Outwitting the Gestapo showcases thrilling activism

Outwitting the Gestapo | University of Nebraska Press | Illustrated edition, Nov. 1, 1994 | ISBN-10: 0803259239 | ISBN-13: 978-0803259232 | Paperback; 241 pages
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When World War II broke out Lucie Aubrac was a teacher in a girls’ school in Lyons, France. She and her Jewish husband lived in the pro-Nazi Vichy zone of the divided country. They joined the anti-Nazi resistance in 1943. Outwitting the Gestapo is a first-hand account of Aubrac’s daring feats, and well worth reading.

The book tells her tale as a mother and pregnant member of the French underground. Aubrac was brave, beyond bold, and replete with blithe sangfroid and optimism.

She planned raids, smuggled guns, and killed Nazi soldiers, freeing her husband and others —all of whom were under death sentences — from concentration camps. When facing a daunting meeting with a Nazi official, she mused that she was not nervous, and that “Action is the best tranquilizer.”

A warrior and a feminist, Aubrac defended women’s fighting ability, and refuted comrades’ praise that she fought and thought like a man. Her history should be more widely known, but the leadership role of women fighting back in wars of liberation is frequently obscured.

Luckily, the author had no intention of letting gender roles hold her back. She was part of a tight resistance group that got coded information from BBC broadcasts. Her group also provided funds for organizing and bribes.

Many “ordinary” French citizens assisted in these efforts, including a gendarme who sheltered Aubrac and her family when they were hiding from the Gestapo. Her fearlessness under fire saved lives and helped defeat the Nazis in France. Her resoluteness and innate solidarity with all who would fight back demonstrates what the working class is capable of in dire conditions.

The author and her husband were members of the Communist Party, which is only hinted at in the book. This group of Resistance fighters adopted Stalin’s policy of collaboration with the bourgeoisie, and were part of the Constituent Assembly of the provisional government in Algiers, headed by Charles De Gaulle. They strongly advocated for weapons to be sent immediately to the French underground, and told of their effectiveness in sabotaging enemy troops.

Alas, they also reassured the Assembly that they “categorically refute the threat of civil war in France. ‘No,’ … the Resistance does not want arms to carry out its little revolution, but for its liberation.” Why not fight for both liberation and revolution? One can only wonder what more could have been accomplished if they had instead advocated Leon Trotsky’s call to unite the working class under a revolutionary program.

Outwitting the Gestapo is a good read. And a timely reminder that everyone can and should stand up against the right wing!

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