I spent two days in Quimper working with Marie-Madeleine in the departmental archives, consulting their collections of “La Bretagne”, “La Dépêche” and “L’Ouest-Éclair”, in order to put the finishing touches to a comparison I had started to work on, between the newspapers. The archivist, R.Waquet, made this easier for us. We then went on to Lannion first, and after that Louannec, having made a fairly long stop in Landerneau, which allowed us to climb the Pencran hills. I was renewing contact with the countryside of my homeland, its solitude and thickets, smells and birdsongs, trees and flowers. From the valley below, rose the lively chimes of the bells, celebrating the surrender of Japan and the end of hostilities in the world, after the terrible crime of Hiroshima that had added to the one committed on Dresden.
What a joy it was to see my two children again in the Kakouzeri house, full of sunshine; my little girl with her short fair plaits and her surprised look, my little boy with his blue eyes, who was no longer the big baby with long blond curls that I had known. How happy I was to hug them with their mother, to embrace them, caress them and hold all three of them physically close to me. Thoughts of them had never left me during those difficult months; and here they were now with me, close to me, and I could gaze on those three beloved faces at any time of the day or night.
Together as a family, we followed the pardon de La Clarté, the procession which proceeded in slow solemnity around the pink granite chapel, the High Mass celebrated at the altar facing the vast coastal horizon wrapped in a blue haze under the sunshine, our voices joining in the Breton hymns.
I approached Monseigneur Serrand, still wearing his heavy priestly vestments, as he was returning to the sacristy. His face showed obvious signs of fatigue. He was a member of the Friends of Brittany committee in Saint-Brieuc and had always encouraged and supported my efforts.
– “I am happy to see you here”, he told me. “You know that I also had my small share of problems and persecution, to the extent that I was confined to my home under military guard, for a few weeks. The main thing is to stand firm and not to give up on what is yours by right, and your opinions. I am glad that you held out, in spite of your long detention.”
I went to visit the parents of my friend Le Toiser, at their home in Perros harbour, inconsolable at the departure of their only son who had taken refuge in the region of Paris, in order to avoid persecution and imprisonment. I comforted them as best as I could
– “Yann”, they said, “What these people want is that you should all disappear. They want to take away your positions and your possessions.”
– “Our positions we can regain,” I replied, “They will have to continue to take us into account: even if they now have the upper hand, later on they will be proved wrong.”
In fact, I had to start thinking of ways of obtaining some funds: our savings had run out and we had to make a living. We went back to Rennes towards the end of the month. Marie-Madeleine had been obliged to sell the old Citroën given to me by my Basques friends. She had also been obliged to let half of the house to the son of a lawyer from Quimper. He was married to a young woman who had supposedly studied Law. The couple had two children and lived mostly from various deals on the black market. They were both rather disreputable characters in my opinion. We had nothing in common and living together became difficult: there was only one kitchen and one bathroom! For two couples and four children, the house was far too small.
I had asked Marie-Madeleine while I was still in the Marguerite camp, to pack all my books in boxes. This was when I had heard of the first sentences handed down by the Law courts, with a plan for a secondary penalty to confiscate all current and future personal property of those sentenced, purely and simply a despoilment measure, applied to those who did not share the opinions of the new authorities in France. These were my most precious possessions. Xavier de Langlais had agreed to store the boxes in the relatively spacious apartment where he lived, rue Victor Higo. As for the rest, apart from some pieces of furniture, I had no capital, no real estate, nothing that could be confiscated, nor anything that I could sell to tide me over this difficult period. I could not see what I could possibly do in Rennes: the near future continued to be shrouded in total uncertainty. The inquiry by the courts pursued its course; everything reminded me that I was still an accused and only on bail. Le Gorgeu, Fréville and the others were still in charge: it seemed futile to think that I might escape from some kind of sentence. If Le Gorgeu wanted to recuperate the shares of “La Dépêche” that he had sold us, Coudurier continuing to direct “La Dépêche” which had become “Télégramme”, if either of them wanted to avoid the total or partial confiscation of the “La Dépêche” publishing company’s capital, it would appear necessary to condemn us.
According to the new press legislation, which had been carefully concocted by P.H.Teitgen, in his capacity as Minister of information, every possible precaution had been taken so the proprietors or directors of newspapers, which had been published or continued to be published during the occupation, would be stripped of their shares as well as their functions, thus rendering it impossible for them to return to the head of their businesses. This was certainly an excessive extension of the basic elements of criminal Law, and in fact was simply legalised robbery. The only equivalent to this in French history was the confiscation of the émigrés property under the Revolution. The Liberation authorities, in spite of the Declaration of Human Rights and the most elementary principles of the Law, went out of their way to mimic their ancestors. Consequently, the sentencing of the directors of “La Bretagne”, by establishing a sort of amalgamation between “La Bretagne” and “La Dépêche”, was the only way that Le Gorgeu, and by extension Coudurier, could themselves escape prosecution and the criminal consequences. The question was to know what the conviction would be and how harsh the sentence. How to proceed depended without a doubt on this.
I was certainly determined to fight it out to the end: however I felt I should go to Paris and explore the possibilities for work, at least temporarily. I found a furnished apartment, for a modest rental, belonging to the foreman employed by my brother in law, Pierre Mauger, who ran a small wood factory in Suresnes. This good man was from Alsace: he found that this apartment, rue de l’Amiral-Mouchez, on the corner of boulevard Jourdan and near parc Montsouris, was much too far from his work. I thus found myself again in a quarter I knew so well. The cite universitaire and rue des Artistes were just around the corner. During my stay there, Marie-Madeleine joined me a couple of times for a few days. Together we were happy to be once again in this quarter we loved, full of memories for us. She had started a third pregnancy. We were both very happy about it. Erwan was to be truly the child of the Liberation.
But as regards work, my efforts were in vain, apart from a promise for the setting up of an insurance office in Rennes for the following spring. I was well equipped for that at home. I also had to make fairly frequent trips to Rennes, to reply to the requests made by the accountants who had been appointed to examine the accounts of our two newspapers.
The uncertainty I was under, prevented me from making any decisions regarding the future. Thus I only spent a few weeks in Paris. Gildas, who was in hiding in the region of Paris to escape prosecution, took my place in the discreet apartment, rue l’Amiral-Mouchez. But just in case, I kept a room there.
In Rennes, I managed to get rid of our undesirable tenants and I undertook, as Tax advisor, to prepare tax returns on capital, which had just been introduced. I sent around circulars to a number of those who had been interned with me in Marguerite camp. In order to economise on postage, I mostly delivered these myself around the city of Rennes. Mme de Saint-Pierre, Camille Lemercier d’Erm, Doctor Dufour, and other families who were friends, entrusted me with drawing up their tax returns. All of these were purely measures of living by ones wits: they had the invaluable advantage of making it possible for me to spend the winter months at home with Marie-Madeleine and the children: I had been deprived of them for so many long months. I had some wood brought in so that we could spend a reasonably comfortable winter. When I had some spare time, I would saw it and chop it up myself in the cellar. I planted some potatoes and some flowers in the garden. I did not know of course whether I would be there to see them flowering.
I also received visits of young people, tempted by the Breton cause, who came for my advice: that of Edouard Ollivro, our neighbour from Louannec, who told me later of the impression this visit had made on him; that of Le Gourrierec, who had undertaken the publishing of “Tirnanog”, a small Breton publication, and a few others. Le Gourrierec confessed that he also wanted to do Sciences Politiques, the grand school for Political Science, to prepare for an administrative career.
– “In that case”, I told him, “You will have a choice to make at some stage, just as I did. You could continue to write and even publish in Breton; this would not have any repercussions. The French State is not worried about that as it provides it with a Liberal mask, and does not cost it anything; being so confident that time is working in its favour against the maintenance of the Breton language. But if you want to become involved in the politics of the language, which is a necessary condition, you will have great difficulties pursuing your career at the same time as your struggle. Inevitably, one or other will suffer from it. You will be obliged to choose between the two.”
I learnt later on that “Tirnanog” had merged with “Al Liam”, which Ronan Huon had just founded. Le Gourrierec subsequently pursued an honourable career in the French diplomatic corps, serving as best as he could in one post after another, like many other Bretons, a State which he had no love for.
Breton activities were at a dead end of course. There were still a number of Breton militants in the prisons. Others were in hiding and living secretly in the Paris region. Those who had been to court, even when they had not been condemned under criminal law, had nearly all been condemned to loss of citizenship rights and forbidden to reside in Brittany. A sentence which spoke volumes by its very simplicity: it struck out only at them and not at the militants of the French collaborationist parties. Totalitarian regimes, if they have not already imprisoned or massacred them, always manage to get rid of their unwelcome citizens, or those who can not be “integrated”. France after the Liberation, in that first post-war year, was on a similar path. It was probably hoped that a forced exile from Brittany, would be an opportunity for these suspect and misled Bretons, to find their French side, which was of genuine worth, and which they seemed to have lost. But at the same time, families were disrupted; businesses and jobs were wiped out.
The loss of citizenship rights forbade any public sector employment. Others of the Breton militants, who had remained in Brittany, had been traumatised by the Allard-Le Gorgeu raid, of which they had been the victims a year earlier.
In Paris, Toulemont tried to set up the “Diffenourien ar Brezoneg” association, which was aimed at replacing the cultural struggle of “Ar Brezoneg er Skol”, now dissolved and forbidden by the authorities. He, at least, was careful not to criticise or stab at those who had preceded him in this struggle: a reserve which Keravel, unfortunately, did not respect. He had undertaken, this end of year 1945, to re-publish “Ar Falz”, and in that first post-war issue, protected by the authorities, had accused his old friends from “l’Heure Bretonne”, the Celtic Institute and “La Bretagne”, of being “traitors”, “scoundrels” and “wretches”. Having, in all probability, been traumatized by his unexpected and unjust arrest during the Allard-Le Gorgeu raid, and also there was the close links he had with the French communist party, who had to be forgiven for much because of its attitude in 1940, calling for vengeance, denouncements and much greater repressions than the others, he was now undoubtedly trying to curry favour with the new authorities. This was an eminently false move. The worst policy of all, no matter what the circumstances, is to join in the enemy’s game this way, giving even more ammunition, though it may seem he is being appeased. Yet it would have been easy, without taking sides, to call for the maintenance of the cultural measures we had obtained, and to protest against their abolition. It is easy to clamour far and wide:
-“What! But you are doing much worse than Vichy did!”
Those in power never take any notice of people who beg for what is owed to them, instead of firmly demanding it. Nor do they take any notice of those who whimper. It would have been easier to forgive Gourvil, Le Goaziou, Keravel and a few others for having disassociated themselves from their old friends, if in exchange they had obtained substantial concessions from the authorities. This was not the case. I have already written somewhere that the character of a number of Bretons is not equal to their feelings, and in mortal fear of being considered rebels, some readily become renegades. It has to be recognized though that, later on when the turmoil was over, Keravel displayed a rare perseverance in the struggle and contributed actively with us all to the cause that he defended.
On my part, in spite of all the worries that absorbed me, I decided in October 1945, when the first legislative elections of the 4th Republic took place, to resurrect the “Front Breton”. To enable me to do this, Albert Guillou, lent me his name and Paris address. Although he was a member of the P.N.B.’s general staff, representing Bretons abroad, he had escaped arrest and imprisonment, which his colleagues’ resident in Brittany had suffered, because he was resident in Paris. We therefore submitted for the approval of all candidates to the legislative elections in Brittany, a watered-down version of the “projet de statut”, or Articles of Association, which had been adopted by the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne, though we kept that to ourselves. The replies we received were few in number: but they clearly showed that all was not lost. Ten years later, on the same basis, we successfully launched the “Projet pour l’Organisation de la Bretagne”, which was to give birth to the M.O.B., thus again launching the Breton freedom movement on a political level.
During my stay in Rennes, I also visited Canon Falc’hun who, in the end, had been the one at Rennes University to occupy the chair that I had tried to have conferred on Roparz Hemon. The latter had been arrested and was in prison in Rennes. Falc’hun made no mystery of his hostility to the unification of Breton grammar that we had achieved in 1941, nor of his wish to substitute it with another spelling, different again to that of the K.L.T.. This new spelling was to be pompously called “university spelling”, the name he advocated. The most unacceptable however was that he joined in the chorus of those who asserted that the 1941 spelling was a spelling inspired and imposed by the Germans. I had read in January 1946, in a series of articles prompted by the new regional authorities and published in “La Voix de l’Ouest”, that the unification of the Breton spelling in 1941 had been done with the object of “forming a group liable to form a more solid base for the separatist claims, at a time when the enemy counted on them to work towards the separation of Brittany from France”!
-“You must know what is behind the stupidity and insincerity of this sort of accusation,” I said to him. “You are free to think that the unified spelling is not a good one. We all agree on that. But we also think that the unification of the spelling is necessary and that to have one spelling only, even though not a good one, is better than five or six different spellings, which for very good reasons can each be good.”
Falc’hun’s reply was evasive: he had no intention of altering his philological opinion to adopt the practical point of view of the teacher or of the militant for the language.
-“The Breton movement,” I added, before leaving him, “may sacrifice some of its political militants to you in the future, but it will not sacrifice Roparz Hemon”.
During those last months of 1945, thanks to the testimony I gave to the Chambres Civiques in Rennes, I was able to contribute to the acquittal of Yves Diberder, one of our journalists from “La Dépêche” and “La Bretagne”, one of the most talented and virulent of them. He had only written cultural and literary articles, or done reports on the excesses of certain civil servants in charge of supplies or price controls. He could hardly be reproached for the latter, but the former, which were not lenient in regard to Jacobinism of any description, and were applied by France in Brittany, had been picked up and repeated in reports established by the Information’s delegation, and used as the basis of pursuits against us. It was certainly easy to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of these reproaches, one of the main ones being that he had written that the novels of the Round Table, and the cycle at the time of Arthur, had unfortunately been Gallicized!
-“It is clear,” the prosecutor had clamoured, as he addressed the court, that this is in fact a sort of rehearsal for the legal proceedings against M.Fouéré, which are to begin soon before the Law Courts.”
The inquiry for the trial was going ahead. The magistrates in Quimper had quickly got rid of a dossier that was a hindrance to them. Most of the cases, the so-called collaboration ones, brought before the Law Courts, had already been heard. The Law Court in Rennes had inherited a few dossiers, which were still pending, from the four departments of the administrative region. We were still hoping that those cases involving the press would be brought before the Civic Courts. This hope was quickly dispelled, for the directors of “l’Ouest-Éclair” as much as for ourselves. Considerable financial interests in the case of the former, and a little less so for “La Dépêche de Brest”, were involved. There were certainly some tough negotiations taking place, raising numerous political problems within the region of Rennes, between the M.R.P., which Fréville represented, and the Information Minister, P.Teigen, shareholder of the new newspaper “Ouest-France”, on the one hand, and the radical socialist Le Gorgeu , commissioner of the Republic at the head of the new region, himself a shareholder of the old “Dépêche de Brest” now “Télégramme”, on the other.
I had been to visit Fréville, on my return to Rennes, but could get nothing out of him aside from generalities. He took refuge, with me as he had done with others, behind the fact that he could do nothing to complete or modify a dossier which was now in the hands of the Law: theoretically of course. But I knew this was purely theoretical, in view of the knowledge I had of political intrigue and the various interests it often hides. Only the government of the 4th Republic, represented by its Minister of Justice on the one hand, and its representative in the region, who still possessed wide ranging authority, on the other, could influence the fate of our dossier. According to French legislation, the prosecutor simply requests what the Minister of Justice has asked him to request.
The political atmosphere in general, was also not good and not very edifying. The clamours of hate, personal vengeance and extortions that had marked the first months of the Liberation, had certainly more or less calmed down, aside from the outcry coming from some circles who undoubtedly regretted the benefits they had obtained from illegality. But the same atmosphere still reigned in the press of the Liberation, as it did also in the upper political spheres and the State administration. The condemning to death of Maréchal Pétain in August 1945, the hypocrisy that had presided over his trial, where the infamous prosecutor, Mornet, had been in evidence, could only attract the contempt of all honest people and the large majority of those whose political passions did not lead them to falsify the law. All of this, however, was a testimony to the fact that within the circle of those leading the State, obscure political calculations and ambitions of those newly elected, were given free reign. Addressing himself to them, Robert Aron exclaimed:
-“The intensity of your hatred would be better utilised by transferring it to the necessary task of reconciling the French to making a new stand.”
No one listened to him. Nor did they listen when he wrote, “until such time as the judgments made by the special courts are revised, in accordance with normal law, France will not have regained it’s true tradition of justice and intelligence.”
The spectacle of the Laval trial, in September-October of 1945, demonstrated how far off France still was from this. Just like the trial of Brasiliach, as well as that of Maréchal Pétain, and others also, it was nothing more than a parody of justice, with an accumulation of illegalities and irregularities. During the course of this trial, the sinister prosecutor, Mornet, covered himself with shame once more. Laval was, just like Maréchal Pétain, condemned before being judged. After a bungled inquiry that had been cut short, neither the accused nor his lawyers had been able to have access to his prosecution dossier.
Throughout the hearings, a jury of “resistants” had continuously insulted the accused, without once being called to order by the court president. It had been a “scandalous trial, in the preliminaries, during the course of the trial, and in its outcome”, wrote Robert Aron; Léon Blum went further and called it “a scandal and a mistake”. It had in fact been nothing less than legal assassination. The reason for this was simple: the new French authorities had deemed it politically necessary that the ex-president of the Council be condemned and executed before the 22 October 1945, which was the day when the 1st general elections since the Liberation were being held!
Where the holding of the elections had brought forward Laval’s trial, they had also been the cause of a delay in ours, and that of the “Ouest-Éclair” directors. It was not known how these trials would go down with the public. The political scene in Brittany was, and still remained, different from that of France as a whole. P.H.Teitgen and Le Gorgeu were both candidates at the top of the election lists, the former in Ille-et-Vilaine and the latter in Finistère. Whilst Teitgen was elected, Le Gorgeu’s list suffered a resounding defeat. With the elections over, P.H.Teitgen now became Minister of Justice in the new government. It was also common knowledge that the Republic’s regional commissionerships would soon be done away with. Numerous voices were raised to put an end to the special courts. It was thus now more urgent and easier to set up the scenario for the coming press trials.
The Minister of Justice, P.H.Teitgen, now his hierarchical superior, could now count on Pierre Orvain, the new Director of Public Prosecution of the court in Rennes, whose zeal for the purges and as a “resistant” was influenced by his experiences as an ex-internee of German concentration camps. The term “Nazis” was already being commonly used instead of German, as if all Germans had been Nazis.
After the chartered accountants had submitted their report, which exonerated us from many of the accusations leveled against us by Coudurier, we had requested some additional information. This was refused, with no further explanation. Shortly after the elections, the dossier was declared definitely closed by the Director of Public Prosecution, and was presented to the judges. A trial in a court of law had now become inevitable. Last minute efforts in Rennes and in Paris came up against brick walls. As the days passed, I was being advised from all sides to disappear, and refuse such a treacherously one sided fight. Certain judges in Rennes, who knew what kind of an unjust sentence was being prepared, threw up their arms in surprise to hear that I was still around! They knew that I was to be another victim of reasons of State and the political bargaining going on at the time. I was able to find out that the Director of Public Prosecution had given strict orders for the trials of the “Ouest-Éclair” and “La Bretagne” directors, to be held before the 31 March 1945, which was the date when the Republic’s Regional Commissioners’ powers and functions would expire. The two cases had been registered on the cause list for the plenary session in February.
In January, the charges against my father and Joseph Martray were dismissed. I found out later that this had been decided because they had only been involved in working for “La Dépêche”: a sentence against them, therefore, could “legally” have been held against the publishing company “Union Républicaine du Finistère”, whose assets were to be protected so that it could continue its activities under the management of Le Gorgeu and Coudurier.
Jacques Guillemot and I were thus left as the only important accused. Guillemot had not held any great political responsibility in the management of the newspapers, as I had taken that over completely. Nobody was under any illusion that I would suffer the worst of the attack and of the inevitable sentence. The aggressiveness against me of the government and regional authorities was increased by the fact that the Welsh press campaign, denouncing the repression of the Breton movement through its leaders and militants, had begun and they were holding me responsible for it. The illegal arrests, the interments and the sentences were being denounced; that of Taldir in particular, the executions, and the fact that Roparz Hémon was in prison awaiting trial. I was just about the only one of the Breton leaders who could still speak freely and with authority from the various functions I had held on the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne and at the head of my newspapers. Guillemot himself was encouraging me to leave: my father also finally came around to the same idea.
In spite of it being so treacherously one sided, I was still tempted to fight. It was a long, hard and painful moral dilemma. Enlightened as I was by the other political trials of the purges, which had preceded mine; I certainly knew that there was no question of law or of justice. The political sentences that had been pronounced against those who had been accused of being the “intellectuals” of the collaboration, were the result of a dialectic foreign to any civilized legal tradition, and even to our very civilization. In order to justify them, it was necessary to have recourse to what Henri Frenay called, “the method of amalgamating, dear to the Stalinists”. It comes from the notion of collective responsibility, which seeks to extend the actual guilt of a few to a whole category of citizens that are simply accused of wrong thinking. Its ultimate goal is to sentence and eliminate categories of people whose only crime is to be opponents. The whole Breton movement, and myself in particular, fell into this category. It was not possible to kill us all, and the internment camps had to be done away with. It was deemed necessary, however, through the purges, to prevent us from doing any further harm. Thus, exile, banning orders, the loss of citizenship rights, administrative revocations, the prohibition to practice in certain professions, the confiscation of property, the condemning of those who were mainly responsible, were part of the system’s logic.
In spite of everything, I had not yet made any definite decision until just a few days before the opening of the trial; some information from good authority came to tilt the balance. The charge had been redrafted by the Minister of Justice’s departmental staff; this revised version had been posted to Orvain, Director of Public Prosecution: the range of the sentence that he anticipated for the offences described, was heavy. If it had been a case of imprisonment for 2 or 3 years I would have taken that chance and would have had no hesitation in staying; I had already completed a year in detention which could have been deducted from the sentence that would have been inflicted on me. But I could not risk being sentenced to 10 or 15 years imprisonment. I could not do it to myself or to my family. I feared the physical and mental consequences of a long detention. It was not a case of evading justice, as there was none, but simply taking protective measures from a physical and mental point of view. I made my decision: the trial would take place without me. I gave a letter to Jean-Louis Bertrand, asking him to ensure that it was read out publicly at the hearing; a letter in which I advised the president of the court of my decision, and assuring him that it was my intention to return when the justice system had returned to normal and was able to make a sane and fair judgment. The text of this letter is featured in several books today. My father came for a last visit and held me in his arms for a long time. Neither of us knew if or when we would see each other again.
The first hearing of the Trial, which was to occupy a full week of debates in court, was to open on Monday 18th February. On Saturday 16th, I took the first morning train to Paris from the station in Rennes. Xavier de Langlais had called for my suitcase on the Friday evening: he was to buy my ticket and put the suitcase the following morning in one of the compartments of the train. I was to meet him on the platform. I did not want to attract attention by leaving home carrying a suitcase, and left carrying only my briefcase. It was still dark when, with a heavy heart, I left my home of the rue de Fougères. I had taken a last long and sad look at my sleeping children, held Marie-Madeleine tight in my arms for a long time, and tossed a coin with her as to whether I should wear a hat or a beret. Through the closed shutters she watched me walking away, listening to my footsteps fading in the distance. I knew that she must not know, nor my parents either, nor my friends or those close to me, exactly where I was going nor where I would be. One of our friends in hiding had been arrested because his wife had been followed when she went to visit him. Now it was my turn to go underground, and from now on I had to think and behave accordingly. I had changed my wedding ring to the other hand, checked carefully that my linen, clothing and handkerchiefs had no initials on them which could have identified me. I knew that from the following Monday I would once more be under a warrant of arrest. I took a roundabout route to the station, along streets that were still deserted at this early hour. It was cool and the walk did me good, soothing the nervous tension I felt.
The station was full of people, and also of gendarmes. But they were only interested in people’s suitcases, which they wanted opened, as they sought to catch those trafficking on the black market. With a platform ticket I got through. Xavier was already there. My suitcase was on the rack over the seat he had reserved for me. We exchanged tickets and embraced after exchanging a few words. He was quickly lost in the crowd of travellers who alighted from another early train.
I had bought the papers: the headlines announced that after the trial of “L’Ouest-Écclair”, that of “La Bretagne” and it’s directors would open on the following Monday. How long before I would be able to make this trip again in the opposite direction, I thought to myself with anguish, as I watched the countryside flashing past before my eyes? When would I see my family, my home, and my homeland again?
I knew that exile is always accompanied by its share of bitterness, and this tug at the heartstrings that I already felt. How would Marie-Madeleine bear this further separation? When would I see my little ones again? And the child we were expecting? But for the moment I had to think that life must go on, that I had to embark on this new period of my life with determination, and face the many problems, uncertainties and difficulties which I could now just imagine. Every turn of the wheels took me further away from what, up to now, had been my life and my struggle. I have always hated departures and their wrenching: but this one was the greatest of all.
I alighted at Versailles-Chantiers station, dragging my suitcase. I left by the back access to the tracks and down a path alongside them that I knew. I arrived at Hulst College, where my sister-in-law Geneviève was staying and where she worked, in spite of the serious handicap she had with a very poor sight. I established with her the manner in which communications between Marie-Madeleine and I was to take place. From time to time I would give her an address and a name where she would forward letters for me, in another envelope. She would in the same way forward letters I would send her for Marie-Madeleine or my parents. None of them should know where I was: in any correspondence there should be no reference to me, other than as “the doctor” or “my friend”. During those few months between my going underground and my departure from France, Genevieve was thus, with her characteristic conscientiousness and discretion, the faithful living link between me and mine. Unmarried, she transferred to her mother, her family and her nephews and nieces all her great reserves of affection and devotion.
I had decided to spend that first night in hiding, in the company of Gildas, in the little apartment near Parc Montsouris. But I knew it was not safe to stay there more than a couple of days. I realized it would have been relatively easy to trace me to it. There were already too many Bretons hiding in Paris. My meagre resources did not permit me to eat out in restaurants every day: and for obvious reasons I did not want to seek hospitality from those close to my family, or Marie-Madeleine’s, or from any of the Breton militants in the region of Paris, with whom it was known that I had friendly relations. There again my tracks would have been easily picked up.
Amongst the friends who had already offered to help me in case of necessity, after being released from prison, were Doctor Hervé and Doctor Dufour. They were friends of my family in Dinard, and we had become friendly with Rosine, the daughter of Doctor Hervé, and also with Georges and Annick, the older children of Doctor Dufour. The former had been settled in Paris for some time. The latter practiced medicine in Dinard and Pleurtuit. He had been forcibly evacuated by German forces with the residents of Dinard and Saint-Malo, at the time when American forces were advancing, in July 1944. Feeling threatened by the clamours of local resistentialists and the arbitrary arrests that were multiplying, he had decided to return neither to Dinard nor to Pleurtuit, where he had his house. After a couple of months in Mayenne, then in Paris, he was now practicing medicine in Vaux-sur-seine, a small town in the suburbs of Paris, near Saint-Lazare station. Doctor Dufour was himself connected to Doctor Briand, originally from Lannion, who was a doctor in the Paris suburb of Verrières. Doctor Briand was also a friend of my uncle Liégard who also spent his holidays in Dinard: he was also the father of my old friend Yves. I had met him for the first time on the île de Bréhat, during an excursion from Dinard, on the Dufour’s sailing boat, also with Simone, one of Yves’s three sisters.
Vaux -sur-Seine seemed to me to be an ideal and discreet place to stay, at least temporarily. The proximity to Paris was an added advantage. I needed to get out to the countryside, to gather my thoughts together, to have a break, to treat the chronic stomach problems I was suffering from, and which the worries, anxieties and tensions of the past months had aggravated. Thus the day after my arrival, I got in touch with Doctor Dufour.
– “Come tomorrow if you want,” he said. “My wife and I will be very happy to take you in for as long as you want, and I will do my best to treat you.”
Two days later, therefore, I alighted at Vaux-sur-Seine, mingling with the suburban crowd returning home at nightfall. My hosts settled me into a bright attic room at the top of the house. The view from the window, revealed the peaceful fields along the Seine. There was a bed, a desk and some chairs: that was all I needed. I joined the family for meals, where they got used to calling me Jean. I had asked them to do so, out of caution. Nobody apart from close members of the family knew my identity.
Vaux-sur-Seine is not much more than a long street built alongside a loop in the river Seine, tucked in between it and the railway line that runs along the flank of a hill. The river meanders lazily over the blurred riverbed, along a vast valley now too big for it, outlining little islands, twists and turns, and marshlands. The “île” de Vaux is a private development. Though only three quarters of an hour from Paris, it was already in the countryside. Some old streets, such as the rue du Pressoir, that of Précoquet, the chemin Charette and the Sente-quiète, evoked sleepy afternoons and peaceful nights. The names of the rural areas, small villages and hamlets that surrounded it: Menucourt, Boisemont la Vigne-Blanche and Pisse-Fontaine, reminded me irresistibly of the names of some districts in Geneva.
The Dufour’s house was situated at one end of the main street. Covered with a Renaissance roof and built with the chalky stones of the area, this grand old house was very attractive. Passing through the entrance gates that closed on a paved courtyard, the access to the terrace was up a large stone staircase on which it was built. The medical surgery was in a wing over the garages, which must have been the stables in the old days. All the rooms opened out onto the south facing side, as the house was not double sided. Its narrow structure stemmed from the fact that it was practically sandwiched on the flank of the hill between the railway line and the street. It was only separated from the street by the width of the terrace and the courtyard, and from the railway line at the back by a small steep garden.
From there, if you took the steep narrow road that went under the railway line, you arrived at the Catholic Church, an elegant little castle with three towers, now semi-abandoned, nearly always deserted, even for Sunday Mass. If you carried on up you joined up with the road to Evecquemont. I often went that way to get to that peaceful sleepy village in the woods, where there are still some mushroom beds in the chalky hillside and which was once one of the main crops of that area. Many of them have since been abandoned, but parts of the hillsides still look like an enormous gruyere cheese.
I seldom went into the little town except to go to the station when I was going to Paris. But the hillsides, the orchards and the woods around it, irresistibly drew my footsteps. From the Dufour’s house the countryside was directly accessible in several directions. My solitary walks often took me through rural Sente, towards the woods of Vaux, which are but a part of the Hautil estate’s forest.
Winter was passing on: the first buds were already appearing. A few weeks after my arrival the hillsides sparkled with thousands of flowers opening up on the fruit trees, covering them all over like a white tide studded with patches of pink. Small tender green leaves began to cover the nakedness of the woods, increasing the mystery of the little pathways. It was my first spring in freedom since my imprisonment. I savoured it through all my pores; seized it all again through my eyes and became intoxicated breathing in the scents. It was already fine and warm, with the sunshine joining in. My long walks renewed my strength, my stability and my optimism. Seeing my enthusiasm, my host said to me one day:
– “You see how right it was for you to come here, to savour the sunshine, the flowers and the woods. Be careful not to get arrested again. What would you do in a prison where you would only get a limited amount of daylight?”
Doctor Dufour was calm, composed and sometimes jovial. He rarely lost his temper. I often accompanied him on his visits to his patients, when he would introduce me as his nephew or his assistant. I acted as his helper and his nurse. There were occasions when I helped him during the delivery of a baby, and with simple medical interventions. He did not seek to increase these, as he already considered himself in retirement: he had gone into partnership with one of his nephews already married, who lived with us and dealt with most of the consultations in the surgery. He was just like most of the doctors I have known, and in particular those from my family, quite sceptical about medicine.
– “It is nature that mostly heals, more than we can,” he would often say to me. “We are only there to assist it and to psychologically and physically help sick people overcome an unpleasant and sometimes painful moment. Our main role is to give them confidence. You have probably noticed therefore that there is a certain dose of quackery involved in our work. It is a fault that is easy to fall into, and which our rules and professional ethic try to protect us from. What I find most wearing in the practice of medicine is not the treating, cutting, lancing or bandaging of wounds: it is talking, as it is only possible to give confidence to people and treat their morale by talking.”
Thus he did a lot of talking to his patients during visits to them. He would sometimes launch into long speeches whilst he would feel and stroke the injured part, the abdomen, or aching stomach. This way, he seemed to be thinking aloud as to what remedy would be best for them. One day we had to treat a relatively elderly man suffering from a large superficial tumour, situated in the lower abdomen, between the groin and the penis. After feeling and examining it, he explained to him at length how pockets of water sometimes form in some tissues or parts of the body, that it was not serious, that he was not going to send him to hospital for that, and that he would get rid of it for him on the spot. As he spoke, with a sudden movement he thrust into the tumour a sort of large catheter with a sharp point. I simply held the container into which the warm liquid flowed out. The good man, obviously frightened by this mini operation, had felt practically nothing. When the time came to pay the doctor, the latter only charged him the price of an ordinary visit. The patient and his wife seemed surprised.
-“But that was a small operation that you did,” they said.
-“Yes, that is true. Well in that case I will charge you the cost of two ordinary visits instead of one.”
-“You see,” he said to me as we walked back to the car: “This good man and his wife thought that he was suffering from a serious condition. I would have disappointed them, and they might have doubted my professional capacities, if I had not charged them more than I had intended to.”
The few weeks I spent in Vaux had been physically and morally good for me. I had been able to sort out certain problems that had been bothering me. The first one being to arrange a fixed income that Marie-Madeleine could depend on during my enforced absence. Before my departure, our friend Basset, who subsequently became Erwan’s godfather, had assured me that with the help of a few friends he would give Marie-Madeleine a modest, but fixed sum every month. My parents had taken over the care of Rozenn, and were happy to be able to help us in this way, as well as to enjoy their first granddaughter with them in Saint-Lunaire. My Basques friends did the rest. One of my first visits was to them. Shortly after the Liberation, they temporarily recovered the use of the building in the Avenue Marceau.
– “You have helped us out sufficiently in the past,” said Alberro and Landaburu, “that our government can assign to Marie-Madeleine, for as long as she is unable to join you, the salary that we paid you when you were the secretary of the Ligue des Amis Basques in 1939.”
Eliodoro de la Torre, who continued to be the Minister of Finance for the government in exile, quickly gave his approval. He knew, and for very good reasons, of the multiple humane problems caused by political repressions. This decision, which reassured me regarding the immediate future of my family, was a huge load off my shoulders.
There were two other essential problems still to be resolved: that of providing myself with a new identity and that of finding a place to stay where I could work again and earn a living, and where my wife and children could eventually join me. Both of these problems were not easily resolved. They were closely linked. Gildas Jafrenou, who was, and still is, very good with his hands, had made me a provisional identity card, covered with a stamp traced from a non Breton town hall, and with a different name of course. It was possible at the time to obtain the forms in the tobacconists’ shops.
The card could be useful in an emergency: but it probably would not have been sufficient to withstand a prolonged and in depth scrutiny. It was in any case impossible for me to work and be reunited with my family, as long as I was still in hiding on French territory. My only hope of being able to find work and a place to stay was therefore outside of France.
Most of the Bretons in hiding had arrived at the same conclusion. Many of them were in Paris then, and included the full general staff of the P.N.B., Raymond and Yves Delaporte, Bob Le Helloco, Charles Gaonac’h, Jacques de Quelen, Gwion Hernot, Jacques Bruchet and others. Some of them had no other choice but to do the black market in order to get some funds; a relatively dangerous activity for those in hiding and who were, like us, under a warrant of arrest. Raymond Delaporte was looking for a way of evacuating those who had already been condemned to heavy prison sentences or who might be. It goes without saying that we avoided arranging meetings and each one of us only kept in touch with one or two others. There was a tacit agreement that none of us would seek to know the respective addresses of where the others were hiding. Personally I only kept in contact with Bob Helloco. We would meet on a fixed date in Paris every two or three weeks and always in a different café.
A solution had to be found to our common desire to leave, other than the romantic one that some were trying to organise, which consisted in having an Irish boat pick them up from some isolated point on the coast. Our Bretons thought that Irish fishermen were accustomed to sailing long distances like the Bretons! There was as yet very little pleasure boating: had it been as popular as it is today, the problem could have been quickly solved. Also, the points for embarcation could hardly be other than in Brittany, where there was the danger of being recognised. The Bretons in hiding were not the only ones to think of the solution of departure by sea, the first one to come to mind, strengthened by the memory of illegal passages between Brittany and Britain’s Cornwall throughout the German occupation.
A communist daily in Côtes-du-Nord had already announced, a few weeks after my departure from Rennes, that I was in England feeding the Welsh press campaign, which continued with renewed vigour to denounce the repressions raging in Brittany against Breton militants. At the time, I was still in Vaux-sur-Seine! Should I choose a place to stay in the Basque country or in Wales? I seriously asked myself that question. My preference was with the Celts, but it was easier to cross the Pyrenees.
– “We could easily arrange for you to cross the border,” Landaburu had told me. He had already also told other Bretons coming to see him, in particular Yves Delaporte who, like me, was friendly with Eugène Goyeneche, also imprisoned and sentenced since the Liberation.
– “But the real problem will be on the other side,” explained Landaburu. “If you declare that you are an illegal immigrant to the pro-Franco authorities, even if you have asked for political asylum, you will be interned, as many others have been, in Miranda concentration camp in Catalonia. God alone knows how long you might remain there, as the internees are only liberated in dribs and drabs. If you remain underground, our friends from the nationalist party will help you; but you will be faced with the same dilemma as here for finding work, if you do not have legal papers and have not crossed the border legally. And for that you would need not only a passport but also a visa, issued by the Spanish authorities.”
I had the pleasure of meeting President Aguirre once again, during my few visits to avenue Marceau. He had been told of my difficulties. He was an inveterate optimist who, by that very optimism, galvanized the energies of those around him.
– “Everything Xavier has told you is correct,” he said. “But go to Bilbao all the same. You will find a lot of friends there. You would just have to wait for us, as you would only precede us by six to eight months!”
Alas! Aguirre would die before ever seeing his country again and there was another thirty years of waiting after that conversation before the death of Franco and the change of régime in Spain!
It was increasingly obvious to me that I needed to have a passport for whichever place I decided to go to. I seriously began to address the problem in order to obtain one.
It was with this in mind that I went to the Prefecture de Police in Paris for the necessary information. For me it was the wolf’s den. However, because I had been a fairly frequent visitor there, when I had intervened on behalf of the Basques refugees, I knew the place was a hive of activity, a public thoroughfare with various comings and goings. There was little chance that I would meet anyone, let alone be recognized. The passport office was full of people. I quietly waited my turn, engrossed in my newspaper.
-“For us to issue you with a passport,” I was told, “You have to bring us two identity photos, your birth certificate, your military record and finally a certificate of residence covering the last six months.”
The identity photos were certainly the easiest to organise; but I had to keep in mind that none of the other identity documents could be in my name. Further inquiries with one of my old colleagues, whose whereabouts I had traced through the Prefecture de Versailles, and in whose discretion I could rely on, confirmed that it was very difficult; taking into consideration the strict account taken of “swiping” a blank passport, which I could have filled in as I wished. In addition, these were locked up in a safe: I could hardly become a thief to steal a few! How much worse it would make my case if I was caught! And what a joy it would be for my political enemies, who would finally have something concrete to reproach me for.
The normal channel, which police headquarters had indicated to me, was the only one possible. One had to make do with it.
When one is detained, the first thing one thinks of is to prepare an escape and to study ways of passing unnoticed afterwards. I had, therefore, during my time in detention and the few months of freedom I had afterwards, taken the precaution of obtaining through various means, the dates and places of birth of some of my companions in misfortune, who were more or less my age. I had chosen amongst those who were not Breton militants and were mild or non-existent cases that had been liberated without going through any court appearances. I decided on one of these, born outside of Brittany and with the advantage in my mind of having a name composed of three Christian names: one of these being Jean. I had since lost touch with him, and in any case had no intention of letting him know.
I therefore deliberately assumed his name and wrote according to the rules to the town hall of his birthplace, asking them to send me the birth certificate I was applying for. I had enclosed a stamped addressed envelope for the reply! I received it a couple of days later at Doctor Dufour’s house, with the requested document.
I was thus already in possession of one of the documents I needed, and without a doubt it was the most important one to establish my new identity. The obtaining of the military record was more difficult. I did not know whether the person, whose alias I was from now on, had done his military service and I did not know which had been his recruitment office. I decided to make inquiries at one of the gendarme barracks in Paris.
– “I want to make an application for a passport,” I explained, “I have been asked for my military record. I did have it: but it disappeared with many other documents in the bombing and burning down of the place where I was living. It would take me some time to reconstitute this document and I need the passport quite urgently. Is there any way of doing without this document or could another document replace it?”
– “I presume you were mobilised?” said the non-commissioned police officer who dealt with me.
– “Yes,” I replied on the off chance.
– “In that case you should have a demobilisation certificate, issued by the recruitment office where you were demobilised. That document will be accepted by the Prefecture de Police and will take the place of the military record they have asked you for.”
I thanked him profusely. I had to at least see what a demobilisation certificate looked like. I knew that my brother in law Paul, who lived in Neuilly and who, a reservist, had been called up and served in the country’s armed forces, had been demobilised somewhere in unoccupied France in 1941. He might, by chance, have kept his demobilisation certificate issued by Brive-la-Gaillarde military authorities. He showed it to me when I asked him. It was a duplicated document with the blank parts filled in by hand, and had the stamp of the authority that had issued it, beside an illegible signature. The stamp was put on by a rubber stamp that was commonly used in offices.
On occasions when I visited the Versailles Prefecture, while awaiting my turn and when the usher was absent, I had taken the precaution of pocketing a certain number of these official rubber stamps. I was therefore well supplied with official effigies of the figure of Marianne and the motto “République Francaise, liberté égalité fraternité”; a wording which, to say the least, seemed ironical at that time when so many French citizens like myself were in hiding to escape from the purges. It was therefore fairly simple, with all these stamps, for me to modify them slightly or replace certain letters on them, in order to make perfectly suitable official looking stamps. The artistic manual abilities of Gildas were again invaluable here. I then had fifty blank duplicates of demobilisation certificates made, in Rennes, by a shopkeeper there whose discretion I could rely on; he had been interned with me and his profession was to make this kind of thing. Ten days later my order arrived by an indirect route. We stamped each one of these blank duplicates with the Republic’s stamp and with the one of the Brive-la-Gaillarde recruitment office, leaving the blank spaces for us to fill in when the time came. Over the next few months, twenty or more were thus surreptitiously added to the numbers of those demobilised from the French army.
The certificate of residence for the last six months, being the last document I was missing, presented me with a different type of problem. Only time, in fact, could resolve it. But how much time did I have? In any case I had decided to await the birth of the child we were expecting before leaving. I had myself domiciled under my new name in a little hotel in Montmartre, where I would spend a night from time to time, leaving full use of the room to the hotel when I was not there, which spared my purse.
All of this had taken up quite a bit of time. I regularly received news of my family and transmitted news to them, sometimes by post and also by the occasional messenger. I kept in touch with the situation in Brittany and had received, with notes made by Xavier de Langlais, the accounts that had appeared in the newspapers of the hearings from the trial of my newspaper; followed by the sentencing of Jacques Guillemot to two years in prison and the seizure of his assets. Reading between the lines of these accounts, it was plain to see that the purely political nature of the trial had not escaped the notice of those that were well informed, nor the sort of settling of scores that it dissimulated. It had opened the way for a type of political and electoral bargaining between the M.R.P. of Christian persuasion, represented in Rennes by Henri Fréville and Teitgen, and certain elements of the old radical socialist party, Jacobin and anti-clerical, whose local chief was the Regional Commissioner, Le Gorgeu. Fréville, who at his own request had been given a hearing, had declared during the trial that it was a plot against French unity and that I was the main culprit. Had I not tried to take over the administration of the region, this was evident from the manner in which I had attempted to infiltrate “La Dépêche de Brest” with “unacceptable political regionalism”; a reproach which could not be leveled against Le Gorgeu who had preceded me. The Director of Public Prosecution and Fréville argued that this was the main reason why the latter could not be prosecuted; also his French patriotism and resistant activities, by definition, needed no proof. This was virtually the same thing as to maintain that a swindler, thief or murderer could not be prosecuted if he had a record of good behaviour during the war! But the judges of the special courts cared nothing about this type of reasoning.
My letter, read out by Jean-Louis Bertrand, had provoked some confusion amongst the prosecution. The small crowd attending the trial had thus been able to witness the edifying spectacle of Coudurier’s confusion, forced to retract his signature to deny his responsibility as well as that of Le Gorgeu. All of this spoke volumes on the procedures being used at the time to condemn those that one wanted to discard. I decided to write down the most important facts of the speech for the defence, and of the clarifications I would have expanded on if I had been present. This became the main section of the brochure “La Vérité sur l’affaire de La Bretagne”(Can be read on the French site under 4.’Archives’). Again also, with the relevant documents at the time, in the book, which much later in 1981, I had devoted to “L’Histoire du quotidien La Bretagne”, in order to reply to Henri Fréville’s book on the daily papers, “La Bretagne”, “L’Ouest Éclair” and “La Dépêche”, and on the proceedings against them, which he was in charge of, at the Liberation.
Because of my absence, my case had been separated from the hearings of mid-February; normally I could expect a later sentence in absentia. I had arranged to meet Bob Helloco, on the 30th March, in a café of the Place Saint-Michel.
-“Congratulations on your promotion,” he said after I had taken a seat beside him.
Seeing my surprise, he showed me a short piece from the newspaper “Combat”, announcing that Yann Fouéré, ex sous-prefet of Morlaix, had been sentenced by the Law Courts in Rennes to hard labour for life and to the seizure of all his present and future assets. My fate had henceforth been decided.
In view of the fact that the functions of the Republic’s Regional Commissioner were to expire on 31st March, it had been deemed more prudent in Rennes to be discreet about this sentence in-extremis on the 29th March, two days before the end of Le Gorgeu’s functions. Nobody had been advised of the hearing: the customary notifications had not been made to my home and my lawyers had obviously not been notified. Marie-Madeleine learnt about my sentence in the street. She had met one of her friends who had just read the discreetly inserted short piece in “Ouest-France”, which indicated that the severity of this sentence was explained by the fact that, under the pretext of regionalism, it was actually for the separatists that I had worked. Nobody doubted that it was this, par excellence, the offence of my beliefs that I was guilty of and for which I was being sentenced. I remembered the words of Henri de Rochefort written in the previous century; “In France every writer is a culprit. He who sets down his ideas on a blank sheet of paper is specially favoured with becoming a defendant.”
A few days later, the bailiff came, as required by law, to put up on the door of my home in the rue de Fougères, a copy of the warrant bearing my sentence. He was obviously ill at ease.
– “I am in charge of doing this job,” he explained to Marie-Madeleine, “but I will not return to check if this document is still there a few minutes after I leave: the wind, after all, could blow it away, as I am only attaching it with a drawing pin.”
Marie-Madeleine did not fail to follow the advice that had indirectly been given to her. The official notice had disappeared before passersby had time to see it.
I therefore decided, after completing the notes I had prepared, to have them printed. A couple of weeks later they were liberally distributed in Brittany. The press, all the deputies and all the councilors of Ille-et-Vilaine, which was the department where Teitgen and Fréville were beginning a political career, received a copy of the brochure that concerned them. It had been published without the name of the printer. The Minister of Justice, who was also personally implicated, tried in vain to find out who it was. He even went as far as to telephone my lawyers himself. He probably decided on reflection that it was wiser not to insist, to avoid even more damaging publicity, which criminal proceedings against a printer would undoubtedly have provoked.
I did not regret my decision, in spite of disappointment at not being able to fight this in person. Having physically eliminated or removed from power and from any positions of authority, those of the Vichy government who had been in political authority and those who had supported it in the administration and the press, the 4th Republic was now trying to divert the attention of public opinion towards the Nuremberg trial, which had begun towards the end of November 1945. In 1939 France had declared war and secretly hoped that it would win without having to go to war. It was now covering itself with glory for a victory which it had not carried off. Though declaring that “Nazis” crimes were being tried in Nuremberg, any discerning mind could see, as Randolph Churchill said: “If the Nazis authorities are being tried, it is because they have lost the war…the defeated are sentenced and executed by the victors…it is doubtful,” he added, “that this is an advantage to the cause of civilisation”. It was in fact taking Europe back two thousand years, to barbarian times when Vercingétorix was dragged, chained to the victor’s chariot, before the Roman rabble.
How was it possible not to see that the moral and legal credibility of the court was marred by the very fact that at the judges table, and not on the bench of the accused, sat the representatives of the power that had waged the war of aggression with Hitler against Poland in 1939? And that had been excluded from the League of Nations in December of that same year because of its aggression against Finland? The same power also who had been responsible for the massacre at Katyn, but had tried to blame the Germans for it. How also can the criminal bombing of Dresden be forgotten, and that the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities had only just preceded the opening of the trial by a few months?
Even as the hearings were taking place, the atrocities continued. At Yalta, in February of that same year, Stalin had already declared to Churchill that there would be very few Germans left in the eastern territories by the time his troops entered them. The objective of the atrocities perpetrated by the Soviets on the German population of these territories was their total expulsion: a clean sweep had to be made for the Russian settlers. Recent research has evaluated the number of Germans amongst the civilian population who perished during this process to be about one and a half thousand: dying of cold and hunger or shot indiscriminately on the arrival of the Red Army. The Polish Republic had taken over, exterminating the Jews who had survived the Nazis camps, and interning the German civilian population in the concentration camps. The old, the weak and the sick were liquidated. There seemed to be no question of judging those responsible for these atrocities at Nuremberg.
I was outraged by all this hypocrisy. The “resistencialists’” outcries filled me with profound disgust. I had never considered myself as being on the side of the Germans; but I felt further and further removed from that of the victors. Once more History was being distorted by falsifying it. Europe had not yet emerged from the hypocrisies, the crimes, the hatreds and despicable acts. The nightmare continued. In France itself the cycle continued of the 124,751 trials which the French brought against other French people from 1945 until 1951.
There was nothing left for me to do but to continue preparing for my departure. I was determined to return when the time came and stand trial again, as I had indicated in my letter to the President of the Court. First of all however, it would have to be after the special courts had been done away with; it is well known that justice is not done in them as they only comply with reasons of State. In the meantime it was urgent that I re-establish a material situation, enabling me to make a home for my family again. This was the first of my priorities. It did not mean, however, that I would lose interest in the struggle. The main thing is not, to have gained a victory: it is to have fought to the end.
My sentence in absentia had not changed my lifestyle. Illegal I was, illegal I would remain. Breton political action was at a standstill in Brittany. Its leaders scattered, condemned, reduced to living in hiding or in exile. It seemed to those who had repressed this political movement that they had practically succeeded in eliminating it. After all, this was the object of their efforts! The purge had fulfilled the role it was intended for. The traditional Jacobin policies of the political and administrative circles in charge of the French State had taken its revenge. Even ordinary grassroots militants had been condemned, banned from certain areas and certain professions. There was nobody left in Brittany except those with supporting roles, or the indecisive and the diffident, incapable of starting up any effective action. There were also some ill-advised who thought it clever to pay off their enemies. Only the cultural movement seemed to be timidly lifting its head up. We would have to wait for a new generation, an improvement in the political situation, and a return to sanity. We all hoped that a new generation would quickly come along and replace us to lead the struggle.
We had all learnt to behave as people in hiding. It was not difficult, as long as one thought about it constantly and never relaxed ones wariness. From time to time when I went to Paris I would ensure that I was not being followed. Sometimes, during off-peak hours I would get off at a quiet metro station and would wait until the platform was completely empty. If this was the case, the coast was clear, and I would resume my journey on the next train. If someone else remained on the platform, one had to wait, and then do the same again at another station. One day I noticed Yves Delaporte on a bench in a metro station, with a very different hairstyle and dressed very differently from his customary way. I was careful not to show that I had recognized him: after all, he was probably doing the same thing as I was.
Another time also in a restaurant of the St.Lazare station where I had a rendezvous, I nearly came face to face with M.Collinet, a journalist of “La Dépêche”, who had felt it necessary to leave Morlaix, even though no proceedings were being brought against him, thanks to the protection of Coudurier and Le Gorgeu. I pretended not to see him: but I could see by his bulging eyes, open mouth and the astonishment on his face that he had recognized me perfectly well. Purposely forgetting about my rendezvous, I continued calmly checking the tables before slowly making my way back to the exit then quickly disappearing into the corridors of the metro. The following day, the whole of Brittany knew that I was not yet in England but still in Paris. Raymond Deugnier, who had returned to his functions in the Ministry of the Interior, and with whom I had this failed rendezvous, advised me not to delay in carrying out my plans for departure.
In addition, I did not want to abuse of the hospitality of my friends the Dufours, who were also worried about the change in my situation now that I had been sentenced. They would not suffer any consequences by sheltering someone sought after by the police, but they could be prosecuted for sheltering a condemned person. I did not want to risk putting them in that situation. The ABC of those in hiding is in any case to change ones place of refuge frequently. I went to visit Rev. Father Jean Courtois at his convent in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré: a person with a big heart, and a Dominican friend of my sister-in-law Genevieve. I had already been to visit him during my first visit to Paris, when I was still on bail. He had been to visit Le Gorgeu, when I was still in prison, to draw his attention to my misfortune. He was one of those who had most strongly advised me not to confront a justice that was not just; he considered that in these circumstances my primary duty was to remain free in order to be better able to look after my family. I knew also that during the occupation he had sheltered some “resistants” who, unlike the “resistantialists”, had reasons for going into hiding at the time.
-“Your situation is exactly the same as theirs was at the time”, he told me. “One should not hesitate to shield oneself from injustice and persecution if the only thing one has done is as you have, to struggle unselfishly for a cause, and if your conscience is clear.”
Rev. Father Courtois was rarely seen without his white Dominican’s tunic. It added to his naturally noble-looking bearing: He welcomed me once again.
-“Come if you like to La Ferté-Vidame,” he said. “I will be happy to give you refuge and to provide you with room and board in the monastery I am in charge of and where I am most of the time. You can help us out on the voluntary staff that I have gathered together. You may also be interested in staying in the remains of what was once the castle and domain of the well known writer, Saint-Simon. In that solitary place you can probably converse, as I often do, with that great shadow who continues to haunt the premises.”
Towards the end of April therefore, I took my leave of my friends in Vaux-sur-Seine. Their friendly welcome had enabled me to recover the physical and moral stability that I needed. They also should not know where I was going. Ties always had to be cut on leaving, like a boat pulls up anchor and casts off its moorings to then head off towards unknown destinations. To get to La Ferté-Vidame one had to take the trains for Chartres and Le Mans, then get off at La Loupe station where a bus took you to the little town on the main road from Paris to Brittany, on the borders of Normandy, La Beauce and Perche. It was nestled around its church and castle. The gates of the latter had probably not changed since the time of Louis de Rouvroy, Duke de Saint-Simon, whom King Louis XIV had held over the baptismal font. It opened onto a vast rectangular courtyard, built along the lines of Versailles’s square courtyard. It was surrounded on three sides by buildings which had at one time been the outhouses of the castle, and which had been restored and enlarged by King Louis-Philippe of France. On the other side of these stretched the main building, with bay windows and tall balcony windows opening out onto a vast horizon of fields and woods, some of which had once been the garden and park of the main castle.
This was actually only what was still known in La Ferté as the small castle, whose main gate had only been erected in1880. The castle itself, situated more to the front of the park, was now only an impressive two storied ruin partially covered in ivy, with a still majestic façade, built of red bricks and slightly yellow lime stone, crowned in the centre by a sort of square tower which at one time must have supported a dome, with an architrave in front, holding a triangular Hellenic style sculptured pediment. One of the wings of the castle had collapsed: towards the centre it was now only an empty shell where brambles, shrubs and wild grass grew and where some foxes lived. It was the domain of the crows that flew constantly over it, and who’s piercing cries and flapping of wings grew louder still as one approached.
It was some time after my arrival that I learnt it was not in fact the “favourite residence” where Saint-Simon had lived and where he had written his memoirs. He died in 1755 leaving no inheritor and the castle of medieval origin, which he occupied, had been completely destroyed by the new owner of the domain, the marquis Jean Joseph de Laborde, court banker, ship owner, town planner and real estate speculator. De Laborde had acquired a vast fortune which had enabled him to build the district of La Chaussée d’Antain in Paris, at the same time as the new castle which was completed in 1767. It was the ruins of this second castle that remained. This new and fabulous residence lasted little more than a few years. It was handed over to the demolition workers and the looters during the time of the revolution. The Marquis was guillotined in 1794. That same year, the tomb of Saint-Simon had been desecrated in the La Ferté church and his remains, together with those of his wife, had been thrown into the common grave.
The domain, surrounding the park and a part of the forest, was protected by stone walls, partly collapsed, which were said to be twelve kilometres long. The marquis de Laborde had them built in order to demarcate 999 hectares. He could not do more, as a royal decree stipulated that private parks, which was land taken away from farming, could not stretch for more than 1000 hectares. There was little left of the formal gardens, but a vast meadow dotted with remnants of their past splendour, ponds, small monuments, statues and pavilions spread out in the Versailles style of the time. King Louis-Philippe had drained the abandoned park, renovated the stately avenues of lime and beech trees, controlled the spread of the ponds and cleaned up the ornamental lakes. Little bridges bordered by high railings spanned the ornamental lakes which in the past had bordered the formal gardens, demarcating them like medieval moats.
The main façade of the castle had opened out onto these gardens. Beyond these more meadowland stretched out to the forest, which plunged south towards Senonches and the Eure valley.
The order of Saint-Marie-Madeleine, founded and run by the Rev. Father Jean Courtois, had settled into the small castle which the State had bought, with sixty or so hectares, just after the Liberation. The Minister of Justice had placed it at the disposal of the order: at the time there had been a sudden increase in the prison population, and the prisons had to be cleared to make room for new arrivals, condemned by the special courts, victims as I had been. The order of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine’s aim was to help with the social rehabilitation of ex detainees released on probation with no visible means of support or nobody to take them in. Some of these women came from the prison in Rennes, where they had served half of the prison sentences or imprisonment with labour which had been inflicted on them. Their numbers did not exceed a hundred. They were a strange assortment of murderers, arsonists, abortionists, infanticide and recidivists of all kinds. They lived in freedom within the castle and the park, and were allowed to go into the little town, even to stay away with permission, and to receive visits from their families if they had any. Some of them worked at the farm which belonged to the castle, others in the sewing and dressmaking workrooms. They received a normal salary for their work. Most of them were well over forty: there were scarcely any young faces and a predominance of grey and white hair. Only two or three of them were younger; they flaunted a type of raw beauty in spite of their often unattractive features.
The small group of half a dozen voluntary helpers that Father Courtois had gathered together to organise them all and supervise the place, was mainly composed of deeply religious spinsters who devoted themselves to this charity, just as he did. Hoffman, the director, was an engineer with no children who, with his wife, had practically withdrawn from the outside world. In spite of their various activities, this small group led an isolated existence, notwithstanding the intellectual qualities of some of its members. We would all meet at mealtimes. These were taken in common with the elderly detainees boarding in the house, and were preceded by grace followed by a short prayer. The dining-room was a large room with elegant French windows opening out onto the terrace and vast green meadowland beyond it. Under the cymatium, wainscotings still ran along the walls. The room was so large that there was plenty of space for us all. Before work started in the afternoons, our little group would meet for coffee in the director’s apartment and divide the work between us when necessary.
Father Courtois lived in a separate building, in accordance with the rules of his order. In order to make room for me, a sort of caretaker’s pavilion, which had been uninhabited for a long time at the far end of the garden by the edge of the woods, was fixed up. We put in a bed, a table and a few chairs after much blocking up, with planks and bits of wood, of holes made by the rats, which had damaged the floorboards and skirting. The sink in the old kitchen and adjoining toilet, completed my accommodation.
In this new retreat my solitude was virtually complete and I had plenty of time to reflect. My occupations were few and I did them whenever I wished. One of my first tasks was to make a study of the respective merits of hourly rates and piece rate salaries, in view of their application in the workshops of the establishment.
The vegetable garden of the castle was very large. It was in full production thanks to the half dozen German prisoners who had been granted special permission to work there. There were flowers there also and I would often linger alongside the beds of roses, gladioli, phloxes, lupines, carnations, pansies, sunflowers, marigolds, peonies, delphiniums and hollyhock. When I congratulated Father Courtois on the garden, he told me that one of the prisoners who worked in it had been the head gardener of the city of Hamburg and that he was the one in charge of it.
The status of these prisoners was such that they could not leave the castle premises and that if they needed to go out, for reasons of necessity or of work, they had to be accompanied. I was frequently put in charge of that task when they had to go to the little station to offload wagonloads of equipment or fertilizer mainly destined for the farm. The Irony of fate! What an outcry if one or other of them had escaped whilst being guarded by the condemned “collaborator by definition” which I was. But none of them had any inclination to do so: they knew that their cities had been reduced to ashes, their territories devastated, their families dispersed or disappeared in the atrocious bombing of the civilian population that had marked the last few months of the war, with survivors reduced to living in cellars under the ruins of their houses or in the underground of their city.
A few weeks after my arrival, in June, which was the month for haymaking, I was back doing the work of my ancestors from the Bas Breil in Brittany. The summer was a glorious one! The hay was thick in the vast meadows of the castle. I gathered the long grass, reaped and lying on the ground, into heaps, a summer scented mixture: umbels, wild clover with purple and white flowers, salad burnet, and thin reeds near the ponds. I would fork them into the carts and climb onto these to take them to the silos. From the top of a cart full to capacity with stalks and grass, smelling sweetly of cut hay, there are always new landscapes to discover. I savoured the peace and calm that working in the fields always brings me, with the subtle coolness of the evenings rising from the earth.
I also frequently strayed into the forest that was on my doorstep. The Dukes of Saint-Simon had organized to have some long avenues cut through the forest, which followed the outlines of stars. It brought me back to the days of my youth in Compiègne. The avenues and crossroads often had the same name: that of La Ligne du Cerf or of La Fontaine aux Fées; and of La Grande Meute, Le Chevreuil, La Clairière or La Pistolerie; the circle of Le Grand Veneur, of Vautrait, and that of Les Princes or Les Hussards. I could again explore tracks, trails, and fire breaks around the ponds frequented by herons and water fowl. I found again all that little wild and silent world which my walking disturbed and then the rustling of its distraught flight through thickets, woodlands and reeds. I listened to a million sounds of silence, staring in wonderment at the shimmer of light on the water.
I was not involved in the psychological and emotional administration of the house, but could not help noticing the dramas at times. The majority of the elderly inmates were not a problem: from that point of view, the ex-murderers, who had killed a long time ago in the grip of passion or rage, were those who were the least trouble. This was not always the case with the others, especially those who had been rejected by their families and those who continued to brood over their grudge in spite of their good behaviour, with bitterness against society which nonetheless they yearned to return to whenever they could. I had noticed how few of them attended the Sunday services, celebrated by Father Courtois in one of the rooms of the castle converted into a chapel. Many of them were still not at peace with themselves. Thus there were dramas sometimes in that little post-prison world: the staff of the house however did their best to lessen the abnormal nature of this mini-society. A few weeks before my departure, the gendarmes came to arrest one of the boarders who, in her fifties, in spite of her good behaviour and her respectable appearance, had started up again, when she was absent and on leave, her work as an abortionist. Probably unable to bear the idea of returning to prison, she ran off into the park and disappeared: her body was found the next day in one of the ponds of the domain at the edge of the forest: she had thrown herself in.
I had reduced the number of visits I made to Paris, where I continued to make the necessary preparations for my departure. It was in La Ferté-Vidame, at the beginning of June that I received a telegram from my sister-in-law announcing the good news of Erwan’s birth and reassuring me that both Marie-Madeleine and our second son were well. My mother-in-law was with them: I had no immediate worries on that score. Though it was certainly heartbreaking for me not to be able to hold my new baby son in my arms, the obligation of being sensible and prudent dictated that it would have to be put off until later.
I now had to arrange for my departure as soon as possible. I had decided, after giving it much thought, to head preferably for Wales where the campaign in our favour continued, organized by numerous welsh patriots and also by Pol Quentel, a Breton professor of History; I only discovered much later the importance of the role he played in launching it. The authorities of the 4th Republic and their Breton accomplices, made him pay dearly for it later on by hindering the normal development of his career.
The Welsh press campaign, which deeply perturbed the new regional authorities and the resistencialists’ intellectual circles in Brittany, had carried off a resounding success on the occasion of the attempted trial of Roparz Hémon before the Court in Rennes. It was enough that Dewi Powell, a Welsh journalist, was present at the hearing of the 13th March 1946, and after visiting the Prefecture and the ecclesiastical authorities, for the trial to be postponed to obtain “additional information”. We had also requested this measure in November 1945, but it had been refused. When the trial resumed on 31st May, the prosecutor, Orvain, had practically abandoned the charge. Though acquitted, Roparz Hémon was nonetheless condemned to loss of citizenship rights and was banned from staying in Brittany. It was basically all that his anti-Breton “resistencialists” colleagues at the university wanted. From then on, thanks to the Welsh campaign, it was clear that simply cultural militants could not be condemned.
By heading for Wales, I was sure of being able to benefit from interceltic solidarity which had just asserted itself. In contrast, the Basque solution seemed much more risky, in a country still under the dictatorship of Franco, and where my only friends would be those who were hostile to him.
I knew that Herry Caouissin had maintained close contacts with Rev. Dyffnalt Owen, minister of a Welsh reformed church and an old friend of Father Perrot. Herry and his brother Ronan had finally been released from Saint-Charles internment camp. They had been obliged to emigrate to the Paris region. Ronan had settled in Fontenay-aux-Roses, and Herry in Asnières. I went to visit the latter in the old house he was renting. It was situated alongside the railway tracks, not far from Asnières station. Luckily, it was vast enough to accommodate him with his wife and numerous children. Life was difficult for the two brothers, coping with substantial material difficulties, which is a common problem for all “outcasts”, which we were.
Herry promised to contact Dyffnalt Owen and his daughter Meirion so that I would have somewhere to stay when I arrived in Wales. Meirion had been a student in Rennes in 1932, and had been known as “the little English girl with the big calves”, not very flattering for her personally or as a Welsh person. She had since lost her husband in the war and was living with her young son in Abergavenny in the south of Wales where she was teaching.
In order to obtain my passport, I had to spend more time in Paris than the manageress of the small hotel in Montmartre could give me on the certificate of residence. I knew that Dr.Dufour had lived for several months in Paris in 1944-45. He had rented an apartment there, before settling in Vaux-sur-Seine. Thus, with his permission, I went to see the concierge of the building where he had lived.
-“My friend Dr.Dufour lived in this building recently,” I told her. “He now urgently needs a certificate of residence to prove this and, as I was coming to Paris, he asked me to do him the favour of calling to see you so that you can hand me the certificate which I will deliver to him this evening.”
The concierge took out her certificate of residence book.
– “No need to waste time filling it in,” I said. “Just sign it: Dr.Dufour will fill it in. He will know better than I do, and probably than you do, the exact dates during which he stayed here.”
The concierge therefore having signed it handed me the blank residence certificate. I then went to the nearest Post Office to fill it in at my ease. I wrote down my new name on it, the one which was on the birth certificate and the demobilisation certificate that I had, and I was generous with the length of the stay. Then I went to the police station in that district to have the concierge’s signature certified. I did the same for the residence certificate that was given to me by the manageress of the hotel in Montmartre, where I was supposedly staying, again under the name which had now become mine.
I had by now gathered together all the documents I needed for my passport application: identity photos, birth certificate, demobilisation certificate and certificate of residence. I brought the lot to the Prefecture de Police, where they gave me a receipt and told me to come back in two weeks with this receipt to collect my passport.
This waiting period worried me somewhat. I decided to try and have the passport collected by someone else: one never knows. The photos after all were of me! I knew that these final steps would in fact be the most difficult ones: friends and relatives who knew my situation were all hesitant to do me this favour. As a last resort when the two week waiting period had passed I went to see Doctor Hervé who lived near the Préfecture de Police. I explained my dilemma to him.
-“If those who know you are hesitant,” he said, “you must ask someone who does not know you to do this favour. Their good faith will be perfect. I will ask my secretary.”
I therefore explained to the latter that as I had so many things to see to before my departure, I would not have time to call around to the Préfecture.
– “I will go there this afternoon,” she told me quite simply. “You can give me your receipt.”
The following morning, the passport was there: Doctor Hervé handed it to me; he insisted on also handing me what was then a substantial amount of money.
-“You will need it,” he said. “You can not undertake to make a journey of this sort without funds. Do not thank me,” he added. “It is a token of solidarity with the ordeals you are going through.”
My old friend Jacques Marzin did the same thing when I met him a few days later. Thus I now had a small reserve of funds: I could leave without worrying too much about the immediate future.
To get into Great Britain, however, it was still necessary at the time to obtain a visa issued by the British authorities. These were only given out sparingly and only for specific reasons. Impressive queues formed from early morning in front of the consular offices by place de L’Étoile in Paris. You had to be there in person to obtain the visa: there was nothing against doing this. My passport was in order and I was officially another man. But what reason could I find? There was still rationing in Great Britain and visas were not being handed out to mere tourists. The repercussions of the war were still felt.
I had been in contact again with Maryvonne Le Ferrer. Her husband had disappeared at the time of the hostilities. She was still living with her parents in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, in the building next to the one where my sister-in-law, Suzanne Mauger, lived. Maryvonne suggested that I meet with her father and explain my problem to him: he was at the time in charge of the Paris office of the Société Penaroya, a Spanish mining company. It was because of this situation that Maryvonne was born in Spain where her father was working at the time.
– “I could of course give you a phony certificate,” M.Ferrer told me, “drawn up in your new name on our company’s headed notepaper. It will be worth what it is worth! You can return it to me if, because of it, you get a visa. I can for example send you to study the mining market in Great-Britain?”
It was certainly better than nothing, and thus, at 6 o clock, one morning in early July, I was already near the front of the queue outside the doors of the consulate of Great Britain. A few hours later I explained the reason for my request to the civil servant who dealt with me, and showed him the certificate from M.Ferrer. He stamped an entry visa to Great Britain on my passport, and told me to go on arrival to the police authorities of the place where I would be staying, and also to the ration tickets’ distribution office. My new papers were beginning to look very official.
There was still one more task for me to do before leaving or trying to leave French territory, whose borders had become my second prison. This was to pass on to other Breton militants in hiding, the information, stamps and procedures to follow in order to obtain a passport as I had done. It was obvious that those who were likely to incur heavy sentences and it did not need much for these, or those who had already been condemned to heavy sentences in absentia, had no other choice but to leave the country. To rely on French justice at the time, was out of the question. But most of those whom I met, did not believe me when I showed them my brand new passport, taking care not to show them the name which appeared on the inside pages. No one but me must know that one! They thought that I had succeeded in purchasing a false passport which fetched very high rates at the time, because of the considerable number of them being sought after; or also that my old contacts at the Ministry of the Interior had allowed me to obtain one illegally.
-“In any case,” I told them, “I am leaving before the end of the month: I will therefore be the first to make the attempt. When you receive a card signed Jean, posted from a foreign country, you will know that I have succeeded and you could then follow.”
Gildas was the first one to benefit from my advice. He was also the first to join me in Wales, and told me later that he had put the finishing touches to thirty or more applications for passports before he left: none were refused.
The procedures for the issuing of visas to Great Britain were eased shortly after that and then done away with completely. Gildas had numerous contacts in Wales because of his father. I left with Bob Helloco, the necessary detailed information intended for Raymond Delaporte and the P.N.B. militants, as well as half the blank demobilisation certificates from Brive-la-Gaillarde that I had left over. The other half, I gave to Albert Guillou as I knew that he was in touch with the leaders and ex members of the Formation Perrot.
Herry Caouissin had received news from Meirion Dyffnallt Owen who offered to come and fetch me in London as soon as I advised her that I had arrived.
-“I gave you a new name,” he told me. “Meirion will be expecting Doctor Moger and will look after him from London onwards.”
The name would follow me around. I liked it, though I felt it was too similar to that of Marie-Madeleine. In Breton, Moger is the wall, the rampart or the wall of a city or rocks. These walls are built to resist attacks from men or the elements challenging them.
I took my leave of Father Courtois: it was an emotional parting: he had helped me, after Doctor Dufour, following on the year in prison that I had suffered, to get used to life again and to the company of mankind. It was now nearly a year since Marie-Madeleine had come to fetch me at the Pont-de-Buis camp. Nearly six months had passed since my departure from Rennes that February morning.
I said my goodbyes to the staff of Saint-Simon castle. I felt that it was time I left to avoid becoming too attached to the place. They had not known and probably never knew who I really was: discretion for them was a rule of their profession. Before I left Father Courtois gave me letters of recommendation for various convents of his order, in Brussels and London.
It was in fact preferable for me to avoid the coastal borders which were more closely watched, and it therefore seemed safer to go first to Brussels before crossing the strait from Ostende.
I called on Herry Caouissin on my last night in France. He came with me early the following morning to Gare du Nord station. We embraced at length.
– “I will send you a post card from Brussels,” I told him. “It will set your mind at rest on the fate of Doctor Moger.”
I settled into a compartment that was practically full already. I knew this line well as it was the one for Compiègne. The train slowed down as it passed the town’s station. I was able to see that it had been practically completely destroyed. The space between the station and the town hall seemed to have no buildings anymore, where there had been one of the main streets before. I wondered what had happened to all the friends I had left behind there fifteen years ago.
ned to be American was of far more interest to them. She seemed surprised: AmericThe train continued on its journey. In spite of knowing that one has one’s papers in order, it is difficult to hold back a twinge of anxiety when one is trying to cross a border that one knows is in fact forbidden. The main thing is to remain calm and not to show any emotion. We had passed Saint-Quentin and were approaching the border. First the customs people passed then the border police. My passport was just glanced at absent-mindedly. That of my neighbour who happened to be American, was of much more interest to them. She seemed surprised: Americans, who live in such a vast country, have always found it strange that it is not possible to travel in Europe without coming across a difficult border crossing every one hundred kilometres. One certainly can not blame them.
I breathed an inward sigh of relief. Mons station, bleak as it was, seemed to me to be on the fringe of liberty. Brussels loomed ahead already. I got off at La Gare du Midi, where I found a tram to take me to the city’s Dominican Convent, situated not far from Le Parc du Cinquantenaire. After consulting the recommendation from Father Courtois, the Prior offered me board and lodging for the few days that I had to spend in the city. That evening I had my first meal in the monks’ refectory with its rule of silence, apart from the prayers preceding the meals.
The following day, I strolled around the Grande Place, intact in its splendour. The destructions of the war had spared it. The old houses with their mullions, their finials and their statues that were still shining, with their gold a bit faded, and the ornate spire of the town hall still reaching up to meet the sky. There was an abundance of standards and Belgian flags but very few Flemish emblems on that square which was Flemish after all. I sat at a café table to write the postcards I had promised to send to my friends, to notify them that the way was clear. I also bought my tickets for the train and boat to London.
I had decided to spend a day or two examining the situation in Belgium. I therefore tried to see a number of Flemish friends whose addresses I had kept from the time when I was in charge of Peuples et Frontières, or that I had met during various international congresses before the war, Senator Van Dieren in particular. I was not able to see any of them. Some were no longer at their old addresses: the majority of the others were in prison. The repression reigned here just as it did in France, maybe even more so.
Just as the French had invented the loss of citizenship rights, the Belgian State had invented “l’incivisme” or lack of public spirit. Thousands of citizens had been arrested, imprisoned and sentenced, just as in France. I also knew of the close links that existed for a long time between the Belgian and French police. This was certainly not the place to remain in, or to think of coming back to for the moment.
I had an opportunity to speak with some of the monks and the lay personnel of the convent where I had found refuge. Within these peaceful surroundings, one could sense the national linguistic conflict between Flemish and French speakers. It had been aggravated by the repressions of “l’incivisme”.
It was nearly the end of July: in a few days it would be my thirty sixth birthday. I took the train to Ostende from the Gare Centrale. Then after going through the exit border formalities at the harbour station, with as little difficulty as on entry, I boarded the boat for Dover. It was a warm sunny day: I settled down on the bridge. The sirens announcing the departure of the boat soon rang out. The moorings were cast off. We slowly got under way: I listened to the murmuring of the water on the hull.
I remained for a long time contemplating the receding harbour buildings and the low-lying coastline. I thought of the fact that every turn of the propeller took me further away from my forbidden homeland. I already had a whole life behind me with its passions, storms and struggles, its accomplishments and its ordeals. It was already a fuller life than that of many men twice my age. What would I find at the end of my journey? What fate did the future hold for me? When would I see again my family and the shores of my homeland, whose demanding passion continued to live within me? I was not abandoning anything of the past. I knew that one could not take along ones homeland in the sole of one’s shoes, and that I would continue to fight. Does the struggle not give meaning to and make sense of life?
The Belgian coast was now just a thin line, practically invisible on the horizon, just floating on the sea. The silent flight of a flock of seagulls accompanied the calm crossing of the ship on the blue-grey expanse of the North Sea, barely stirred by a slight north-east swell.
I dozed off on the bridge. When I opened my eyes again, the high cliffs of Dover were already in sight over the stem, surrounded by a sort of golden mist. The sun, filtered by a slightly cloudy sky, was already quite low on the horizon. I thought of the fact that I was retracing the journey the Celts made in their search for the lands where the sun sets, and beyond which there is only the land of eternal youth where it never sets, and where there is no illness, nor old age nor death. A new life was beginning.