Passages to Freedom

A couple of Christmases ago I read Kristin Hannah’s bestseller The Nightingale. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it tells the fictional story of two sisters during the Nazi Occupation of France in World War II. The younger woman and title character, Isabelle, was inspired by a real-life hero from Belgium, Andrée de Jongh. In her early twenties, after she and her father found safe houses for downed service men in Brussels, Dédée, as she was called, began helping them escape through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. The first (and no doubt physically easiest) part of the journey for the young woman was taking the train with her charges from Brussels or Paris to the South of France. She then accompanied them through the woods, thick brush, and often snow-covered mountain peaks. And what a great job she did! Single-handedly she was responsible for leading over 115 people along the so-called Comet Line (Réseau Comète) to freedom.

Now you’d think that since I had read this novel and realized I was coming to an area bordering the Pyrenees, I’d put two and two together. Not so much. It wasn’t until we began noticing signs around Collioure and Banyuls labeled Chemins de la Liberté that I thought of Hannah’s book and got interested in learning more about it. Apparently a lot of courageous women joined in the dangerous work of the time. Another Belgian, coincidentally named Andrée Dumon, helped in transporting airmen to the French capital; she went by the alias of Nadine to avoid confusion with Andrée de Jongh. An American married to a Frenchman, Virginia d’Albert-Lake, was also involved in clandestine activities. All three of these women survived imprisonment in Germany and, fortunately, went on to live very long lives. As the author wrote in The Nightingale: “in war we find out who we are.” What an example these brave women are for us to celebrate, especially the week of International Women's Day.

In this area of France the Catalan people, not surprisingly, are quite proud of the contributions their ancestors made to the Resistance movement. Like other communities along the approximately 400-mile border with Spain, there are now organized “walking memorials.” Visitors can duplicate the remarkable paths taken by the passeurs and passeuses while shepherding families, members of the Resistance, escaped prisoners, as well as downed airmen through the mountains. If you’re interested, some of these treks last up to four days—averaging about seven hours per day. Definitely not for the frail or faint of heart!

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Susan PD said...

That books is on my list! I really need to read it. Reading your posts and blogs with green-eyed jealousy....lucky you! Hi to you both from me and J.

Mme Boisvert said...

Thanks so much, Susan. We'll have our turn to be jealous of you two again one of these days, I'm sure! I appreciate your reading the blog. :) said...

How interesting!

Mme Boisvert said...

Thank you, Lisa.

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