Bars and Barbed wire
I had walked with the police inspector to the rue d’Antrain police Station. I had to wait a couple of hours in an office there before they brought my warrant of arrest: they probably had to fetch it especially from the prefecture. The words “political Internee” were very clearly written on it. Apparently, I was one of the few who had been qualified as such. I also only learnt later that as my arrest was made in an official manner, and not like most of the others, it meant that I was not brought to the building in rue Paul-Bert, which was not as yet answerable to the regular police force, where gangs of irresponsible young louts had sequestrated their human “spoils” and where, having robbed them, they would then subject them to blows and humiliations, ill-treatment, cruelty and even to rape. The so-called troops of the French Resistance were not a pretty sight at close quarters. They were in any case nothing to be proud of. The Regional Commissioner and the so-called Liberation committee which had formed under the direction of Charles Foulon had undeniably much difficulty in subduing the self-interested zeal of these incontrollable neophytes, not daring to oppose their excesses during those first few days, before finally restoring a semblance of order in that disorder. The opening of the Marguerite camp enabled them to offload the flood of those arrested without warrants, who had been arrested simply on the strength of a denunciation or suspicion or again purely out of vengeance. It is true that in Paris, during those dark days of the Convention, you were a suspect or an aristocrat if you washed yourself every morning. It was worthwhile blackening your face and hands if you wanted to avoid arrest. This was all along the same lines: informers who had already flourished during the time of the Germans had started up again. The culprits were undoubtedly the same.
I also only learnt later that it was undoubtedly thanks to those words written on my warrant of arrest that I escaped the beating up which new arrivals were usually subjected to by some prison guards at the prison in Rennes. This was probably their revenge against the strict discipline that the Germans had obliged them to practice against those entrusted to their care and which was still talked about in the prison when I arrived. Besides, the place had already settled down for the night when I arrived there, late on the evening of the 10th August. I had walked from rue d’Antrain to Boulevard Jacques Cartier with the police inspector who had arrested me. We had conversed as we went along, as two walkers do, about the situation. In those senseless and chaotic days, my guard was far from enthusiastic about the job he was doing. He had taken part in the actions against the “terros” as he continued to call them. And now it was the “terros” who were giving the orders. He was as uncertain of the future as I was.
After signing the prison register, I was searched. I was only left with my clothing and what I was wearing. I had to give up my belt, my tie and my shoelaces, as well as my toiletries except for my soap and toothbrush, a towel and a small packet of toilet paper.
-“How will I manage to shave?” I asked.
-“The hairdresser comes around,” was the terse reply.
I was then given a rusty mess tin and a tablespoon: knives and forks were forbidden. Then I was brought up to the upper floor. I held up my pants with difficulty and had to walk with elbows in for a few days until I found a piece of string lying in one of the courtyards. The door of my cell was opened.
–“Here, it is already night time,” I was told. “Now, and every day at this hour, you must put your pants and shoes by the door.”
Next, I was handed a piece of mouldy bread. Then the door was closed with a loud clanging of keys and bolts, leaving me in shirt sleeves and underpants, alone in the cell. It did not take me long to make an inventory : a straw-filled mattress, a dubious looking blanket on a plank fixed to the wall, a stool also chained to the wall, a collapsible shelf as a desk, all well secured, and finally a sort of washbasin under a tap. In the wall there was a crevice with an oval utensil and I knew by the smell as I approached it what it was used for.
I had never been imprisoned before: but I had experienced my army regiment’s detention centre when doing my military service which had given me a taste of it. I was therefore not overly surprised at the rustic nature of the décor.
I hauled myself up to the high window with difficulty, holding on to the bars which blocked it. Beyond the courtyard and high walls, a section of Rennes could be seen, tinged with gold from the setting sun and with only a few peaceful sounds rising from it. The nerve-racking events of the day had worn out my resistance. I very soon lay down and slept.
In the book entitled “En prison pour le F.L.B.”, which I wrote to recount the events and adventures of my second imprisonment at the end of 1975, I make some references to the first which deprived me of my liberty on 10 August 1944, the day I went in to the Jacques Cartier prison in Rennes, until the 10 August 1945, the day I was discharged from the Pont-de-Buis camp, near Chateaulin. As I have already said, the first imprisonment was far more painful than the second, which I have already recalled. The times were different. In 1944, laws for the protection of the individual were not respected. We were still in a state of war. The new authorities derived from the Resistance, were able to do whatever they wanted: they were not subject to any control. They made up laws to suit themselves. The Commissioner, Le Gorgeu, was invested with all the powers of Government over the territory under his authority. Neither individuals nor properties were safe from violence, looting, ill treatment and revenge: it was only later that something was done to restore a semblance of legality to the repressions, modestly qualified as purges. What I had thought would be just a change of government carried out peacefully, had in fact been transformed into a period of revolutionary disorder, of insecurity and usurping of power.
The so-called committees of the Liberation were really Committees of imprisonment: they drew up endless list of suspects with whom they filled the prisons and camps, lists that the police precinct published in their official bulletin. These new republican authorities, from inexperience or knowingly, too readily forgot that anyone can always be suspected by someone else. Later on, they stated that by imprisoning these people, they sought to protect them from popular revenge: a very poor excuse considering that by publishing their names they singled them out together with their families for prosecution and punishment! Very few of the political detainees at the time, who were merely blamed for the ideas they defended, had anything to fear from popular revenge. On the whole they had not hurt nor wronged anyone. It was the actions and the propaganda of those who wanted to take over their jobs, their properties, their positions, their businesses or who simply wanted to justify unjustifiable acts, which raised public opinion against them. They were the ones to blame and not the latter, misled and betrayed by a self-interested propaganda, echoed by an obliging press who owed their very existence to them, since all the other newspapers had been banned, and by the media which they had taken over.
At the prison in Rennes, the very strict rules which had been elaborated by the Germans continued heedlessly to be applied, minus the discipline. All visits, all contacts with the outside world were forbidden. Letters were also forbidden. There was no question of our being allowed to make contact with a lawyer or of obtaining a newspaper. They had not left me with any paper or pen. We were buried alive within those walls.
Outside however, our families were getting organised. Back in Rennes, Marie-Madeleine and Jean-Louis Bertrand had started taking the first steps. The sudden increase in the prison population was causing a problem of supplies within the prison. The families were therefore authorised to bring a parcel of provisions and linen to the prison staff’s office. They could then also take back with them the dirty laundry that was handed over to them. Marie-Madeleine managed to send through a thick book to me, “Gone with the wind”. A few days later, books were no longer allowed to be brought in. I restrained myself from reading more than forty pages a day, and re-read those pages at least once, to make the pleasure of reading it last longer.
During the first few days, I had been taken out for half an hour a day to a small triangular courtyard. As the population of the prison increased these walks were stopped. I forced myself to walk at least two kilometres a day in my cell by counting the number of times I paced up and down. It measured barely four metres in length! I took advantage of a police commissioner’s visit of inspection in the cells to ask if I could have some writing materials, pen and paper. He replied in the affirmative as long as I promised to write an account of my contacts with the Germans during the occupation. I promised him whatever he wanted. The main thing was to have pen and paper. I did in fact receive both a few days later. I was now able to start writing up my notes and to put my thoughts in order.
The prison population continued to swell: it was decided to put three of us in each cell even though they were only for one. At night, two extra straw-filled mattresses were laid out on the floor. They were piled one on top of the other during the day to make a seat. My few days of complete and idle solitude broken only by my “walking”, the deprivation of freedom, the despair which sometimes took hold of my thoughts as there was nothing to do but think and try to maintain some order in ones mind in order to keep ones balance, had put me to the test. It had made me long for someone to talk to again, in spite of my natural inclination to solitude. I have always liked being alone, alone with myself, my books, my writing, my thoughts, my doubts and my certainties. I knew that, as Pascal said, many of the world’s problems “come from man not being able to remain alone in a room”. But I had never experienced a solitude which could not be broken whenever one wished by an outing, a walk, an occupation, or a meeting, or the reading of a book, or an expression of liking and friendship, an interest or part taken in events which mark the life of human society. None of that here! My cell was just a sort of tomb, slightly larger, where fortunately daylight and sunshine penetrated.
After about a week of complete solitude, it was with a pleasure mixed with some apprehension that I saw the first of the companions I was sent arriving. Audoin, a dark haired sturdy lad with an open mind, was a stallholder originally from Fougères. He owned a travelling lottery and went around with his wife to all the markets and fairs of the region, living in his caravan. He had been arrested because he had protested in a café against the wrongdoings, brutalities and lootings, which a gang of last minute “resistance” fighters had committed and which he had witnessed. We quickly got to know each other. Another older companion was sent to us a few days later. I knew he was Belgian from the first words he spoke. Small, grey haired and simply dressed, with a humble demeanour, old Honoré, as we called him, had fled the German advance in 1940, as many other Belgians had done. He had remained in Brittany ever since. He had been arrested seemingly because he had been in charge of the central heating in the building which housed the ”Gestapo”. Also, he had a daughter who had been an interpreter in one of the German army’s offices. She had been requisitioned and had left Rennes with the others from her office. The Liberation’s little leaders must have judged them to be an eminently suspicious family!
Audoin and Honoré brought me some news from the outside. I welcomed this eagerly. The Americans continued their advance towards Paris through the Loire Valley and towards the North and East of France. The Germans still occupied Brest, Lorient and Saint-Nazaire. Saint-Malo had been burnt down by American phosphorus bombs, which the Resistance insinuated belonged to the Germans. Though everyone knew this was not true.
Audoin had the gift of the gab like all stallholders. He quickly found that he had a lot in common with Honoré, who was in fact a professional barrel organ mender! His memories were full of gleaming noisy funfair attractions, Flemish charity fêtes, funfair stalls and roundabouts. He had the art of knowing how to recall them : often, in the evening waiting for nightfall in the narrow cell, as I listened to him, my mind would fill with sounds of music from the “Carousels” of my childhood on the square in Callac and in the Tabor or in the district street festivals of Paris. Mechanical horses, bumper cars, daring roller-coasters, funfair shooting galleries, children’s cries of fear and delight and scenes of happy crowds filled the narrow space where we were confined. Nostalgia of childhood and of the company of others! Honoré also had an inexhaustible repertoire of stories from Brussells : he related them with humour and with the local accent : they often made Audoin and myself howl with laughter. So much so that one evening a grey haired guard one of the few kind and good-natured ones, as most of the others only knew how to bark, opened the door and, putting his fingers to his lips, asked us to tone down our laughter. In that place happiness was obviously not proper.
To fill in the long evenings with no lighting, I had undertaken to give my companions a short course in Breton History. Audoin, who did not know about his countries past, was an avid listener. He would ask many questions which I did my best to answer. These recreational activities were necessary to prevent us from thinking too much about our dismal situation, and about its precariousness and uncertainty. With no outings and practically no movement, the days were often long. I continued reading my only book which I lent to my companions while I was writing or doing my constitutional pacing backwards and forwards of the cell. I had sacrificed 3 pages of my precious blank paper so that Audoin could make a crude pack of cards which enabled him to play endless games with Honoré. The weekly arrival of parcels and linen was always a great joy, in spite of the fact that the cigarettes often disappeared on the way, that the boiled eggs had been peeled and cut in half or in quarters, even also the cakes, before they reached us. We received it all with warm feelings. It was a little bit of home and of our dear ones which came to us with the things they had so lovingly prepared for their prisoner. I was also able to receive a sort of sleeping bag which Marie-Madeleine and her mother had made with some old sheets. I blessed them both: never was such a simple present more welcomed. I only learnt later that at the doors of the prison where the families waited in line on parcel days, the wives of political prisoners, probably because they were better dressed than the others, were sometimes rudely accosted and called “collaborators” by those twenty or so wives of “common law” prisoners, which the Germans had left behind them when they left, as they only took their own prisoners with them. It was in fact these common law prisoners who performed the servile tasks of the prison: cleaning of the corridors, emptying the latrine pails and in particular the soup making duty. The new inmates, indiscriminately described as “political” or “collabos”, all defendants by definition, were in theory supposed to be kept in solitary confinement, which we all were by the very fact that we never saw anyone. Not a soul could be seen except when going to Mass in a sort of indian file, silence being insisted upon, and being locked up in a cubby hole where there was just enough room to stand, from where we could just about see the altar and the celebrant through a sort of porthole with no glass. The hairdresser, another inmate, would call by once week. Silence was also insisted upon as we waited in line and one had to wait for guards to move on in order to exchange a few words. The beards were quickly shaved with a razor and if you were a bit far back in line; the blunt blades practically tore the skin from your cheeks!
I asked to see the chaplain, who went to visit my family the following week and gave me news of Marie-Madeleine and the children, giving them news of myself.
News from outside was delayed and filtered very slowly into the prison. Towards the end of the month we heard that the Vichy Government had resigned, that Paris had been liberated on the 20th of August and that Edouard Herriot and Pierre Laval, who had tried to set up a transition government, had “fled”, as had the Maréchal. I was convinced this was not true and that they had all been forcibly taken to Germany. The new masters of France also knew this: but were careful not to say so. The truth in fact lay in what the German governor of Paris, General Von Choltiz, said to Pierre Taittinger, President of the local council, who succeeded in coming to an agreement to save Paris from destruction.
-“The allies,” said Choltiz, “are prepared to maintain the authorities that are presently in office, but this is not the case with the “Free French”. Their main objective is to take over the positions and to do so right now!”
The process for the taking over of power by the “provisional government” had been the same in Paris as it had been in Rennes and elsewhere. The taking over of “positions” was everywhere the main concern of the new arrivals. People were already being turned away at the counter of the new authority. The “politicians” of the Resistance were bustling around everywhere to make a clean sweep. What could be simpler in the meantime, than to put their predecessors and competitors in prison! The “law” was on holiday. One had to make the most of it. Throughout the administrations, the ministries, the universities, the press enterprises or those of the State, dirty tricks, despicable acts and dishonourable behaviour were given free rein. A vast witch hunt was being organised. It was far more important to be “resistencialist” than to have been a “Resistance” fighter. The complicity of the former could be relied on but one had to beware of the latter’s idealism!
I obviously only became aware of all this little by little. My main concern at the moment was the routine of the prison and wanting to be free again. The hours, days and weeks passed by endlessly, barely disturbed by the little news we received from outside. Around the end of August, Honoré was released but I was to meet up with him again in the Marguerite Camp. He was barely out of prison when he was arrested again, as well as his wife, probably for good measure! Audoin also left a few days later. They were replaced by a Flemish waiter from Ostende and by a tall blond young man, still dazed by his misfortune.
-“They persist in telling me and in trying to persuade me with blows,” he told us,”that I was an interpreter at the Kommandantur, which I never was.”
I looked at him more closely. He did closely resemble the interpreter who had translated my replies when the Kommandantur had summoned me to advise me that they had decided to ban the publishing of “La Bretagne” for three days, because of a headline which they had considered offensive for the German army, an incident which I have already described in one of my books. Our new companion was simply the victim of a resemblance! The authorities of the so-called Liberation committee even went as far as that!
About a month after I was imprisoned, my new companion and I were moved to another cell. This was another of those prison routines: we must not be allowed to “settle down” in any particular cell. Two days later, a new companion was literally thrown in to us and onto the floor of our cell, covered in blood from injuries, his face swollen and an eye half-closed from the blows he had received. He was so choked up from the physical and mental blows which had been inflicted on him that he had difficulty breathing. He could not stand up. We stretched him out on one of the straw-filled mattresses and took care of him as best as we could. We washed his wounds and the congealed blood which covered his face. We remained silent so that exhausted he could fall asleep. He explained to us the following day that his name was Jehannin, that he was a small farmer from the Rennes countryside. He had been arrested by so-called “maquisards”, and pummelled with blows. The injuries and bruises he had sustained, had been inflicted during an interrogation in, what he thought, was one of the military security centres. He had been beaten up with kicks, punches and bludgeoned all over his body. The methods which the German police had rightly been reproached for using had certainly not disappeared after their departure.
I only stayed a few days in this new residence: The Republic’s police authorities and those of the Liberation committee had finally decided and admitted that only those defendants who had been indicted by a legitimate judicial authority appraised of their case should be imprisoned. The others whose cases were vague, or who had been arrested as an example to others, or simply on suspicion, or victims of a denunciation made purely out of revenge, who had been deprived of their freedom without any hesitation were, according to the new official terminology, only administrative internees. Their case depended entirely on the judgement and wishes of the political and administrative authorities and that of the Liberation Committee. It had been decided that these should be concentrated in internment camps, guarded by the military, with strict rules though not as rigid as those in prison. I was obviously one of these.
On the morning of the 20th September, I was advised early to get ready and pack what I could carry. The sleeping bag was ideal for this: I had otherwise nothing which could be used to make a bundle! I was soon brought to a cell, which was much larger and already full of people standing, squashed up against each other, and where, under the roof, it was stiflingly hot. I was delighted to see Florian Le Roy there. We embraced. There were also a certain number of personalities from Rennes there and among them was Dr.Massot, Guillemot, director of the Nouvelles Galeries, Gefflot, a P.N.B. militant, Bourrut Lacouture, President of the Bar, JeanTrecan, musical presenter for Radio-Rennes, others from the professions, the banks, the public service or the business world. All had been summarily arrested as I had myself been: were it not for the location, it could have been, minus the petit-fours and champagne, a high-society reception at the Town Hall or Prefecture! However the teachers seemed to be missing. Those that were involved in the Liberation Committee did not often arrest their colleagues apparently. Roparz Hémon might have been the exception, the target of special attention from his colleague Foulon, and was blamed for all the “intellectual” sins of the university. But Roparz Hémon had left Rennes and it was not until nearly a year later that he was arrested.
We were brought down to the office and had to sign the release register: then we were lined up in silence and made to face the wall along the corridor by the prison entrance. Anyone who stepped out of line was punished by kicks. An impressive detachment of mobile guards had come to collect us and accompany us to the Marguerite concentration camp, which was nearby and to which we were to walk. They were all heavily armed, pistols tucked into their belts, submachine guns slung over their shoulders with their finger on the trigger. We were chained together two by two, flanked by the mobile guards. A very awkward position as it meant that in carrying our parcels we had to pass them from one hand or shoulder to the other, in unison. Otherwise the handcuffs would bite into your skin…
March 1945: Plan of Marguerite Concentration Camp, where Bretons suspected of collaboration, autonomists and separatists were interned. Baracks XII to XVI were reserved for men. Baracks II to IV for women. Baracks VII to XII were designated for the wives and children of German civil servants.
We moved along slowly: it was the first time in six weeks that I could breathe in air other than that in the Prison. Nearly a half an hour later, our procession made its entrance into the Marguerite camp. The camp included a number of wooden barracks built on three sides of a central courtyard, completely surrounded by a row of barbed wire and, surrounding a circular path beyond that row were, another two rows of barbed wire with four watchtowers on each corner overlooking it all, where armed guards were permanently on the look out, with submachine guns and powerful electric searchlights. This must be what the numerous “goulags” look like, still in use in various parts of the globe and which our world has not yet managed to get rid of completely, nor of the inhuman political systems which have adopted them on a permanent basis as part of their customary methods of government. The police and camp guards were provided by the official police in barracks nearby. Life in the concentration camp was no different except that one could breathe better here than in prison, also one could see the sky and we were all together in barracks, each with several rows, containing one to two hundred detainees whose beds and straw mattresses were practically touching.
A special barrack had been prepared for us, so-called disciplinary, whose inmates did not have the same freedom to move around as those from the other barracks. We were considered to be so-called dangerous people. Had we not just come from prison and not from outside? That was enough to describe us. This type of absurd reasoning was common in those days. We had reached our new abode by walking along the large central courtyard. The detainees who were already in the camp had crowded up against the barbed wire to watch their new companions of misfortune arriving. There were a huge number of people of there with the odd hands or arms raised in greeting as one or other of us was recognised by friends, relatives, neighbours, colleagues or clients.
It is still good form today amongst official historians, in particular those of the Resistance and also those who only draw their information from writings which glorify it, to seriously play down the number of arrests and arbitrary detentions at the time. In their defence, it can be said that there is a lack of exact information and documents. Official propaganda has always been less than generous with the former: the latter have often been the objects of calculated destruction. It is certainly in the best interest of those responsible for the swelling numbers of detainees at the time to hide their cowardice, their selfish credulity, the shady manoeuvrings, the denunciations, the despicable quarrels and settling of scores which at the time prevailed over the arrests and the filling up of the concentration camps. Those like myself who were detained in the last few months of 1944 and the first months of 1945, know that the numbers of those imprisoned in the camps for various lengths of time must be counted in the tens of thousands and not thousands. Many of these arrests and detentions cannot be traced. The management of the camp was not very particular as to whether or not they should accept them, without any warrants. This was a continuous scandal, which no-one dared to denounce until the beginning of 1945 and the surrender of the Germans.
Settling in to the barracks did not take long: we were happy to be together again and to be able to speak freely. The detention rules were much more liberal than those of the prison. We still could not receive any visits or correspondence: the latter was strictly limited to a weekly postcard. However, twice a week, we were allowed to receive books, parcels, newspapers and linen, which our families left for us at the camp administration office. Once again I was able to compile my notes, read, write and pace up and down in a larger space than that of the narrow cell. The barracks were certainly not comfortable, the straw-filled mattresses and bed-boards were no different really than those of the prison. We were also locked in at night: but during the day the door was open. We could pace up and down, as we pleased, along the space between the barbed wire which separated us from the other barracks and also go to the communal latrines, simply a hole in the ground under some primitive seats, installed at the far ends of the camp. But with the days getting shorter and the fact that we were locked up from sunset until the following morning, it was necessary to have toilet pails at the end of each barrack. They looked like clothes boilers with no lid and were rapidly filled with a foul-smelling liquid of mixed urine and faeces. We organised a duty roster in each barrack to carry them every morning and empty them in the spot allocated for that purpose. The only water taps were outside over a sort of zinc trough, similar to cattle troughs. Therefore one had to wash out in the open, in all seasons, or not at all. I forced myself to so regularly every morning, whatever the weather : a task which would become increasingly hard during that winter of 1944-45, which was one of the most severe ever experienced in Brittany, but which prevented me from catching a single cold that winter. In January the pipes were constantly frozen and it was often necessary to break the ice to get water. When it was really too cold or too bad, I would fill my mess tin with water in order to shave indoors. On leaving the prison, fortunately my backpack had been given back to me, with my toilet bag and the little mirror inside!
When we arrived at the Marguerite camp, around the end of September 1944, the atmosphere was still confused and the organisation very basic. The command of the camp had been entrusted to a junior officer from the police force, Lieutenant Lucas, originally from Carhaix. He had, apparently, been one of the few active resistants in Rennes. He was still hesitant as to the extent of his powers and attributions. His general staff was comprised of non-commissioned officers from the mobile guards, some of whom were unintelligent brutes who compensated for their intellectual weaknesses by a very strong tendency to abuse of their authority. On the other hand, the detachments which ensured the military guarding of the camp were seldom the same ones. One could feel that Lucas was not sure of his authority: he still did not dare to refuse the entry to the camp to fanatics carrying a pistol in their belts, who assumed an authority they did not have and came to interrogate or simply beat up “suspects” they had denounced or “collabos” against whom they had a personal grudge. There were fewer of these scenes as time went by: but I was a witness to one of them and to a volley of punches to the face of one of our comrades. The aggressive dwarf, his strength coming from the weapon he was brandishing, was luckily so small that he could only reach the lower half of his “collabo’s” face. Georges Portheault was a respectable shopkeeper and was my neighbour, rue de Fougères, though I did not know it. His wife, drawn by a common misfortune, had been to visit mine, which had led us to meet one another in the barracks. One day he came back from an interview at the camp office, his face slashed from the horsewhipping which had been inflicted on him by an individual with braid on his sleeve, who was looking for another Portheault and not him. Unfortunately, this was the sort of incident which was the result of the Liberation committee and police department’s zealous publishing of the names of people “administratively” interned.
After a while, Lucas angrily one day, finally gathered up enough courage to put a stop to these intrusions in the camp by people who had no warrants. From that day onwards the brutalities ceased except for those which continued to be inflicted by a few of his camp guard assistants. This was how the former prefet responsible for Economic Affairs in Brittany, Charles, was horribly beaten and battered for pseudo failures in discipline: junior regular army officers do not often have the opportunity to beat up a senior army officer, though from the reserve regiment, and in addition Charles was a talented Breton poet. They went at it whole heartedly. All this leads one to wonder how the first victims of arbitrary arrests and inmates of the first detention camps, which had been improvised everywhere, were treated. Indeed, the battering continued in Jacques Cartier. But with the disappearance of the Germans, the militiamen and their auxiliaries, public opinion began to react against these excesses: as from October, a number of secondary detention centres were closed, leaving only Marguerite camp in Ille-et-Vilaine, that of Langueux in Côtes-du-Nord, of Sarzeau in Morbihan, of Châteaubriant in Loire-Atlantique, of Quimper and of Pont-de-Buis in Finistère.
In Marguerite, around the time when I arrived there, all administrative detainees from Ille-et-Vilaine, and those personalities who were the objects of special attention from the Republic’s regional police and the new republican authorities, had finally been gathered together. My place was therefore with them! In the barracks of the camp, I had also come across André Dezarrois and Jacques Guillemot, as well as the regional prefet Robert Martin. De Guébriant and his assistant Houdet, director of the Landerneau Central Office, arrived shortly after me. There was also one of the Banque de France’s directors from Paris,caught off guard in Rennes by the American’s advance, and arrested because he had refused to accept, describing it as false money, the new notes shaped like the dollar printed by the Americans and brought over by de Gaulle’s general staff in their luggage when they landed in France!
One of our companions was Barthélémy, General of the Reserve and long since retired in Saint-Servan. Aged seventy eight, he was the most senior member of the camp, who had dared to call the F.F.I. “kids”, when they came armed to question him about his “treason”. There was also Klunninger, director of Brittany’s Paper Mill, whose name they probably did not like. There were still many more, too numerous to enumerate: they came from a wide variety of different circles, from that of simple craftsmen and shopkeepers to important people from business and industry in Rennes, Saint-Malo or Redon, even to simple butchers from the country accused of having sold meat to the Germans! Or even artists from the theatre probably accused of having entertained them! There were also junior civil-servants, lorry drivers and employees, in short all those crowds who were suspected of being suspect.
The orders of arrest bore the most fanciful reasons, also the most revealing of the state of mind which prevailed then and which the so-called Liberation Committee obviously did it’s best to maintain. Commander Roger had been interned because he “could have” – note the conditional – “by virtue of his duties, committed high treason”. The same conditional was used in the case of a rail track guard, a temporary civil-servant of the railways who “could have, in view of his job, harmed the Resistance.” The Galeme brothers did nine months of prison for “pro-German thoughts”. Paris, the law professor, was brought before the Civil Court for “the pro-German reputation he had earned at the University”. It had therefore been possible to remove him from the chair he held and make room for one of his colleagues who was approved by them. Amongst our companions there was even an ex-serviceman who had been amputated and eminently decorated, and a genuine dwarf called Poisson, a bailiff from Retiers, whom we had humorously entrusted with the job of officially welcoming to the barracks the new detainees who were sent to us. If the Liberation Committee’s records and those of the Republican Police have not been expurgated, there would be quite a book to write. There is no doubt that it would differ from the panegyrics which it is still good form to devote to this sad period of the History of Brittany. From Brest to Rennes and Saint-Brieuc to Vannes this was repeated with many examples. The ridiculous vied with the tragic, ignominy with drama and the grotesque with the incredible. In addition, the new authorities did not have a sense of humour. One of our companions was a good man named Jean: I wondered why he was called de Gaulle. It was explained to me on that liberation day that he had been drunk and had wandered about saying everywhere that his name was de Gaulle. He was arrested for that reason and had been there ever since.
The women, as there were also two barracks of women in Margueritte camp, were no better off than the men. The wife and daughter of a well known lawyer, as was also the case of Yvonne Guellec, had been arrested solely because their husbands could not be found. Marie Drouart, who wrote fashion articles for “La Bretagne”, Françoise Le Roux who later became director of “Ogam”, Mlle Rosec, Florian Le Roy’s friend, Finotte Peresse, farmer’s wives from the region who had probably refused to give butter to the Maquisards and a number of other perfectly respectable women who had to endure a painful lack of privacy with prostitutes from Rennes and elsewhere who formed the bulk of the detainees and who had been locked up after their heads had been shaved, or else probably because they had been shaved.
I had been delighted to meet up again with the few Breton militants and personalities who had preceded me at the Margueritte camp. They were the most active group amongst the detainees, those who had maintained their moral the highest and who, as a result, were an example and an encouragement to all the others. Gradually, others were brought in to join us, such as Youenn Drezenn with his inexhaustible good stories and contagious good humour, Fanch Elies also constantly writing, Alan Al Louarn and Georges Le Mée who had started a Breton course, Rafig Tullou whose pencil was constantly on the move: he had undertaken to design the uniforms, epaulettes and stripes on the sleeves of all the Breton State’s future civil-servants, from the President of the Republic down to the forest guards. Morvan Marchal, one of the founders of Breiz Atao who had not had any active role since 1930, arrived a few days after me, as well as G.Vallée who worked for the printers of “l’Heure Bretonne”, two ecclesiastics, Father Poisson and Father Chauvel, the former being the author of a history of Brittany, and the latter a P.N.B. militant as was also the carpenter craftsman Georges Rual, member of the Seiz Breur, the dentis Lecoq, Ronan Pichery, Hervé Mazé and Yves Cateret. Father Chauvel had publicly boasted of having subscribed to a loan for the P.N.B.!
Usually on Sundays we would all be together for Mass and, as time went by, there was more freedom of communications between the barracks. This enabled me to enroll with de Guébriant for the Breton course and to do the Trec’h Kenta exam with him. A series of conferences on a wide range of subjects were organized with contributions from the bursar, Charles, Doctor Massot, Ronan Pichery, B.Lacouture, Florian Le Roy, Morvan Marchal, Commander Roger, Kluniger, de Guébriant…I also contributed on a range of subjects, from a history of Brittany to the setting-up of a newspaper. I remembered the words of De Valera, who said that “the best universities in the world are the prisons of the oppressors”.
All the artists in the camp also gathered together for a drawing exhibition. A humorist had drawn a plan of Margueritte camp in the present and in the future when Rennes would be transformed into a vast concentration camp. The theatrical sessions organized by another small group were held in a special barracks. All the management of the camp was invited and enjoyed it as much as we did. These “Reviews” were occasions for some very popular cutting jokes on stage, at the expense of the new authorities in the prefecture and of the Liberation committees with their vindictive purges, as well as the new government etc…This was probably brought to their attention; the “new Masters” of Rennes did not appreciate being the butt of humour. In the end, the theatrical sessions were forbidden.
The press review that I had undertaken to do, twice a week in each of the barracks, met with the same fate. I would go from one barracks to another, accompanied by a guard, after nightfall and the closing of the doors. This review of the newspapers was a great success. The inmates would provide me with a wide variety of publications which they received in their parcels. They would nearly all gather around to hear the résumé I extracted from them. I made a point of only taking extracts from published articles and was careful not to make any personal comments. Obviously however, I took great satisfaction in highlighting the contradictions between one paper and another, with the government rows, the violations of human rights and of the Law, the judicial tragic-comedies of the first trial of the purges, the ridiculous pomposity with which certain hysterical journalists peppered their articles in an effort to please the new masters of France, the quarrels which already came between the communists, anxious to monopolise the resistance for their benefit, and the new government anxious to establish its authority and be lawfully accepted by public opinion. The Americans were right in not lawfully recognizing the provisional government proclaimed by the authorities of the Resistance until the end of October 1944.
In actual fact it was easy to ridicule the words of M.Capitant, the new Minister of Education who required his teachers “to teach their pupils the virtues of liberty…and have them learn and recite the declaration of human rights”, though it states that “no punishment can be inflicted unless a law has been established and declared prior to the offence and then legally applied”. Certain detainees in the camp began to receive summonses to appear before the civic courts which imposed sentences of “loss of citizenship rights”, this “yellow star” invented by the Liberation government to punish those whose thinking was wrong. They could not find anything else against them except their opinions or their acceptance of the previous government’s authority. Most of these summonses stated that the defendant was guilty of having been a member of or have collaborated with the R.N.P. or P.P.F. or an organization involved in collaboration “before the 1st February 1940, which was a crime provided for and punishable by a ruling of the 26th December 1944”!
Extraordinary how far ahead this was anticipated and how lightly an article of the declaration of human rights violated! Those intellectuals and politicians inspired by the French way of thinking are never bothered by these contradictions. The French governing class, whatever their ideology, seldom worry about matching their actions to their statements, nor what they do to what they say. My press reviews lasted 6 weeks before they also were forbidden by higher authorities: all in the name of freedom of opinion no doubt.
We were still not allowed to receive any visits from our families or from our lawyers, but we were beginning to receive some official visits. The first one was from Monsignor Roques, archbishop of Rennes. Our Sunday Mass was usually said by Fr. Poisson. The first Mass I had been able to go to had been said by Fr.Chauvel, in secret, in one of the barracks on the 12th December, to commemorate the anniversary of Fr.Perrot’s assassination. The Mass was held in an empty barracks for those males who wanted to attend. Another service was held for the women. A trestle table became the altar: a very devout Mass, which as always ended with the Salve Regina which we sang in chorus. The archbishop had decided to visit this new concentration camp parish. I had previously met him on several occasions, when the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne was being formed and also the committee of the Friends of Brittany.
-“What – You are also here”, he said as he caught sight of me.
-“Like everyone else is Monsignor”, I replied.
A new prefet for Ille et Vilaine, Bernard Vigier, had been appointed in Rennes at the end of September. By the beginning of October he paid a visit to some of our barracks. An administrator of the colonies, he had come straight from Algeria where the de Gaulle committee, probably owing to a shortage of competent personnel, had called on him to be part of an Interior ministry board they were trying to form. It was purely owing to this circumstance that he had been appointed prefet for Ille et Vilaine, a post from which he was ingloriously removed in January 1946, long before retirement age, and shortly before the departure of commissioner Le Gorgeu, who had been obliged to make do with him. He looked more like a German cavalry soldier than a prefet. He lacked neither the arrogance nor the brutality and haughty tone of voice, which he obviously thought befitted his role. It would not have been surprising to see him wielding a riding crop. In Algeria he had become accustomed to ill-treating the locals: suddenly brought back to the mother country, he was not intelligent enough to realize that neither the same methods nor the same vocabulary could be used there, even when addressing detainees.
Bernard Vigier did not come to our barracks during that first visit. But he did visit the one where André Dezarrois was. The latter availed of this opportunity to complain bitterly about the arbitrary arrests and the length of unjust imprisonments. Vigier took this very badly and very high-handedly: losing his temper, he gave on the spot orders to the camp commander who had accompanied him, to have Dezarrois imprisoned at Jacques Cartier, which was done under close guard once more. But rules were beginning to be applied at the prison. After numerous telephone calls he was refused entry, as no judicial arrest order had been issued against him. Dezarrois was back with us the next day; but the incident caused quite a stir. It had at least served to remind the prefet of the elementary rules he had blithely ignored. It also undoubtedly contributed to Dezarrois’ early release, as a few weeks later he was released without any charge being brought against him.
On his second visit to us in November, Vigier came accompanied by two or three others, members of the Ille et Vilaine Liberation Committee, one of them being a woman called Emilienne Martin, who was rumoured to be the mistress of the new Fougères sous-prefet. This time he did not go to the barracks Dezarrois was in, which he carefully avoided, but came to ours. We had been lined up each at the foot of our beds. Confronted by our frosty expressions and an icy silence, Emilienne Martin simpered, saying she was intimidated at being the only woman amongst so many men!
Thinking he would dispel the unpleasant atmosphere probably, the prefet decided with complete inconsideration to pick on our friend Poisson, the dwarf, who happened to be there, throwing uncalled for accusations in his face. No one said a word but the hostility and contempt was palpable. The delegation of the “new officials” cut short their visit and left.
I had to wait until the end of November, nearly 4 months after my arrest, before Jean-Louis Bertrand was allowed to visit me. Even then he could not give me any precise information regarding my dossier. There was no dossier. I was neither detained, nor charged but only an “administrative detainee”. We only knew that Henri Fréville was compiling prosecution dossiers against those responsible for newspapers that operated during the occupation, and that he had since forbidden to operate. Though it was unsatisfactory, this visit was comforting. My thoughts were often gloomy. Thankfully, I have always been able to sleep, but I would dread waking up, which was sometimes extremely distressing. I would be brought back to the reality of my precarious situation, to concentration camp environment, the deprivation of my freedom, the uncertainty of the days to come and the prolonged break of links with the family.
A few days later, an “unofficial” visit from my father brought me further comfort. His previous responsibilities in the Finistère had brought him in contact with Lieutenant Lucas. He had therefore come to see him on the off chance and the latter had sent for me, asking us both to be discreet about this meeting. But I had to wait until close to Christmas before receiving the first officially authorised visit from Marie-Madeleine and my two children. The meeting took place in one of the rooms of the barracks where the management of the camp had been set up, and in the presence of a guard. I have already described it in one of my books. Joy and heart-break at the same time! Joy at seeing the three of them, to hug them, caress the face and heavy chignon of my wife, the smooth cheeks and blond curls of my two little ones. Heart-break knowing that they were changing and growing up away from me, on the other side of town, from which an impassable barrier separated me, to realise even more painfully all that I was being deprived of, the abrupt break in my physical relationship, the ties of the heart, of the spirit and of sensibility. Though many years have passed since these events, I still can not recall that first visit without a lump in my throat.
But we had to face up to the situation, though our resources, materially speaking, and our meager savings were running low: Marie-Madeleine was looking for work: she had decided in the meantime to sublet some of the rooms in our house. Our landlord, who appreciated our situation, had authorized us to do this. We were finally able to find a secret way of communicating more freely: I had been able to give her the necessary indications so that she could transfer the books and publications of my library to a safe place, and also organise and arrange for the best all the necessary visits she tirelessly made to the new authorities to try and obtain my return to her. At times it was better to make these contacts through an intermediary to insure greater pressure was brought to bear. But for the moment, it was still like banging ones head against a wall: lawlessness, confusion, incompetence and cowardice reigned supreme in the administrations. Nobody knew anything about anything. The war was not over – the magistrates said they had no dossier and that no inquiries had been opened; the prefecture stated that it was the information commission who was looking into the newspapers’ dossiers; the latter stated that only the prefecture was responsible for administrative internees! There were hundreds of thousands of us occupying prisons and concentration camps on the French State’s territory. But few of us could find out exactly neither why we were being held nor what crimes we might have committed in the eyes of the new authority. On the outside there was nothing left but hope that time would appease passions and stop the cries for vengeance. It was still necessary to be very careful about what one said and to whom one spoke. Some of our neighbours who before would kindly greet Marie-Madeleine, now changed to another footpath in case they would have to talk to her. Of these, apart from those who were in the same boat, there were only two men who continued to greet her ostentatiously: Pierre Cressard who lived further up rue de Fougères, and Bidard de La Noë whose apartment looked out over the Croix-Carrée crossroads. I have always held them in high esteem and been grateful to them for that. The only positive factor in the situation at the end of 1944 was that the period of violent actions, which had been perpetrated by armed gangs, seemed to have slowly come to an end.
But it was not this type of violent action or reprisals that the great majority of Breton militants had to fear. I quickly realised that we were threatened more by a sort of “proscription” or banishment. Contrary to what had happened to Florian Le Roy, André Dezarrois, Taldir, James Bouillé and myself, who were all active members of the Comité Consultatif, the arrests of Breton militants with no precise political responsibilities had not been immediate: the first ones only began end of September. And now, just as the first releases of “administrative internees” had begun, there was the great Allard-Le Gorgeu raid, right in the middle of November, directed mainly at them! There was no need for it apart from a definite and precise political reason.
The arrests had been so numerous, mainly in Finistère, that the internment camps of that department had been unable, through lack of space, to receive all those who were its victims. Thus it was that on the 26th of November, we saw an imposing column arriving at the Margueritte camp, 150 people from Finistère led by the priest. We welcomed them warmly. Their arrival had dispelled for a while the moroseness which had settled over our barracks. They were a jumble of straightforward cultural militants, some regionalist, some nationalist and others simply apolitical. There was even a 16 year old boy who had been arrested because he was heard singing in Breton in the street! Maybe Le Gorgeu, Allard and their emulators, as well as our zealous “new officials” of the Liberation Committee had remembered a ruling of the April 1793 French National Convention, which had ordered the immediate arrest of all sacristans and bell ringers? The only thing that all these new detainees had in common was their Breton feelings, their activities in favour of the Breton language, or the use of it, and their membership of Breton organizations, political or not. There was Marc’harid Gourlaouenn, director of the Breton correspondence school, Armand Keravel , director of Ar Falz, Dr. Cornic, past president of Bleun-Brug, Fr. Le Saout, parish priest of Saint-Goazec and some other priests known for their Breton feelings and who used Breton in their sermons, R.Tassel, ex-militant of Breiz-Atao’s federalist branch, and many more. Some of them were old friends that I was delighted to see again. The P.N.B. had been dissolved and banned by order of the new regional authority. The Friend’s of Brittany committees, despite the personalities involved, suffered the same fate. And now Ar Brezhoneg er Skol was being served with the same dissolution and banning order. In early December, I was taken under guard to Rennes’ courthouse to be served notice that the property of the association was being sequestrated – of course, the property of my newspaper had already been sequestrated.
Most of the newly arrested group from Finistère did not remain in Marguerite for very long.
There had been vigorous reactions amongst the population. The bishop of Quimper insisted that his priests be released. The Brest sous-prefecture, which had withdrawn to Lesneven, had been besieged, and general Allard had been obliged to call Paris for reinforcements. We only heard all of this little by little: but the bulk of the information, which eventually filtered through to us, finally convinced me that the new regional authority in Rennes had enforced, to the letter and probably on his own authority, the instructions the Breton prefectures had received from the French government in June 1940, which specially concerned the “Breton autonomists”. I was in a position to know that, at that time, the Minister of the Interior Georges Mandel, with the prospect of a “reduced Breton element” when facing the German advance, had given orders that well known Breton autonomists be arrested, imprisoned or quite simply liquidated. They were as a whole considered to be suspicious and were suspected of belonging to a fifth column which, as a precautionary measure, had to be got rid of. The Jacobin, Le Gorgeu’s, thinking on the matter was very similar, as far as he was concerned an autonomist was by definition a collaborator. There was no need of any proof on that score: his reputation was sufficient.
Everything seems with hindsight to confirm this hypothesis. It was a case of banning those who did not integrate, which was the case then and still is that of all militants of Breton movements. The addresses of those sought out in the Allard-Le Gorgeu raid were the addresses they had in 1939 or before. Soon, they were charging those who were brought before Breton civic courts, though practically no charge against them could be found apart from their opinions, and were giving them a secondary sentence of a banning order covering the 5 departments of Brittany, which was only inflicted on them. This automatically forced them into exile and made it impossible for them to stay or settle in their own country. This ban lasted for several years!
The only question to which an absolutely certain answer can never be obtained, is what role was played by Commissioner Le Gorgeu on one hand, and by the central government authorities on the other, in the enforcement of this ban. Though it appears probable that the inspiration for the repression came from above, as the assassination of Fr. Perrot and of other Breton militants would indicate, especially from June to August of 1944, it is also probable the main part of the responsibility for its enforcement there, is attributable to Commissioner Le Gorgeu. It must be remembered that until March 1946 he maintained full government authority over the four departments under his authority. Yet in Paris and elsewhere, including the Loire-Atlantique department, which was part of the Angers region, though it was Michel Debré that other out and out Jacobin who was in charge there, the Breton militants were generally not bothered nor arrested, let alone sentenced – not even those who had held certain responsibilities within the P.N.B. Thus some of them, such as François Goasdoué who was the P.N.B. man responsible for Loire Atlantique, were able to provide much needed relief and support to the destitution and misfortunes of Breton militants in the other departments, who had not been as fortunate.
All of this certainly did not help my case or that of my companions. We remained despondently in the camp, though the population was constantly fluctuating. The outcome of the first important trials of the purges was of no comfort to us. Writers, journalists and intellectuals whose views were wrong in the eyes of France’s new masters were among the first group of people, together with proven criminals, to be rounded up in the purges. The similarities with the 1793 revolution were such that the guillotine, which had a bad reputation, was replaced by firing squads considered to be more civilised or more respectable. In February 1945, in Rennes, Charles Geffroy was shot. One of the main crimes he was accused of was to have been secretary of the center helping French workers in Germany. In Paris, the judicial assassination of Robert Brasillach was conducted. Within twenty minutes he was condemned to death in January 1945, after a botched trial, and given only one hearing by the examining judge. The trials of Paul Chack, Henri Beraud, Rebatet, Jean Luchaire and other “intellectuals” of the collaboration, clearly demonstrated that there was no hesitation in using harsh legal repression to strike at the simple expression of opinions. The sentences seemed to be measured, not by any precise actions which might have been committed but, by the effectiveness of actions undertaken by the accused in the service of the opinions he defended, and by the influence he had or could have if he had been allowed to remain free.
When Marie-Madeleine would go to the prefecture and point out that certain journalists or directors of newspapers in Rennes had not been detained or had already been released, the prefet’s secretary could only reply:
–“Yes, of course, but your husband is different: he is well known and he is a writer!”
Almost two years later, in 1946, just after my being sentenced in absentia to hard labour for life, when my father expressed surprise to another senior civil servant that I had been given such a harsh sentence, whilst Raymond Delaporte, the leader of the P.N.B., had only been sentenced in absentia to twenty years in prison, he incurred a similar remark.
–“But the problem is that your son is far more dangerous…” was the only reply he was given.
-“Do you mean to say,” retorted my father, “that the severity of the sentence should be considered a compliment?”
The conversation ended there. I had certainly succeeded in opening some holes in the State’s Jacobin fortress: it knew that I would have been able to enlarge these. This was obviously a ban.
As the days passed, the camp population gradually decreased. But the releases seldom involved Breton militants, apart from Keravel who was protected by the communist party, although their publications continued to give autonomists a hard time.
There were only three ways of leaving the camp, save from escape from it, a hypothesis I had seriously studied. The first was an administrative decision taken by the prefecture of the departments and the regional commissioner, or a hearing in the civic courts for a sentence, and lastly the opening of an inquiry in the courts of justice. In the first case, release was immediate: in the second, release generally followed soon after the sentence, and the third automatically meant imprisonment. There was a fourth way of leaving Marguerite camp, but it was only for the women: which was through the prefet’s bedroom: everybody knew this and nobody was surprised to see, from time to time, an official car arriving to collect a “tondue”, a woman whose head was shaved for fraternizing with the Germans, who was released and whose hair had grown again, making her more desirable. Unfortunately the appetites of these gentlemen, I use the plural as some of the judges and other high ranking civil-servants were not exempt from this, were not confined to the choice of these women. A number of perfectly respectable women, wives or fiancées of detainees, were at the time subjected to dubious propositions. Marie-Madeleine herself, and some other women she knew, had experienced this. That type of trafficking of influence was possibly commonplace in every life. But the circumstances under which it was practiced at the time made it particularly odious.
Jean-Louis Bertrand and Armand Le Douarec, who were in charge of my defense and that of Guillemot, came from time to time to visit me: all they could do was echo the contradictory information they had obtained. But they helped to keep my spirits up. The dossiers of those responsible for newspapers distributed during the occupation were still under preliminary inquiry by the information commission, which was in no hurry to lodge them. Ours, which could not help but implicate Le Gorgeu, must have caused it a lot of problems! We did not hear until the month of February 1945 that the dossiers of “La Bretagne”, “L’Ouest-Éclair” and the “Nouvelliste du Morbihan” had been sent to the court of Justice. There was no mention, and for a very good reason, of the “La Dépêche” dossier, apart from the time when it merged with “La Bretagne” in 1942. But I have given a detailed account of the events of this edifying story and the judicial actions which followed, in the book I dedicated to “L’Histoire du Quotidien ‘La Bretagne’.”
Around the beginning of December, I was delighted to have a visit from Raymond Deugnier. He also could only repeat the rumours and stories that he had gathered. He had come from Paris on his motorbike and had spent the night at my place. He had encouraged and advised Marie-Madeleine regarding the various measures to be taken: she was hoping that her knowledge of English would permit her to find work with the American army services, where André Guillemot was already working.
–“There is nothing very specific against you,” he told me, “apart from your political activities of course. But there is the matter of the purchasing of “La Dépêche de Brest”, which seems to me mainly a personal matter between Le Gorgeu and yourself. In which case, you may possibly remain an administrative internee at least until the end of the hostilities, which is expected to be soon.”
Deugnier confirmed that everything was still being settled locally by the regional and departmental authorities, with no intervention from Paris. He told me of how worrying and how difficult it had been for the Ministry of the Interior to succeed in restoring public order in certain regions, where the setting up of real communist dictatorships had appeared to become established.
-“Rennes, in that respect, has caused us far less problems than Limoges or Marseille,” he concluded.
I had no choice but to put up with it: I knew that I was a victim of reasons of State. There was no solution to that, apart from a change in the State. But in the meantime, conditions in the camp were not improving. Shortly before Christmas, the prefet called together some sixty detainees to announce that they would shortly be released: but he advised them to remain calm, to be careful not to reproach nor take retaliatory measures against those who denounced them, otherwise he would be obliged to have them detained again, but not their denouncers! A few days later, Foulon protested at a public meeting against these releases. His problem at the time was more psychopathic than normal. The committee he was in charge of, was still drawing up lists of suspects, and also of those suspected of being suspects! The couple of hundred of us who were still detained, spent a miserable Christmas in spite of a devout Mass and a friendly meal for which we had pooled our “parcels”. Meanwhile, our guards also feasted thanks to the bottles of wine and cigarettes taken from the detainees’ parcels. But every one of us was thinking of our families, children, parents and friends from whom we were separated.
It had become exceptionally cold. Snow and ice had made their appearance. The water pipes were nearly always frozen. Some stopped having a wash. We burnt whatever we could get hold of, including quite a few legs from the bunks: we had not even been allowed to purchase wood at our own costs!
Finally, even the stoves were removed: it became impossible to read or write except in bed, with gloves on, wrapped in blankets, jerseys and overcoats. The only way to get warm was to walk at a jog trot from one barracks to another or within the barracks, in a restricted space, or to skip with a skipping rope. For want of space we had to take it in turns of course.
Between Christmas and New Year, we were made to move to other barracks in order to concentrate us all into three or four of them, situated on the eastern side of the camp and separated from the others by barbed wire. New tenants were obviously expected to arrive. We were piled in, 150 to 200 per barracks, squashed into four rows. It was in this new abode that, around the middle of January, we received a visit from Fr.Mévellec, chaplain of the Breton’s in Périgord and also chaplain of one of the “maquis” in that region which was comprised of practically all Bretons. This “maquis” even had to fight there against communists trying to get a hold over the region. The arrest of Guébriant had caused a furor. He was particularly well known in Périgord, where he had organized an emigration of country folk and then of numerous other Bretons, relatives and friends, during the Allard-Le Gorgeu raids. Numerous protests had been made to Paris. The manner, in which the purges were being conducted in France, with the tens of thousands being arrested, had begun to move international public opinion. The attention of the Welsh was drawn to the number of cultural and political Breton militants who were being imprisoned. Mévellec had obtained permission from the government to go to Rennes and see the regional authorities as well as the Bretons detained in the camps.
Short, with a lively step, his cassock blowing in the wind and a Basque beret over one ear, very much the fighting priest, he was accompanied on his tour of the barracks by the camp commander. He first of all paid a special visit to Guébriant. The latter, we all knew was also a victim of reasons of State, was a unanimously respected figure. He was just as dignified, just as gentlemanly, and behaved just as nobly in adversity as he had when he was in a place of honour. We often talked to each other during our “walks” along the barbed wire fences.
–“There is no doubt,” he told me one day, “that these people wanted and still want to eliminate us, destroy our influence and push us out of their way. We obviously offend them. Small trees do not grow in the shade of other trees. But you see Fouéré, the fact that we are still alive you and I, and that we are able to talk about all this together, clearly shows that they have failed!”
Once his visit to Guébriant was over, Mévellec went to each one of the barracks where most of us had gathered to hear him. He told us that the prefet and the regional commissioner, who was certainly not beyond hypocrisies, had assured him that the cases of Breton militants who had been arrested would in future only be examined from the point of view of any intrigues involving collaboration, and not because of their political opinions. At the end of these statements he struck up the Bro Goz which we all joined in singing; the camp commander who was Breton-speaking listened also, standing with bared head, joining in our anthem.
Of course, we only half believed what Mévellec had said. We had become so accustomed to hypocrisy and empty promises! But his visit seemed to us all an indication of public opinion’s evolution, now beginning to express itself out there. It proved that from now on we were no longer isolated nor without allies. The moral in the camp improved.
But it suffered a further blow with the arrival en masse at the end of January of Alsatian and German civil internees. They had been hastily evicted from their homes, unable to take any of their belongings with them apart from what they could personally carry. Apparently they were mostly the families of civil servants belonging to the German administration of the Alsace-Loraine departments, which had practically been annexed to Germany during the occupation. It was to make room for them that we had been obliged to move a short while before.
We were in the depths of winter. A hard slippery snow covered the ground: a freezing wind blew. Gathered around behind our barbed wire or the windows of our barracks, we gazed in stunned silence as this pitiful procession slowly filed past, mostly women and children of all ages, pale, haggard, exhausted, trembling with cold and fear and surrounded by armed guards. At the head, some of the women linked arms and tried to hold their heads up to give some semblance of dignity and human respect to the crowds of their companions and children following behind them. Most of them dragged with difficulty some flimsy suitcases, bags and bundles. Young children, some falling on the slippery snow, were doing their best to help push little carriages with babies. Some of the few men, white haired and some infirm, brought up the rear. Obviously exhausted, each one dragging themselves painfully along, they could only move slowly. Not one cry, not one word came forth from this crowd on the verge of exhaustion…
I was horrified, stunned, outraged. I thought of my own children at the sight of these, innocent victims of our European civil wars and of man’s inhumanity as well as that of the States. I knew that in the barracks we had evacuated there was nothing there for them, nothing but some bundles of straw spread out on the cement floor and a very few blankets, certainly insufficient for the seven hundred of them. I considered the full measure of negligence as well as the cruelty or thoughtlessness of prefet Vigier and his services who, knowing already a week ago that these detainees were due to arrive, had not made any provisions for them nor prepared anything for their arrival: no means of heating, nor blankets, nor foodstuffs, nor milk for the children. Instead of all that, after alighting from the cattle wagon which had brought them to Rennes, an exhausting journey of four days, in the depths of this freezing winter, Vigier had gathered them together on the station platform swept by Siberian gusts of wind. There he had made them listen to a long patriotic speech, of which they probably had not understood a word. He undoubtedly thought it had been a good one, as the press unfailingly picked it up the following day. He explained to them that they were now paying for the oppression which had been inflicted on France by the country they had served! They had then been formed into a procession which had to walk from the station to the camp. The adults took it in turns to carry the babies or the heavier bundles. The children, dying of cold, followed as best as they could, stumbling along.
Murders, genocides or oppressions have never justified other murders, other genocides and other oppressions, nor brutalities other brutalities, nor inhumanity an equal inhumanity. Even amongst the guards themselves, though some eased their conscience by muttering:
-“Whatever we do will not be as bad as what they did to us”, others mumbled:
-“This is not the kind of work we should have to do.”
Whenever I recall this period of my existence, I see this pitiful procession: it has remained for me one of the most dreadful sights of that dreadful period, when so much misery was needlessly added to other misery.
After witnessing the arrival of these women and children, Commander Lucas gave the kitchen orders to have hot coffee and bread distributed to them, which was all the camp had in reserve. Called upon to administer first aid to the children, our internee friend, Dr.Massot, immediately realized that one of the essential priorities was to feed this crowd. Throughout the trip, no food at all had been distributed, only water had been provided once a day, often coming from melted snow which lay alongside the tracks of the train they were on. Nine of the children had died along the way and one little girl’s foot had frozen. This was their first meal since their departure. Having obtained approval from the prefet’s office, the camp commander asked Dr.Massot to do the rounds of our barracks and ask us to give whatever bread or food we could spare from the family parcels we had received the day before. None of us refused. We learnt then that of the newcomers who now shared our fate, there were approximately 300 women and 350 to 400 children under the age of ten!
But a week later we read in one of these numerous gossip sheets which had started up in Rennes, each one claiming to embody the spirit of the French Resistance, (this particular one was called “Vent d’Ouest!”), that by “feeding” the German civil internees at the Marguerite camp we had all committed a further offence in the “collaboration” we were being blamed for! It has always bothered me to think that one of the regular signatories of articles in “Vent d’Ouest”, where these types of articles appeared, was Pierre Jakez Hélias who had not as yet written his “Cheval d’Orgueil”. The paths to a nation sometimes take strange detours. Le Gorgeu had no intention of banning “Vent d’Ouest”, but he had just banned Eugène Delahaye’s “La Province” which had protested against the extremes of the “purges”, the anarchic manner in which they were taking place and the numerous arrests, victimisations and unjust arbitrary internments as well as the “purges” being used as a pretext.
What concerned us was that every day we now witnessed the painful sight of all these children with imploring eyes, stretching out their hands to us through the barbed wire, begging for a piece of bread. The authorities were also moved by it but in a different way: they ended up forbidding us to give them anything. Then as we continued regardless, a two meter high wall of broom and bunches of wood interlaced through the barbed wire was erected. We could no longer see the children but we could still hear them: we now had to throw over the fence the bread or apples we had set aside for them!
The only good news I had received during that painful winter, when the world of the concentration camp weighed heavily on me as I could see no end in sight to this ordeal, was that Marie-Madeleine had found employment as a typist with the American army’s military justice services. She had found André Guillemot, who because of his knowledge of English had been able to obtain employment there after he had been given notice, as had the rest of my employees, by the receiver in charge of the sequestration of “La Bretagne”. One of the officers that Marie-Madeleine worked for, bore the prestigious name of La Tour d’Auvergne: he showered my children with sweets. Alas! A few weeks later, persistent official pressure from the French services, which they refused to identify further, forced the commander of that unit stationed in Rennes to ask her to leave, even though her work was highly satisfactory. This was the first news she herself gave me when she came to visit me for the first time in Quimper where I had just been transferred…It was still clearly a total banning order, not just against me but also against mine…It was also Marie-Madeleine who told me, during that first visit, that the reason for this transfer to Quimper was the submission of the dossier compiled by officials in the service of Henri Fréville, the regional representative for the Rennes region’s information services, to the judicial authorities. The judges had decided to direct the press dossiers to the civic courts. However the government had other ideas, and insisted that these dossiers be directed to the courts of justice, at least where the daily newspapers were concerned. In view of the fact that “La Bretagne” and “La Dépêche de Brest” were printed in Morlaix, the Rennes judges considered that the examination of these dossiers fell within the remit of the Quimper courts of justice, who were asked to start legal proceedings against Jacques Guillemot, myself, a few others and notably Joseph Martray and my father. Marie-Madeleine had arrived at Marguerite camp with a parcel for me which they had refused, without any other explanation than that I was no longer there. Worried and a bit panic-stricken, as anything was still possible at the time, with law barely re-established, she had rushed over to see Jean-Louis Bertrand who had eventually been able to obtain some information. No one had been advised of my transfer, not my lawyer, or my family, or me. The authorities at the prefecture, who were directly responsible for my case, as I still had not been charged, did not consider themselves obliged to treat the families of detainees with any consideration, this being in accordance with discretionary powers which were actually not theirs by right.
It was only late on the night of the 9th March that the authorities of the camp advised me to be ready the following morning as they would be coming for me at six o clock to take me to the train for Quimper. That night I packed my clothes and other meager possessions into my suitcase and said goodbye to my friends. The next day 10th March, I started my ninth month in detention.
It was still dark when a guard arrived to collect me from the still sleeping barracks. I found three other Breton detainees at the clerk’s office. Yvonne Guellec, arrested and interned because they could not find her husband Eugène, an architect in Quimper and well known Breiz Atao and P.N.B. militant, Hervé Mazé, who was from Lopérec, and young Parcevault, the son of Breton nationalists from North Finistère. We were handed over to three uniformed policemen who escorted us on foot to the station. The air was biting but already practically without the intense cold of winter.
At that early hour of the morning, the station was full of people: trains were still relatively scarce at the time! A compartment had been reserved for us in the train for Brest: fortunately, as it was packed and the corridors were occupied. From then on we could not go to the toilet unless a guard accompanied us! It was daybreak and I gazed delightedly out at the passing familiar landscapes: in the distance the blue-grey indentation of Yffiniac bay, the Trémusson valleys, the steeple and square tower of Guingamp’s cathedral, Morlaix spread out around the foot of its viaduct: I thought of the sous-prefecture and printing works on the other side of town, near the tobacco factory, where the “Télégramme”, successor of “La Dépêche”, was still being printed. We had to get off at Landerneau, as we had to wait there for several hours before being able to board the Quimper train, which only left in the afternoon. We were brought to a room in the police station and were able to talk more freely. We were brought sandwiches and coffee, which provided us with a frugal meal.
The Quimper train took it’s time, stopping at every station. Several times I was tempted to jump from the train: each compartment had a door and it would not have been very dangerous at the reduced speed the train was travelling at. The gullies and slopes would have quickly concealed us. But I would have had to abandon my suitcase and the notes, so precious to me, which it contained! Also, should I give that satisfaction to my enemies, making it easier for them then to report my escape and subsequently my guilt, which I had absolutely no doubt they were finding very difficult to prove!
The afternoon was already drawing to a close by the time we reached Quimper. Our guards waited for the crowd to disperse after getting us to alight from the train. O surprise! There were only three of us left around them; young Parcevault had managed to disappear with his suitcase! I leave to the imagination the disappointment of our guards, more annoyed than disappointed. One of them brought us to one of the station’s offices, while his two colleagues scoured the surroundings: a fruitless search. This had taken some time and night was already falling. We had to be taken on foot to our destination: Saint-Charles concentration camp was on the other side of town, on the upper slopes of Kerfeunten. The station lent us a small wooden cart in which we piled our bags and suitcases. We took it in turns, Mazé and I hitching ourselves to the shaft while the other pushed. Two of the guards were on either side of us and the other one brought up the rear. They were good natured and did not hurry us.
ne Guellec was taken off to the women’s quarters, Mazé and I to that of the The access to Saint-Charles prison, as this was how it was quite correctly called, was along a small arduous path on the side of a hill. It had already settled down for the night when we arrived. The camp guards were “resistants”, whose outfits indicated the impromptu nature of their engagement: cartridge belts and pistols in their belts over civilian clothes: guns over their shoulders or on a shoulder strap, added to the strangeness of their appearance. We wondered as to the suspect nature of the place we were being brought to at nightfall. Yvonne Guellec was brought to the women’s quarters, Mazé and I to the men’s. Each of us was locked up in cells which were on both sides of a long dark corridor. But the doors had barely closed, with the sound of the locks being turned, an already familiar sound to me since my stay at Jacques Cartier, when voices rose from neighbouring cells.
–“Who is there?” shouted one which was not unknown to me.
-“Yann Fouéré”, I replied.
-“Salut Yann! Welcome amongst us! Herri here. I am practically your neighbour with Uncle Marc. We will see each other tomorrow.”
The uncertainties, the unknown and the anguish of that night had been dispersed: I was in a territory with familiar people. The following day, Herri Caouissin and Marc Le Berre explained that the doors of the cells were opened in daytime and at certain hours we were free to wander around the courtyard: practically all the Finistère P.N.B. branch members, swelled by the most well-known nationalist militants of the department, were still in that Saint-Charles prison, where a number of them had been imprisoned, though some had already been released. But Dr.Delaporte and Ezel, Yann Ar Beg and Marc Le Berre, the agricultural engineer Le Floc’h, the navy officer Proust who worked for “La Dépêche” from time to time and whom I had not met before, all were still there: there were also a certain number of other militants whom I personally only knew slightly. One of these was the businessman Edouard Leclerc, who later became well known. They all formed a motivated and pleasant group who had kept up a spirit of rebellion and defiance in the prison. The song they composed, which they still often sang, has remained famous: “Le petit biniou” of Adolphe Le Goaziou, president of the Finistère Liberation Committee.
The rebellious vivacity and amiable anarchy of the Finistère people had ended by overcoming the harsh discipline that the first director, Salaün, had imprinted on this prison camp which the Germans had used before the French. I still have in my records an order dated 28th September 1944, where Salaün had forbidden the detainees to receive any letters, books, visits, foodstuffs, correspondence etc…There was also the women’s quarter. The imaginative anarchy had not been one sided. The law of the machine guns had been strongest when other “resistants” had entered the prison, without Salaün and his men being able to stop them. It is certainly difficult to argue with a firearm pointed at your stomach. Having entered by force, these “resistants” cold-bloodedly executed police commissioner Lemarchand, who was detained there, and whom they rightly or wrongly, accused of having them imprisoned by the Germans. They were probably also afraid of the disclosures the latter could have made regarding them, at a time when some of their companions in arms blithely continued the pillaging of farms in the region: old habits die hard. There were already rumours of fortunes made, which all knew originated with money falling from the sky in the form of allied parachutes with goods which had been spirited away, instead of being used for the ends they were intended.
Just a few hours after the summary execution of police commissioner Lemarchand in his cell, and before even the authorities had arrived, two female “resistants” from Paris, who had probably been a party to the murder, had on request been allowed to “spit” on the body. The news had spread like wildfire around the prison. When, having accomplished their ignominy, the two hateful viragos left the wing where the cell of the assassinated policeman was, they came face to face with crowds of detainees gathered around the windows and in the courtyard. When they appeared, all started chanting the guardhouse song, whose chorus is well-known.
-“Ah the slut! Go and wash your dirty ç…!”
They had to retreat, protected by the guards guns, under jeers and boos, yelling curses and swearing that they would demand collective sanctions against the internees of the camp.
Inspired by this example, the separatist militant Renaud, who had succeeded in escaping from Saint-Charles and knew its weak points well, decided to return armed with a machine gun, a dagger and a pistol to free his wife: a rescue operation which he succeeded in doing, meeting with no resistance from the terrified male and female guards who asked him to remember that they had treated him well. He then locked them up in a cell before getting out with his wife.
Unfortunately, I only stayed for about ten days in that prison, which finally became a camp. In that early spring of 1945, it had become just a temporary lodging place for detainees waiting to appear before the civic courts. This was not my case, as I was to be brought before a court of justice. I could not convince myself that, until now, I had only been an administrative detainee, dependent on the wishes of the Republic’s regional commissioner and his prefets. I only learnt later on that it had been very difficult to find, in Quimper, an examining magistrate who would agree to issue a penal committal order for a case where the irregularities, omissions, lack of objectivity and silences, exclusive rights and special favours abounded. I related the main ones in the special book which, as I said, I devoted to “l’Histoire du quotidien ‘La Bretagne’.” It can but enlighten those who have read or will read it. I had only been incarcerated in Rennes and at Saint-Charles because of the delay in making a difficult decision.
An examining magistrate having finally been appointed, I was placed under a committal order and transferred to Mesgloaguen, the “official” prison of Quimper. All I had to do was walk across the square. In order to respect convention, a couple of policemen came to officially arrest me at Saint-Charles. I had already been under arrest for eight months. Once more they handcuffed me, and then escorted me across to Mesgloaguen.
Once inside the heavy door, we were welcomed by unarmed guards this time. Compared to Jacques Cartier, Mesgloaguen was a home-made miniature, as described by the militant André Geffroy, one of my new companions. The old ramparts of Quimper formed one of its surrounding walls. The guard in charge also acted as director of the prison. The registrar was a kind man, himself a detainee, who did whatever he could to help us: he would find a way to warn us if he saw we were becoming too friendly with some detainees who acted as “informers”, as unfortunately that is how prison authorities often obtain useful information for the preliminary investigations of some cases. I wondered why this kind man was referred to as “Jam”. It was explained to me that he had been given a heavy sentence for acts against public decency. He had been a teacher in a district of Cap and was prone to spreading jam over his penis, making it more attractive for children to suck on.
There was a limited amount of space in the prison, and common law detainees occupied most of the cells. They were not the only ones to occupy the area, as there was also an army of fleas which had invaded the straw filled mattresses, blankets and clothes: they were especially partial to the turn ups of trousers and lapels of jackets.
I was allocated a bed in a large dark cell which already held twenty detainees. It had been necessary to stack the bunks. It was known as the “political detainees” cell. Taldir Jaffrenou had the bed over mine. He had just been sentenced to five years in detention. We were glad to meet again: in order to write, he had to stand up and lean on his bed which, because of its height, he could use as a desk. The whole place was totally uncomfortable and of very doubtful cleanliness. Also there amongst us, were Jean Rohou and Derrien, both from Landivisiau: one ran a café, the other sold horses, and there were also others who could not be blamed for anything other than that their opinions or behaviour had displeased.
The same night of my arrival at Mesgloaguen, Alan Le Louarn, my Breton teacher at Marguerite camp, and well known nationalist militant, made his appearance. He had also been transferred from Rennes as he was in fact originally from Quimper. Two days later, we were both removed from the “politician’s” cell and transferred to another wing of the prison, mainly reserved for those sentenced or detained under common law. In fact, our new smaller cell was cleaner and brighter: it was meant for four people, with two sets of bunks. We only learnt the following day that it was the cell reserved for those condemned to death, which had become available after a recent execution. We were certainly more comfortable there, but could only go out for one recreation a day, which was limited to one hour, and was held in the small yard with other detainees, now that spring had brought out the buds on the trees and the sun warmed the old stones of the prison.
Thus the conditions of detention were not the best; once again, I found myself deprived of the limited freedom to come and go within our enclosure, which had been the system at Marguerite camp. Once again we were confined to our cells. There was probably a shortage of mess tins and kitchen utensils: the soup was brought to us in empty one kilo tins of peas, open on top, somewhat rusty and sometimes leaking. We would barely have had enough to eat if we had not been able to supplement with our family parcels, or else have resort to a fiddle which was widely practiced by the common law detainees. There were not very many of the latter and there was hardly any separation between us. We could meet and talk to each other without any difficulty during our walks in the yard. In our cell, I usually took over the little table I needed for my writing: Louarn wrote, like Taldir had done, on his bed. I managed, as the days passed by, to have the documents brought in, which I felt I needed for my defense: I had started to do some work on a comparison between “La Bretagne”, “La Dépêche” and the other daily papers that had been published during the occupation. I continued to read and take many notes: now that I was officially charged, there were no restrictions at all to the bringing in of books, documents, clothes and stationery which I might want.
Marie-Madeleine, in order to be closer to my new residence, and be better able to accomplish the research and take the necessary steps for me, had rented a little house in Benodet with Colette Montpert, one of her friends from boarding school. She was allowed to visit me twice a week in one of the prison offices, near the large front door where the guard on duty usually sat. Road transport was not very frequent: she would sometimes return to Benodet in one of the boats known as “les sabliers”, which on calm evenings would go downriver with the tide.
In our wing of the prison, we had found a certain number of Breton militants who were closer to the Perrot formation than to the P.N.B.: Pol Le Rest, Ronan Le Hir, André Geffroy, Cossé, Botros and Kergoat. We were able to talk to each other during recreation time. The first three had already been given heavy sentences and were waiting to leave for the central prison of Fontevrault; the other three were brought before the court of justice in the autumn after our departure. Executed shortly after, they marched bravely to their death and claimed to the end the Breton faith which inspired them. The reason for the struggle they had maintained against France.
Once again, I was struck by a fact which I had already noticed at Marguerite camp. The Breton faith, the devotion to the cause of this country of ours and its people, was a basic principle with a strong lasting quality of solidity and solidarity. No set back could shatter it, no failure destroy it. In the best of us, this faith blossomed in adversity. It strengthened in misfortune. None of that amongst the militants and those in charge of the, so-called, collaborationist French parties, who had been locked up with us. A world they had believed in, mainly based on the defense of fundamental values on which they had been taught that France was based, on the hostility to communism that was the basic principle in the name of which the anti-Bolshevik crusade had been organized all over Europe, and had collapsed with the defeat of the axis forces and the invasion of half of Europe by the Soviet army. Europe, released from the specter of red tyranny, which they dreaded more than anything else, that Europe they had dreamt of, was collapsing into ruin, blood, terror and tears. Now they only thought of escaping from it. A large group had formed at the Marguerite camp to finalise a massive departure to New Caledonia. Were they hoping to be able to start a New France, abstract and unreal, which haunted their dreams, by carrying a theoretical part of it on the soles of their shoes? Were they thinking of doing the same thing over there as France did, forming another Nation-State, by dispossessing other people, occupying their territory, making them forget their own language, their own culture and their own civilisation, in order to substitute their own? It is of course these abstractions, this pride and these dreams that motivated some of our companions. These were the ones, later on, responsible for the tragedies that marked the “decolonisation” of a number of distant territories where France had planted its flag. How would they have known, as it had always been carefully hidden from them, that France was only a State, whilst Brittany was a nation and a homeland as well, even though it’s State had disappeared?
As time went by and Germany disintegrated, its territory in ruins, its population reduced to famine and poverty, some Breton survivors of the Légion Charlemagne or of the Waffen S.S., who had been arrested on their return home, came to join us. They gave us some incredible accounts of the half savage oriental hordes storming into Europe, foreign to its civilisation and its fundamental values, which made up a large part of the Soviet armies. As we listened to their accounts, a picture emerged of the apocalypse which had descended on Germany and central Europe, the looting, burning, murder and gang-rape that marked their arrival in the German towns and countryside. In contrast to the American and English troops, where a certain discipline was maintained, the French troops, which were not much more than an ill-assorted improvised army, did not behave much better towards the populations they conquered. Except for the so-called colonial troops, Senegalese or North African, who behaved like the Russians, they raped less but looted more.
What kind of Europe were we going to inherit? On what ashes and on what ruins would we be able to rebuild: what part would Brittany, let alone France, be able to play in its reconstruction? I hardly considered myself as French any more: it was Brittany, my family, and the preoccupation with the struggle at present that kept me alive. But over and above the defence of Breton values, I felt that Europe, of which Brittany was one of the most ancient components, would have to become the common concern of all Europeans. And now there were two major non European powers fighting on its soil, unnecessarily reducing its most ancient towns to ashes, sharing out the spoils and territories of its most ancient nations. Tomorrow, would we be able to protect it from the imperialism of other totalitarian ideologies, foreign to its calling and various cultures, grafts of intolerance on its roots and endeavouring to supplant it? It seemed to me that Europe itself was also in danger of dying, if the totalitarian empire of Soviet Russia was allowed to settle in the heart of the continent. In contrast to the deep-rooted anti-communism of our new companions, who because of their convictions, had fought in the ranks of the Germans, there was the utter lack of convictions of some other new detainees arriving amongst us, who had fought, they said, with the Resistance. The arrests had in fact begun, of some looters of farms or post offices, who had not yet realised that those days had passed when “French patriotism” could be used to excuse the acts of violence, which had been so commonplace before the departure of the Germans, and were still discreetly covered up under a veil of leniency.
-“We were left in peace before,” one of them told me, “No one said anything to us. We all have to manage somehow: but now we are being hassled.”
Alas however! I also knew that the latter were but a rather unsophisticated caricature of the crowds of “resistants”, who had grown out of all proportion and, in addition to positions, were also quarrelling over pensions, honours and awards. To have stolen some papers from State offices, or secretly pontificated around a wireless set, had become important qualifications to be considered in being a member of the Resistance. Space had to be made for these newcomers, who for the most part had no more convictions than the looters of farms. It was while in Quimper prison that I received official notification of my dismissal from the Ministry of the Interior’s civil-service: they had not even waited until I had been sentenced. In any case, an acquittal would not have made any difference. If the judiciary spared anyone, the administrative courts would nevertheless strike out against them if their opinions were not correct, or if it was thought necessary to keep them out of the way.
All I could do was shrug my shoulders at this further penalisation. I had already been removed from office by the Vichy government: they had only revoked this decision because they had thought it better not to annoy the director of “La Bretagne” and general secretary of the Comité Consultatif that I had become. De Gaulle’s government simply gave good measure. There was no change in the State, in spite of appearances. On the 8th of May 1945, date of the cease fire in Western Europe, I wrote in my notes:
-“Today, France is preparing to celebrate a victory it does not deserve: it is only a victory for the others”.
A month later, an American senator exclaimed, during a debate published by certain French newspapers:
– “Seeing that war with Russia is inevitable, it should be declared straight away.”
At the same time, the Polish government in exile, who kept an army of 300.000 men with allied ranks in Europe, made no bones about declaring that Stalin was far more dangerous than Hitler: representatives of the Baltic nations requested that not only German leaders should be pursued as war criminals but also Russian leaders. It was becoming known, though left unsaid, that the latter, in accordance with an age-old historical tradition, had not been content with the assassination of the elite of the Polish army’s officers in Katyn, nor in allowing the cold-blooded extermination of the Polish resistance by Warsaw’s German garrison. They had, in addition, proceeded to the forced deportations of more than a million Poles to Siberian camps, from which they never returned, in order to replace them with Russian settlers in the territories that had been annexed. The same thing had been done in the Baltic countries, where all the elites, the civil-service, the intellectuals and the clergy, had been systematically deported, in order to completely annihilate these nations and break down their resistance.
The official political hypocrisy practiced at the time of the Liberation, by the new leaders of France, by the pack of resistants, of their”intellectuals” and their press, was careful to conceal that there was in fact no difference between Nazism and Stalinism, apart from the fact that the methods used by the latter were carried out on a much larger scale than by the former. Later on, the ex communist, Jean Ellenstein, in his book on Stalin, wrote:
-“The only difference between the two, is that on the eve of the war, towards the end of the thirties, there were 300.000 detainees in the Nazi camps, and at least six million in the Stalinist camps. Until 1941”, he added, “the Stalinist terror was infinitely bloodier than the Hitlerian terror.”
The defeated enemy continued to be hounded; the German people were refused the excuse of ignorance, but every day it was used with the allies, who had only found themselves on the same side through force of circumstances. It did seem an unforgivable crime that the eastern frontiers of free Europe were to be established along the Elbe and the Danube, in the very heart of a continent that was melting away, the victim of its civil wars, whose future now depended on imperialism with global chains.
In spite of the precariousness of my situation and the uncertainties that continued to hang over my fate, I could still see that since the inquiry for legal proceedings against me had been started, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Under guard, I had been taken several times to the Law Courts for sessions of the inquiry, with confrontations and testimonies. These breaks were a welcome relief from the routine of the prison, in spite of the nervous tensions the appearances provoked. The young judge, Martin, was conscientious and upright. The coldness he displayed was only a façade. He knew how to distinguish the important from the incidental and the falsehoods from the truth. He proved his humanity by not objecting to my wife and children visiting me at the Law Court, before or after the sessions, thus giving me the joy of seeing them again in a less depressing environment than that of the prison, and also in a more humane and relaxed atmosphere.
Jean-Louis Bertrand sometimes came from Rennes to assist me during these long inquiry sessions. But he had thought it necessary, because of his being so far away, that I should also be assisted by a lawyer from the Bar, in Quimper. He had chosen the President of the Bar, Alizon. Already quite old and close to retirement, the latter was unanimously highly regarded for his uprightness, his impartiality and his independence. A little pointed, grey goatee, and the strange quadrangular cap he wore with the magistrate’s gown when he was at the Law Court, made him look like an ageing Mephistopheles, who had strayed into the defending of widows, orphans and the unfortunate. He was highly educated, with a great mind and spirit. He came quite often to see me at the prison: our conversations were, for me, even more of an intellectual delight than a recreation or work session. He was outraged at what was happening, and what he witnessed on a local level from a privileged position. The heads offered to the mobs, the informers, the jealousies, the thirst for revenge, and the despicable acts that marked those months at the end of the war, filled him with contempt. He condemned what he called the “crawling” of certain magistrates, who had at the time all sworn allegiance to Vichy.
Maréchal Pétain had just returned to France. The hate-filled barking and clamours of the revengeful hyenas had been unleashed against the old man, thanks to whom France and the French had escaped from the more tragic consequences of their military defeat. The communists demanded that he be stripped of his rank, in public under the Arc de Triomphe, before being shot. Alizon knew, just as I did, that outbursts of hatred are but the expressions of rage of the weak and cowardly. His sense of equity and uprightness were outraged. He regretted that his career had to end with the contemptible spectacle of these outbursts of passion, of a period when actions were distinguished neither by truth nor generosity, nor clear-sightedness and not even simple humanity.
Distinction was certainly absent from the victory claimed by the new masters of France. The spectacle they offered was not a very edifying one. Only some generous voices were raised, like those of my friend, Father Desgranges, as also those of Daniel Rops and Raymond Aron, to harshly criticise the excesses of the repression that affected thousands of citizens who were innocent victims. How could one still believe in France’s greatness? Only De Gaulle still seemed to believe in this greatness, to the extent that he frequently delighted in it: it is true that France had to be great for De Gaulle to be also great. Cambon, who after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, said that the most difficult part would be “to convince the French that they were now only a second rate power”, and Maréchal Pétain, who after 1940, said that “it was necessary to remind oneself everyday that France had been conquered”, were both certainly much closer to the truth.
At the same rate as the bulky case file, which Henri Fréville had sent to the magistrate, increased in volume and height, the accusations, denouncements, calculating testimonies and tendentious affirmations it contained, decreased in seriousness. The purely political nature of what I was being accused of became increasingly clear. It was my Breton actions which were being implicated, as well as the personal differences I had with Le Gorgeu. My indictment was an ideal means for him to escape from his own responsibility. This was all a far cry from collusion with the enemy, which was the label they wanted to pin on us. Martin, only recently assigned to the Cornouaille region, very quickly understood why his colleagues in Quimper had been reluctant to take on my case, as being on the spot, they knew the ins and outs as well as the connotations of local politics.
Even on the outside, all the well-informed circles believed this to be the case. Le Gorgeu may have been popular in Brest: he certainly was not in Quimper, even though he was a commissioner of the Republic. Marie-Madeleine had begun, on the spot, taking numerous steps to obtain my release on bail. She was received by the secretary general at the prefecture: I had become a prisoner who had been charged; but I was nonetheless still an administrative detainee. I knew that Arzel, the present holder of that post, had flirted with the P.N.B. a few years previously. He had distanced himself from it on tip toe, from the moment when it was patently obvious that the separatist coup d’état had failed, and that it had become impossible, because of the Franco-German collaboration. He had joined other political groups, with more promising prospects of posts and public recognition, at the right time.
-“Locally, there is not much I can do to set your husband free,” he had told Marie-Madeleine.
-“Everyone knows that he is under the “special protection” of Le Gorgeu. And the latter is still commissioner of the Republic in Rennes. But as he is closely involved in the affairs of “La Dépêche de Brest” and that in spite of his new status as a resistant, basically he shares the responsibility in this matter with your husband, the best policy the latter could follow is to implicate Le Gorgeu as much as possible.”
Neither Guillemot, nor Martray, nor my father, nor I, who were all charged together, thought any other way. Without fail after that, whenever we could, we would express our surprise, not that Le Gorgeu and Coudurier had not been charged with us, but that as they had not been, which seemed normal to us in view of the purely political nature of the matter, why was it that we had been charged. The least one could say was that, apart from the Breton political program we had maintained and that I claimed, our responsibility was certainly shared. But contrary to the assurance given by the representative of the Ministry of Information in Rennes, who had compiled the original dossier, and had since hypocritically declared that they could no longer handle the matter as it was now sub-judice, the examining magistrate’s hands were tied by the very limited nature of the information openly available, and by orders received from the Director of Public Prosecution of the court in Rennes, himself acting on direct orders from the Ministry of Justice, and consequently from government itself. Under the terms of the mission he had been assigned, the only part that Martin had to play, was to seek out the responsibility of the directors of “La Bretagne”, since it was first published, and those of “La Dépêche de Brest” also, but only as from the month of April 1942, the date on which we came into the company. He therefore could not implicate Le Gorgeu, who before this date, had in fact exercised the same duties at “La Dépêche de Brest” as I myself had since then. Consequently Coudurier should not be charged either, even though he had maintained his duties as director of “La Dépêche” alongside us. The magistrate had requested his indictment: it had been refused by the Director of Public Prosecution. In fact, had he been indicted, Le Gorgeu also would have had to be indicted, as he was in charge of the political orientation of “La Dépêche”, from the time the Germans had arrived, until 1942. This was of course unthinkable for the authorities at the time, who were none other than Le Gorgeu himself and the ministers who supported him in Paris. But the anomaly was so glaring that it was enough to make a judgment on the case. In any case it lessened the validity of the reproaches leveled against us, and the merit of the indictment against us.
No one knew this better than the examining magistrate. Once the inquiry had made some progress, around the middle of July, I handed him a request for release on bail.
On the 26th of the same month, it was granted. Radiant with joy at having her efforts and those of Alizon and Bertrand finally rewarded, Marie-Madeleine came herself to give me the good news at the prison. It was the best birthday present she could have given me, as it just so happened to fall on that day, which was also the feast of Saint Anne, patroness of the Bretons. I was brought to the Law Courts, to be officially notified of the release order. As a result, the guard who had accompanied me refrained from handcuffing me again on the way back.
But, although in the eyes of the Law I was released on bail, this was not the case in the eyes of the prefecture’s administration, as I was still an administrative internee. The only thing that the Finistère Prefecture could do, was to have me leave the prison and transfer me to the internment camp of Pont-de-Buis, near Chateaulin, until the internment order, made against me in August 1940 by the Commissioner of the Republic in Rennes, was lifted. It was therefore decided that I would be transferred the following day to Pont-de-Buis camp, and there was no objection to
Marie-Madeleine accompanying me on that journey, which would be by train. Once more, I packed my suitcase and my rucksack.
The guards were there the following day, at the appointed time. They escorted us peacefully to Pont-de-Buis. At the station, Marie-Madeleine left me to go to another platform and catch the train back to Quimper, leaving me with the guards to walk to the camp. She was going to organise her packing and bring the children to her mother in Louannec. I was dazed by the journey after my long imprisonment. It was hot and the carriages were crowded. The noise of voices and conversations had worn me out. I would have to slowly get used to life again. I reached the top of the hill with difficulty. I would certainly need a few days to get my thoughts together and accustom myself again to partial freedom.
The Pont-de-Buis camp was like Marguerite camp in the way it was laid out, and the double rows of barbed wire. Thankfully, it was a lot smaller: there was only one barracks still in use. It was situated in a pleasant spot, in the heart of a little pine wood that provided an ideal coolness and the pleasant scent of pine needles from its trees. The guard in charge, and director of the camp, was called L’Helgouac’h. A large gun, and cartridge belt at the waist buckled over civilian clothes, gave him the appearance of the leader of a band of irregular soldiers, just like the guards at Saint-Charles. In fact, this was the case: some of the detainees reported that rations of butter and sugar were never distributed. But in so far as no one bothered anyone else, the atmosphere was peaceful.
Inevitably, I found Alan Louarn who had preceded me by a few days: we were obviously following each other. Derrien, the horse trader from Landerneau, was also there. All the others were new faces: there were only twenty or so of us in the camp, which was probably due to be closed soon. L’Helgouac’h and Derrien exchanged slightly bitter words from time to time, the former accusing the latter of boasting that he had slept with the prefet’s wife, the latter replying that he was not the only one, as according to gossip, the prefet of the Finistère Liberation had recruited his wife from the brothels of Brest. One never knew in what strange places services to the resistance could be found.
There was also someone who had been one of Maréchal Pétain’s personal guards in Germany, who had of course been arrested for that reason, and who was full of praise for the old Head of State’s dignified manner, which he had succeeded in maintaining throughout his compulsory detention in Germany, where he considered himself to be the prisoner of war that he was, in fact. There was also a volunteer worker in Germany, who confirmed the accounts, made to us in Quimper, by an ex member of the Waffen S.S., regarding the behaviour of the Russian armies, their raping and looting: he was in Vienna when they had arrived. He had witnessed the looting of Saint-Etienne cathedral by Russian soldiers, who made off with ciborium, crucifixes or monstrance under their arm. This had not prevented the press from publishing a piece on “the cathedral devastated and looted by the Nazis”.
To cap it all, there was also an authentic ex-prisoner from Buchenwald camp, who had been arrested in Concarneau on his return. He had been interned in Pont-de-Buis because he had “disturbed the peace” by complaining loudly that the police in town were still the same ones who had arrested him and handed him over to the Germans, which of course did not now prevent them from being considered resistants.
The sous-prefet of Châteaulin, where the camp was situated, happened to be Bloch, friend of Deputy Mazé who had been my chief of staff at the sous-prefecture in Morlaix. He turned up one day at the camp. I spotted him from afar: he was very careful not to visit me, which would probably have been more embarrassing for him than for me.
Now, there was nothing else to do but wait. Le Gorgeu had repeated numerous times, to all those who had approached him on my behalf, in particular Father Jeglot, the priest who had officiated at our wedding, and the Reverend Father Courtois, a Dominican who had sheltered certain personalities of the Resistance in his house at La Ferté-Vidame and in his convent at Faubourg Saint-Honoré, that he was helpless and could not release me now that I was officially detained by the judicial authorities. But he could no longer wash his hands off my fate, now that I was once more simply an administrative internee, and as such subject only to his wishes. Hence, through the intermediary of the Finistère prefet, he signed the order which put an end to my administrative imprisonment, together with a banning of residence in Ille-et-Villaine however, and therefore in Rennes where my home was and where he also resided, and also in Saint-Lunaire where my parents were! This was a ban which I had definitely decided not to obey.
On the morning of 10th August 1945, a year to the day since my arrest in Rennes., Marie-Madeleine, looking like a breath of spring in her white blouse and blue skirt, a little thinner, but as attractive as ever, rang the bell by the door of the prison. I had seen her coming from afar. She presented L’Helgouac’h with the document which put an end to my imprisonment. I quickly packed my bags and said goodbye to my companions. The door opened wide. We walked quickly away without looking back. Once more I was rid of the bars and barbed wires which had surrounded my existence during the past twelve months.
We spent a couple of special hours in Pont-de-Buis before taking the late afternoon train back to Quimper. L’Hotel de l’Épée welcomed us. There were fairground stalls spread out at the foot of Mont Frugy. Their racket and the sound of their music were this time very real: they had soothed my imagination in the narrow cell in Rennes, when Honoré and Audoin, my first companions in misfortune, had invaded it a year earlier. Would Audoin be there possibly? Having left our luggage we ran to the fair. He was there alright with his lottery, his loudspeaker and his music in a box. He threw his arms skywards when he saw us:
-“Come back tonight”, he said after introducing us to his wife. “We must celebrate.”
Two or three hours later, the noise of the lottery turned off, the four of us cracked a bottle of champagne in his caravan, celebrating our return to freedom, the comfort and warmth of friends and the link born of common hardship.
-“I thought of you often,” Audoin told me. “You have no idea what comfort you were to me during my few weeks in prison”.
And as I seemed surprised:
-“Yes, Yes,” he told me. “Your calm, the example of your convictions, your courage also, your conversation, all that helped me so much to keep going. I owe you far more than you think!”
I felt my eyes watering. After this long detention that had not shown me a very edifying side of human nature, nor of how history was made, this was one of my first rewards.