Resistance: A Frenchwoman's Journal of the War
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 23 Jun 2010
Written in the form of a journal, Agnès Humbert's Resistance: A Frenchwoman's Journal of the War told the story with the first person perspective and in the present tense. It began with her mental preparation for German occupation followed by witnessing the refugees fleeing Paris. After seeing a young girl dying after being struck by a vehicle and a French general attempting to flee into the rear, shame and despair slowly consumed her. After listening to a speech by Charles de Gaulle, an army officer whom she had never heard of before, however, she found the little bit of hope she still had inside of her. While many fled into the countrysides, she secured permission to return to Paris, knowing that she could do something to fight the occupation, and there would be others who would fight beside her. She became a member of a small resistance group that printed the anti-German and anti-Pétain newspaper Résistance. The group achieved a stunning feat of being able to publish five issues in four months and being able to circulate the newspaper under the noses of the occupation. Although she constantly downplayed her role with the Résistance, her contribution to the early days of the French resistance simply could not be overlooked. This early portion of the book should also be evaluated with her gender in mind. Women suffered bias during the time period, thus for her to take on such an active resistance role, she was certainly a pioneer even if she did not realize or too modest to admit.
Humbert's luck would eventually run out and she found herself arrested along with several members of the Résistance group. Naturally, as a prisoner, she could not keep a journal; her experiences in French and German prisons were written from memory after the war, also in the form of a diary so that the presentation of her story would remain consistent. The inhumane treatment of prisoners wore her down mentally and physically, especially when she was a slave laborer at a rayon factory in Germany, but she never gave in. Even when one of the German officials considered granting her clemency, she rejected it outright, too proud to take anything from the Germans. It would be difficult to judge the accuracy or the order of events during this period of her life due to the extreme physical and mental stress that she was placed under, especially seeing that some events were suspiciously dramatized while others romanticized; I also imagine that there were important items simply forgotten. Nevertheless, her writing provided an insight to the psyche of one without a country, enslaved, considered nearly worthless to her captors, but yet full of hope.
After the war, whether by pure coincidence or because her abilities shined through, she was briefly employed by the United States Army as a civil administrator in charge of organizing medical facilities, establishing soup kitchens, and even gathering intelligence. In this section of her book we see Humbert's sense of justice, untainted by the abuses that she had lived through.
The audio book format of this book was read by Joyce Bean who seemed to have a good command in French, at least to my untrained ears. Combined with the first person narration by Humbert, there were times when I felt that it was Humbert who was telling me her story herself. I was rather satisfied with the reading by Bean.
Memoirs could never replace history, but they provided us with the insight of those who had lived through some of the most important events in our history. Humbert might not have contributed to the French resistance efforts in history-defining ways, but her story, regardless if truthful or embellished, reflected the pride, the stubbornness, the resilience, and other characteristics that must had been shared by those who were brave and determined enough to stand up to the occupation.
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