Saturday, March 3, 2012

Book Review: The Night Will End-- Part 3



Frenay found a new secretary, Simone Gouyou, to help him and Berty at their office. This office is our “inner sanctum,” he told her as they walked into the office, “If one day the situation becomes desperate, if everything blows up in our faces, that’s where we’ll still be safe.” The phone rang. “Monsieur ‘Francan’ (Henri’s pseudonym), please.”

“Speaking. Who’s this?”

“A friend. I’m calling to tell you that Monsieur --- will visit tomorrow morning. He didn’t say what time, but he’s a morning person. Do you get my message? I repeat: Monsieur ---, tomorrow morning.”

Monsieur --- was the chief of police. Some anonymous friend was warning of a police raid the next day at their “safe” hideout where every imaginable proof of their activity was in full sight--including complex time-lapse detonators! They quickly evacuated the office, removing all the evidence. Sure enough, the police raided the abandoned office in the morning, and Frenay was ever thankful for the warning of the mysterious caller.

Lesson 3: When circumstances are beyond our control, we need help from an Unseen Hand; we can depend on God to give us a “mysterious caller.”

To throw the police off their trail, they changed their aliases, paper stock, and newspaper title. The newspaper’s new name was to be Vérités (Truths). A statement made by Marshal Petain himself served as the motto/subtitle: “I hate the lies that have done us so much harm.”

Then Frenay met Jean Moulin who served as the contact between the French Resistance movements and London. Frenay says, “I liked the expression in his eyes, and my experience told me that a man’s look hardly ever plays false. Sure enough, later, Moulin, captured by the Gestapo was slowly and sadistically tortured to death by Karl Barbie; but he, who knew so much, never uttered a single word about the Resistance.

Not everyone caught by the Gestapo could take the same fate: Moulin’s replacement, Bingen, committed suicide and avoided Moulin’s fate by swallowing a cyanide pill as soon as the Gestapo captured him: he died in 2 minutes. Others, such as Frenay’s worker Multon, “sang” as soon as the Gestapo captured them. Multon even agreed to work for the Gestapo to avoid torture--with the secret hope of escaping. But the Gestapo tailed him everywhere, and he ended up betraying 1, 2, and then 10 comrades! He couldn’t stop because the Gestapo held his family as hostages, so, as he later confessed: “I just went on and on. Oh, I was a coward.” After the war, unable to stand being an outcast anymore, his face swollen with tears, he turned himself in and was brought to trial and condemned to death. One of those whom Multon betrayed was Berty Albrecht. The first time she had been captured, the police had released her because they wanted her to deliver a message to Frenay. The second time, she was tortured and then faked insanity so she could be sent to an insane asylum. Frenay, her daughter, and other friends easily broke her out of the asylum. After Multon betrayed her, the Gestapo tortured her until she could take it no longer: she committed suicide.

Moral Dilemma #1: Being caught by the Gestapo created plenty of dilemmas. Obviously, if one can lie and deceive the Gestapo and escape from their clutches as Berty did the second time she was arrested when she feigned insanity (As King David did in front of the king of Gath when he was fleeing from King Saul); that is the best option. Also obviously, it would be wrong to “talk” or “sing” and betray your friends, even under the most severe torture. But not everyone has the strength of a Jean Moulin and can be slowly tortured to death without giving in. Torture is not a pleasant option; was it right for Bingen to swallow that cyanide pill? Or did he commit an unforgivable sin in committing suicide?

Let’s leave our musings and go back to the events before these arrests. Frenay’s group, M.L.N. merged with another underground movement--Libérte--to form Combat: the name of both their new movement and their new newspaper. Combat’s epigram was “Dans la guerre comme dans la paix le dernier mot est a ceux qui ne se rendant jamais” --Clemenceau [In war as in peace, the last word belongs to those who never give up].

Frenay’s mother, a dedicated Petainist, to whom he had told nothing, was very worried about him. Finally, he arranged a meeting with her. She told him that she knew he was up to something, and she felt it was her patriotic duty to denounce him to the police--for his own good. He told his dear old mother that it would do no good--the police had already been looking for him for a long time, and it would only irreparably breach their relationship if she denounced him. He did not see his mother again till after the Liberation. In spite of her threat, she never denounced him.

Frenay met Jacques Renouvin, “a towering, big boned, partially gray-haired man--a bon vivant out of The Three Muskateers.” He was an “experienced brawler who always hankered for a good fight.” He was also “a marvelous leader, and men of all ages followed him with passionate devotion.” Renouvin organized the Groupes Francs: direct action commandoes who blew up newsstands with pro-German propaganda, organized jail-breaks for captured Combat people whenever possible, and arranged “carnivals” where they derailed trains and once blew up 10 offices of the Labor Draft (which drafted young French men and women for work in Germany) in one hour. When Renouvin was finally captured, Frenay and other friends wept, and some of Renouvin’s loyal followers tried to rescue him. They too were arrested, and Renouvin died at the labor camp Matthausen. In honor of Renouvin, Garnier--second in command of Groupes Francs--organized 60 strikes on railways in one day. Garnier was arrested and savagely tortured as were many others.

London cut funding for Combat just when they needed it most. Miraculously, the Americans began funding Combat just as London cut their funds. But then, London became jealous, and worked to stop the Americans from “taking over.” Combat had many financial difficulties.

Combat’s ranks swelled as a result of the S.T.O. Labor Draft which required all French young men and women--and some not so young, by the end of the war the draft covered men between 16 and 55 and women between 18 and 45--to come to Germany and work in the factories. Many draft dodgers hid in the mountains, procured side arms, and would defend themselves against arrest. They were called the Maquis (French for underbrush), and some of the Combat leaders trained them so they could fight in the Liberation.

Troubled did not end. Lien (the railway man we met early in this review) told Berty that Devillers (their chief messenger) was in fact a Gestapo agent! That was in fact very true, and Frenay barely escaped a trap. After the war, Frenay was shocked to learn that Lien, a gambler by nature, was in fact a Nazi agent himself, having been “bought” by them soon after being recruited by Frenay. In spite of his loyalty in trying to protect Combat, Lien had betrayed the leader of another Resistance group, Alliance (which I will soon read about in Noah‘s Ark), and many of their members.

The survivors of Combat were now like family to Frenay. They were a very tight-knit group, and intensely loyal to each other. Berty’s social service provided sustenance for the families of those in prison and sent packages to their prisoners.

Lesson 4: Unfortunately, Micah 7:5 is very true: “Trust ye not in a friend, put not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth…” Frenay could not trust even his own mother. Trust only in Jesus--David said, “When my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.”
Sometime before the end of the war, Frenay had to leave France to join De Gaulle and work on the relationship between London and Free France and the Underground. Frenay was awarded the Cross of Liberation and joined De Gaulle’s government as Minister of Prisoners, Deportees, and Refugees. Frenay worked to send his underground as much money as possible. Jean-Guy and many of his Combat friends were killed by the Nazis, and Frenay wanted desperately to re-join his remaining friends, but De Gaulle would not let him leave. The Communists infiltrated Combat’s ranks, and tried to smear some of Frenay’s best friends.

Then De Gaulle and the government arrived in France. O the joy! Paris was liberated. Thousands of 11th and 13th hour resisters jumped on the bandwagon: they were “blood-thirsty” cowards who just wanted to be on the winning side, and they conducted a despicable reign of terror. “The Communists wanted a Revolution. So did we, but we wanted a Revolution of Law.” Frenay’s Ministry of Prisoners, Deportees, and Refugees, set up shop in the Gestapo’s old offices. There were over 2,500,000 refugees to take care of! Many of Frenay’s friends were missing and he felt terribly alone. Frenay was a witness at many trials, and his ministry worked night and day to repatriate captives and refugees. The Communists worked full-time to smear him--every day, a deputation of Communist men would camp on the front lawn of his ministry chanting “Frenay, our clothes!” “Frenay, our discharge pay!” or “Frenay, resign!” The were trying to get him to call the police so they could make a scene. Still the repatriation centers did an amazing job. In one day, 40,000 ex-captives were processed. Eisenhower commended their work. But the Communists attacked Frenay with every imaginable--and unimaginable--misdeed. They plastered the walls of Paris with posters denouncing him. They portrayed him as a horrid aristocrat to the returning captives. In July they even organized a crowd of 20,000-25,000 ex-prisoners to march beneath his windows chanting for clothes, discharge pay, and another wholesale purge. They cried, “Frenay, resign!” and even “Frenay against the wall!” In the vanguard, he even noticed a man whom he had helped as leader of Combat! The Communist newspapers were filled with charges against him, so he took them to court for libel, saying, “Justice is my only weapon.” He won. The editor of L’Humanite was sentenced to a 15,000 franc fine; as for the preventative effect, Frenay found that this was the editor’s 27th conviction for the same offence. Leon Blum told Frenay, “Don’t you, under any pretext start using the same tactics [as the communists]. Loyalty and honesty always triumph in the end--even in politics.” Frenay ended his career in government by creating a memorial to his fallen comrades. The war was over. He wrote, “Thanks [to those who died], the night has come to an end. Tomorrow, as I well knew, was dark with foreboding, but tomorrow was the future and the future belongs to God.”

“Like everyone who has had the courage to act,” Frenay says, “I have known both success and failure, both hope and disappointment, both joy and sorrow. All in all, I have been deeply gratified by life, for my own has been varied, impassioned, and exalting. I also believe it has been useful.
“I now enter the winter of that life, and I can truthfully say that I would change nothing in it. As I lay aside this manuscript, my soul would sing a hymn of thanksgiving.”

I’m very glad I read The Night Will End. Henri Frenay’s story is intriguing, and I learned many useful lessons.


2 comments:

  1. Very nice review Bethany. Where did you hear of the book?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks! I heard about Henri Frenay in another book about the French Resistance, and found The Night Will End mentioned in the bibliography of the book, so I checked it out.

    ReplyDelete