extremely tall man.
HARVEY: Yes, very tall for a Frenchman. He shaved his moustache off when he escaped. Here he is with his moustache, but this is when he came to see me. He came to my office to see me.
Q: Tell us a little bit about that meeting, when he came to see you. Was it to thank you?
HARVEY: Yes, yes, and to talk to me about lots of things. In any case, that was the last time. He said, “Do come and see me in Paris sometime,” but I never did get to that. I was very shortly afterwards transferred to Athens.
I had a letter from him not very long before he died. He died thinking he’d been poisoned. I heard this afterward. But he didn’t; he died of internal cancer.
When in 1942 he joined the troops in North Africa, he took one son with him, leaving his wife, a daughter, and another son, I guess, behind. They were taken to Germany. His daughter died in Germany in a concentration camp…
After the assassination of Darlan, he sort of took charge, in a sense, in Africa. He claimed, I think, to me, and he certainly claimed in his second book, of which I do not have a copy, that he had sent a message to President Roosevelt, and something had come back… “Okay. Roosevelt.” I think he certainly wanted, before he actually got to Africa, and expected that he would be…in command of any force landing on French soil, because he was the ranking French general….But whether he ever got any real acceptance of that, I very much doubt. I knew what Eisenhower did. ..but I didn’t go over this with him…
Q: He may very well have gotten a letter from Roosevelt which could be read in several different ways, Roosevelt keeping his hands open to de Gaulle or Giraud.
HARVEY: Yes. I don’t think he thought so much about de Gaulle, but the command was to be Eisenhower’s, obviously. I think that knowing, at least at a distance, a little about Roosevelt, I think his being equivocal was quite possible. And knowing Giraud, I think Giraud interpreted it the way he ardently desired it to be. But that is only, of course, what I deduce….
I don’t remember any kind of comment about de Gaulle…He said to me often an idea which was virtually the title of his second book, Un Seul But: La Victoire. Translated, “My Only Objective: Victory.” I think it expresses him and his attitude very strongly. He was a soldier, and he wasn’t interested in, nor had a real concept of, the political future of France. Of course, that is the difference between him and de Gaulle, the real difference….
I don’t think he had any real political ambition in that sense whatsoever. I don’t think it occurred to him. I think he thought that he had the right and station to be the general, you see. When I saw him after the war, I don’t think that he ever mentioned de Gaulle to me. I don’t remember that. Nothing striking….
Q: There was no unity in terms of the French Army, in terms of supporting de Gaulle, until after the North African landing.
HARVEY: He wasn’t that popular, as I gathered it, when I was there, with the leading officers in the French Army. This is something that I was interested in myself. I think our government understood this, and that’s one reason they were perhaps interested [in Giraud]… I think that they felt that many French officers…would follow Giraud rather than de Gaulle, and I think that that was possible.
The ones who wanted to follow de Gaulle had already gone to London…and also there was a certain jealousy among the people who hadn’t gone, I think. It wasn’t quite the same thing. Masses of people and the younger people were perhaps attracted to de Gaulle. Of course, there were people who were de Gaullists. One of them was the young daughter of the subsequent ambassador to Washington…
I think the trouble…with Petain was that he was…too old….It was generally known while I was Lyon that one of the tricks was to get him to sign papers late in the afternoon when he was vague, that they didn’t give him important documents in the morning when he was more alert. This became a sort of practice. He was surrounded by [many] people who… were really playing the German game….After all, the country was divided. One forgets this, that there were people who were afraid of Communism, and there were the extreme right who existed in France, and a good many of them were really virtually pro-German and thought that, after all, they could work things out with Germany…
There was always the group which was the far right. They were, as always, interested in their positions. They were sure the Germans were going to win, and they didn’t want to be on the losing side…
Then there were these other people, like my industrial friend, who would talk with and do business with the Germans, who told me once, while I was still there, that he had been in a conference in Alsace. This was sometime in ’42, before I was interned. He said, “One of those Germans said, ‘We know what’s going on with the Jews. Even if we lose the war, we should have gained the annihilation of the Jews….’
In… August of ’42, a woman from the Swiss Red Cross came to my office and said that their group…sometimes got permission to go in to see the really sick people in some of the German concentration [and] prisoner of war camps. She said, “We have learned that they’re actually taking their victims and making soap of Jews…” Actually, the Swiss Red Cross got out quite a number of elderly people into Switzerland…toward the end of the war. One of them had been my dressmaker… She was almost 60…They brought her out, dying of tuberculosis. She finally recovered, and I saw her before she went to the hospital…[She] told me about some other people, what had gone on in the camps….I had eight people I knew who went to concentration camps. Two of them that went were clerks at the consulate in Lyon….
A Friend Hanged as a Spy
Also, I must say just a few words about one of our Canadian friends, a young man, Frank Pickersgill. He stayed in my house out in the country for a number of weeks, quite a while in 1942. He had been studying for the Canadian Diplomatic in Paris…and been picked up by the invaders and taken to the prison at St. Denis. There’s a big prison there just north of Paris. He and another Canadian boy were there for a year and a half, and they escaped.
You couldn’t have told he wasn’t a Frenchman; he spoke absolutely flawless French. My French friends couldn’t believe he wasn’t French. He didn’t have a drop of French blood. He’d been brought up, I think, in Manitoba, and he had learned French from a French governess. He didn’t have French blood, but he sure knew how to talk French, and he knew Frenchmen all over the country, all over France.
He stayed at my place quite a while because he had escaped, and we picked him up and said he was not to try to go out on one of those “lines” that people had rigged up for people to go out, that we’d get him out with a passport. We were pretty sure we could, with a proper passport and a permit, because he was deaf in one ear and therefore a non-combatant. Very unfortunately, he’d had a gun go off near his ear….
We did get him off to go through Spain to Portugal, and on to England….After intelligence and communications training, he was parachuted back into France by the English, with a number of other people. I’ve heard that about 20 were parachuted at the same time….They were all picked up almost immediately, and put in prison again in Paris. He almost liberated the whole bunch of them, but he fell and broke his leg… so they got him again.
They finally took him to Buchenwald, the concentration camp, where he was hanged as a spy. The man who was our consular clerk, and who also had been in that camp, told me later, “When he walked in, he was just the same old chap we had known before in Lyon. He was just as cheerful as anything, and he acted in a perfectly normal way.” That was our last news of him. He was a brave guy.…
Working with the French and Belgian Resistance
From the Morin Interview:
HARVEY: We had all kinds of people coming. I had someone coming in from the Belgian secret service who was parachuted in all the time; and, I think, I knew him by his real name… name was Dewind. He used to come to my apartment and have a drink or a meal with me in the hotel, and tell me all about his wife and children.
The Belgians were running a very good shop; they did several things I learned more about after the war. They had several lines to different parts.
Q: How did they get them out…?
HARVEY: Well, usually people had to walk, of course. But, there was something in a book called Le Passage de l’Iraty…which describes some kind of conveyance that went almost up to the Spanish border….It had something to do with logging…or something like that. The people would go and they…got mixed up with the logs…and got pushed up…I can’t quite remember what the story was… I didn’t know about that at the time. I just knew that it was working…
I also had the privilege of [staying in the same hotel as Virginia Hall] who took the Foreign Service exams [with me], but [failed]. She was there, now with an artificial leg, because she had been in a shooting accident and shot off part of her foot and had to have it amputated. She was…officially working for some…newspaper — but she was really working for the British…She did a lot about getting people organized to blow up bridges…[and other things]. She had a whole squad of people working for her….She only had one artificial leg with her; unfortunately, when something went wrong with it, I had to put Ginny to bed and send for the tinsmith….
She was not allowed to join us when we were interned. I was told firmly that she could not join herself to our group. So in the end she had to walk over the Pyrenees…One of the bravest people I’ve ever known….
Later, when she was back in this country, she worked for the CIA for a number of years. And she married a Frenchman, whom I think she knew…during the war….
The French resistance was not very well organized. I can’t really say that I had any direct connections with it. The Belgian resistance was very well organized, and I knew a lot about that. Even some French people I knew worked for the Belgian resistance.
As a matter-of-fact, the daughter of the man who was later de Gaulle’s representative in Washington — his 17-year-old daughter, Violaine Hoppenot — we knew each other well, and she was working for the Belgian underground. My last night in Lyon I wasn’t in my hotel. I was asked by friends who thought it was safer to be at their house, and that’s where Violaine was too, the last night that we were there.
After we returned and got onto the train to go to be interned, she went back to Paris and worked in one of the undergrounds in northern France which were much better organized than the things in the south. She was arrested walking on the street with one of the members of her underground, but they weren’t speaking to each other. They were taken to the German police. First I think they were put into the same compartment, where they interrogated them. They said, “We didn’t know each other. After all, there we were, two people on the street; what can you do?”
But Violaine said to me, “I gave him his last cigarette. He was taken into the room next door, and I heard him die. Then they didn’t seem to have anything on me, so they let me go, probably because they thought I’d show them where there were others.” But she went underground for a number of months and dyed her hair and looked completely different, and disappeared from the scene. Then she surfaced and started working with another group, until Paris was taken. Then she got on a bomber and came to see her father, who was then de Gaulle’s representative in Washington, whom I’d gotten to know right well already….
Colleagues Taken to Concentration Camps
HARVEY: I want to remember, at this time, two of our clerks in our office in Lyon. People we have often referred to as “locals,” an epithet I dislike. Throughout the service we have been blessed by nationals of the host country who have done incredible services for the United States.
One of these was Henry Crooks; half Belgian, half British, with a British passport, who had been at the office in Lyon for a number of years, as had, also, Madame Marguerite Sandoz, who was French. After the three Americans were interned in November of 1942, they stayed on in the office, which was taken over by the Swiss government and which had our interests….
I don’t know what services actually they could have rendered at that time, because many Americans had already been taken away for various camps. But the office was kept open for American business right straight through as far as I am aware.
But sometime in the very early spring of 1944, both Crooks and Mrs. Sandoz were arrested by the Germans. Mrs. Sandoz was entering the consulate and the officer came up to her and said, “Are you Madame Sandoz?”
She said, “Bien sur.” And was taken away to prison. Mr. Crooks was too. They were interrogated separately, and together, and then again separately. And there is no doubt from what was reported to us later by Crooks that the Germans were very much interested to know what they had been doing for the Americans. Madame Sandoz was taken to Mauthausen, where she died a few months later of starvation and dysentery, leaving behind a husband and a young son.
Crooks was put in a [cattle] car with probably almost 100 other men, all stripped naked, and shipped off to Buchenwald….Some of them died in that car. He said if you raised your foot you couldn’t even find a place to put it down.
He was in Buchenwald until he was liberated by the American troops, and he finally got back to Lyon. I saw him afterward a number of times. He also came up to see me when I was in Zurich. He said, “You know when Pickersgill came into that camp, he was just the same old chap we’d always known. He was full of life and vigor and interested in everything.” But it didn’t last long for him.
Crooks lived about 14 years after he got back to Lyon, but his health was never very good. He worked almost till the end at the consulate.….
We could have done something for [Sandoz’s] son, but we never did….[She] should have liked very much to have his son go on a scholarship to the United States, but it was never possible to arrange it.
These were probably two of many people who had given their lives for the United States.