This half-memoir, half-journal, was penned before and immediately after Agnès Humbert’s horrific experience as a French political prisoner of the Nazis. Agnès was a courageous woman, full of spirit and defiance, holding her love of France and desire for independence above all, even the worst treatment at the hands of inconsiderate jailers who did not mind if the prisoners lived or died, let alone suffered, so long as the work got done. Her journal chronicles her activism for the underground newspaper Résistance before her arrest, and afterwards moves on to a memoir style account of her time in prison and in various labor camps and factories before her eventual rescue by the Americans in 1945.
I found her newpaper days to be slightly over my head; they are full of names and I never quite managed to work out just who was who, or which of the members survived and which were killed. I did admire her sense of independence; she never masked who anyone was in her journal, seemingly certain that no Nazi would ever find it. She retains her composure under questioning and in the torturous jail cells, never revealing any of her compatriots, though most of them seem to be caught regardless. Her experience was consistently horrifying and it’s almost impossible to imagine human beings could treat each other so abominably. I know much about the experience of the Jews and other “rejected” minorities at the hands of the Nazis; I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, which is a place that everyone should visit for their own education and to help prevent future genocides (which we aren’t doing very well at). I never heard much about political prisoners, however, or their ordeals in labor camps and factories rather than in the death camps. These, of course, are still horrific.
Reading about Agnès’ suffering was extremely affecting and upsetting. I’m sure I would have committed suicide in her position like so many of the other girls did. Remarkably, Agnès retained her spirit and when she was released, immediately set about helping the Americans with their occupation of Germany and attempts to catch the remaining Nazis and Nazi sympathizers.
I’d recommend this book; it’s an account of one woman’s experience that really applied to many other prisoners. Agnès’ chronicle can help to ensure that these atrocities are not committed again. Buy this book on Amazon.