(1) Kaltenbrunner document
Reading SS-Obergruppenführer Dr Ernst Kaltenbrunner’s report dated June 29, 1943, we can tell, just from its turgid style, that he labored over it. Writing may not have come to him easily. But the drinking didn’t help either. Sitting there in his big Berlin office swilling champagne and French brandy from morning till night, he had a tendency to repeat himself, to become ponderous. Yet the report he produced is generally factual. In it he says that the raid, which was carried out by Klaus Barbie of the SD in Lyon, France, took place a little after 3 p.m. on Monday, June 21 in Caluire, a nearby suburb. The report goes on to say that seven high-ranking resisters were arrested, but that “Max” was not among them—a fact which Kaltenbrunner attributes to his having “been arrested in a French police raid.”
As it turns out, Kaltenbrunner wasn’t wrong about the time, or the place, or the number of men taken into custody, but he was wrong about the mysterious “Max” because “Max” was there, scooped up along with all the others at Dr Dugoujon’s three-story villa.
2) Monday, June 21
It’s relatively easy to imagine Obersturmführer Klaus Barbie returning to Lyon with his load of prisoners on that first day of summer in 1943. He’s elated of course, and why shouldn’t he be? These aren’t your everyday couriers transporting small arms or leaflets from one rendezvous point to another, but high-echelon officers from de Gaulle’s Secret Army. Wasting no time, Klaus quickly separates those found in the upper room from those who were in the doctor’s waiting room, and is just starting in on a man called Lassagne, when Stengritt bursts into his office, waving a fistful of documents and shouting, “ ‘Max’ est parmi eux.” At first Barbie thinks he is joking—“Max”? “Max,” de Gaulle’s personal envoy? “Max,” head of the French Résistance?—but Harry keeps nodding, an ear-to-ear grin splitting his big handsome mug. Klaus laughs out loud then, he can’t stop himself, because “Max” is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a prize so big, so outlandish, that his superiors will have no choice but to look up and take notice.
The telex from Knochen in Paris said, Sit tight, Kaltenbrunner’s sending out a team, but why should he wait? Because he’s merely a lieutenant? Because he doesn’t have the same fancy degrees that Knochen does? Because he doesn’t believe in molly-coddling prisoners?
Well, fuck them. They’re as bad as his father who’d spent his short, miserable life hurling insults at Klaus: You’re worthless, inane, ridiculous—just an unfortunate accident, that’s all. And his grandfather had been just as bad, withholding the money Klaus needed for university, money that should have gone to him after his father’s death. But when Klaus asked for it, the old man had shoved him out the door as if he were some sort of imposter.
But they were wrong, both of them. And Klaus will prove it because no matter what anyone thinks he’s good at his job. And he knows how to make people talk. It’s like springing a lock: just apply the right pressure and almost anybody will open up.
(3) Montluc Prison
At Lyon’s Centre d’histoire on avenue Berthelot—the very same building from which Barbie operated—we can see a page from the prison register dated June 21, 1943. On it are recorded the names of the men arrested that day in Caluire. All had been interrogated briefly, then sent on to Montluc at 11 p.m. where they were made to sign their names as if registering at a hotel:
Aubry, Henri, married, born 3 March 1911, Catholic, former reserve officer (cell 75);
Dugoujon, Frédéric, bachelor, born 30 June 1913, Catholic, doctor (cell 129);
Ermelin, Claude, bachelor, born 7 February 1912, Catholic, office worker (cell 77);
Lacaze, Albert, married, born 21 May 1884, Protestant, artist (cell 69);
Lassagne, Andre-Louis, bachelor, born 23 April 1911, Catholic, lycée teacher (cell 117);
Martel, Jacques, bachelor, born 22 August 1897, Catholic, decorator (cell 130); and
Schwartzfeld, Emile-Lucas, married, born 5 December 1885, Catholic, engineer (cell 65).
These are the seven resisters who fell into Barbie’s clutches at Caluire—but, wait, wasn’t there also an eighth man, and if so what happened to him? Isn’t this something we need to look into?
(4) M. Cornu
Early the next morning—and we mean early, so early it’s still dark—M. Cornu is awakened by someone pounding on his front door. Or is it several someones? He sits up in bed, hears the thick accents: German police. Open up. No! he thinks, it can’t be, but he knows that it is. He fumbles his way into a dressing gown, flaps down the stairs in his slippers and pulls open the door. And there they are: big, well-nourished men wearing suits too expensive for anyone except the Gestapo.
He starts to say something, but they push their way past him, yelling, “Henri Aubry, Where is his flat?” Shaken, M. Cornu points to the staircase. “Premier étage,” he gasps. “Sur la rue.” And they swarm up the stairs, leaving him barely able to breathe as he hears, first, Mme Raisin’s protests and then her screams.
Later, after they’ve gone, M. Cornu creeps upstairs to see the damage for himself. In their search for documents, they’ve upended furniture, cut open sofa cushions, sawn the legs off chairs. He stands in the center of the room and shakes his head. M. Aubry: such a nice man and so quiet, gone almost all of the time. And his secretary, poor Mme Raisin, did they have to remove her too? But he knows that the two of them must have been up to something, that they weren’t as innocent as they pretended to be, and it makes him angry, the way they took advantage of him, exploiting his good nature, putting the whole house in danger.
But M. Cornu wouldn’t feel this way if he knew what was happening to Aubry at that very moment. Beatings of course, needles under the fingernails, electrodes attached to testicles, a dislocation of the shoulder. They think he’s “Max,” that’s why they’re trying so hard. But it’s useless because this guy is stubborn, he won’t say a thing.
We are told by the Aubracs and other Résistance survivors that Barbie was a monster, the
Butcher of Lyon, a sadist through and through. And yet, when we see his official SS portrait, he looks deceptively normal, in a way almost pleasant. Heinz Hollert, who was Barbie’s onetime superior, looks cold, his face and eyes blank, and Erich Bartelmus, head of the Jewish Section under Barbie, looks fleshy and stupid, but Barbie himself, wearing a coat and tie, looks like a neighbor or somebody’s nephew or a clerk in some government office.
And there’s something about the eyes, too. Rudolph Pechel, founder of the Deutsch Rundschau, once said, “All the SS men have this in common: cold eyes like those of fish, reflecting a complete absence of inner life, a complete lack of sentiments.” And it’s true, Bartelmus’ eyes are fishy and so are Hollert’s. But Barbie’s are different. There’s an uneasiness there, a sadness that is hard to explain. Or are we imagining things? Still, we know what his father was like—a drunkard, quick with his fists, savage when it came to Klaus—so perhaps what we’re seeing is the residual despair of that long-ago child who was born three months too early—that is to say, three months before Anna, his mother, could convince Klaus Sr. to marry her.
Today, “illegitimate” is an almost meaningless word, but in 1913 it was a curse. You couldn’t inherit and it was never forgotten. In villages like Udler, where the Barbies lived, some people even crossed the street to avoid meeting him. And nothing could ever erase the stigma. Even wearing a uniform of the Reich or one of the custom-made suits favored by the SS, Klaus Barbie was still a lesser being.
(6) Dr Dugoujon
After his first night of captivity, Dr Dugoujon (who looks far too young to be a physician) stumbles into the prison courtyard carrying his bucket. Shuffling along behind the others, he dumps its contents into the drain and tries to think what day it is. Monday? No, that was yesterday. Tuesday then: it must be Tuesday. Perhaps, he thinks, trying to rally himself, he ought to start keeping track of the days on the wall of his cell, but how? He has no writing implement, and they’ve taken away his belt whose buckle, or the prong anyway, could have been used to scratch some sort of record onto the wall. He stares down at his shoes, remembering that at this time yesterday, he’d been sitting in his own dining room being served by his housekeeper . . .
But just at this moment his thoughts are interrupted by someone who slips into line beside him.
“Dr Dugoujon,” the man says, his voice raspy and strained. “Please, lift your head.”
Dugoujon looks up, recognizing him as one of the men who was arrested at his house the day before—Martel, perhaps. He is a little shorter than average (though only a little shorter than Dugoujon himself) and wears a white silk scarf wrapped around his throat. Later, Dr Dugoujon will recall that scarf and think how odd it had seemed, how out of place in that grim setting.
“They kept asking me about ‘Max,’” Dr Dugoujon explains to Martel, “but I’d never heard of him.” Then, as if excusing himself, he adds: “Really, I don’t know anything. I was just a classmate of Lacaze’s. That’s why the meeting was at my—”
But the white-scarfed figure puts up a hand to stop him. Obviously, he doesn’t want to hear anymore. But he smiles as he backs away. “Bon courage,” he says, then melts into the crowd.
That same morning, Barbie receives a message from Bartolet, a French police inspector, who says he’s arrested a man named René Hardy. Surely this is of interest to the Gestapo because didn’t someone escape from the Caluire dragnet just yesterday? Shots were fired, n’est-ce pas? And this man was hit by a bullet, in fact the bone in his left forearm was broken.
So come on, cough up, we want our usual reward. Twenty thousand francs, that’s nothing for the Gestapo, just petty cash, that’s all.
(This was the gist of this message, if not quite the phrasing.)
On Wednesday morning, Raymond Aubrac, who is one of the Caluire seven (listed as Claude Ermelin on the register), sees Henri Aubry in the courtyard of the prison. He is bare to the waist and black from beatings.
“I’ve been beaten,” he says. “I’ve talked.”
And then, a little before noon, two Gestapo men come to get Jacques Martel from cell 130.
(9) Another photograph
He’s about to become a martyr, this man who calls himself Martel. Within years, we’ll see his name—his real name, that is—attached to streets, schools, plaques, shrines. His image, as iconic as Marshal Pétain’s once was, will be reproduced everywhere: a youngish man, who leans against a wall wearing a dark overcoat and scarf, with his hat, a broad-brimmed trilby, pulled down low on his forehead—see, all the trappings of a spy.
But his face, sometimes described as looking like a tired adolescent’s, is not a spy’s face. Just look at the dark playful eyes, the lips that seem on the verge of widening into a smile. There is nothing suspicious about this man, nothing threatening.
But we know what happened to him, so that darkens our viewing of this photo. And then there’s the scarf, which is worn not for warmth but to hide an ugly scar that stretches across his throat. It’s a scar that dates back to the beginning of the war when he was still a préfet in Chartres and didn’t yet know what the Germans were capable of.
(10) Cell 129
On Wednesday evening, Dr Dugoujon looks out of the peephole in the iron-plated door of his cell and observes Martel being brought back for the night. His ankles keep giving way, turning inward so that he staggers every third or fourth step. If it weren’t for his captors holding him up he’d collapse. There’s an ugly gash on his right temple, too. It’s so deep Dr Dugoujon can’t imagine the implement that was used to inflict it—a hatchet perhaps?—but whatever it was, his face is a bloody mess.
Even more ominous, though, are the two men called in to guard him. Dugoujon isn’t sure what this means, but he can tell that the Boches think this man is important—so important they don’t want to take a chance on his committing suicide. It makes Dugoujon wonder: could this be “Max”? He decides then that it must be.
Two months earlier, on the Monday after Easter, this same man (not yet bloodied, still in control of his legs and faculties) can be seen saying goodbye to his sister after a weekend in Saint-Andiol. He is on one side of the garden gate holding his bicycle while she stands on the other feeling cut off from him.
“Laure, there’s something I need to tell you,” he says, his voice catching the way it always has since his “accident.” “I’m attempting something very difficult right now. I can’t tell you what it is, but if it works out I’ll be crossing the Channel to join de Gaulle.”
“You mean London?” she asks as a nearby rooster crows raucously. Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to her that he’d go so far away.
“Max” smiles grimly. “Oui, I have to. They are getting closer every day.”
“They? The French police or the Gestapo or . . . ”
But he waves the question away. “Don’t worry. I’m doubling my precautions. But you have to promise not to write to me. I’ll send you a note from time to time. It will come by courier. But you can’t write to me. Not even if maman is ill.” He pauses. “Not even if she dies.”
Laure opens her mouth to say something, but he stops her. “Laure, you can’t. They’d arrest me at the funeral.”
She sags against the gate then, her whole body going slack. Her brother had been a servant of the state—in fact, the youngest préfet ever appointed—but he could just as easily have been an artist. Hadn’t he illustrated Tristan Corbière’s poetry? Hadn’t his satirical cartoons appeared in all sorts of magazines? But that was a lifetime ago. Now he’s being hunted by the police, at risk of being arrested every time he steps into the street.
“It’s hard, I know,” he says, reaching across the gate to embrace her, “but you’ve got to promise.”
“I’m just so scared,” she says, clutching the cloth of his jacket. “If something happens, how will I . . . I mean, I just don’t know what I’d do without . . . ”
“Ma chère Laure,” he says, lifting her head from his shoulder and holding her at arm’s length, “you do everything without me now.”
She shakes her head—there is nothing to say to this—and tries to squeeze back the tears she can feel forming. It is still early, but the sky is lightening. They both know that he needs to be on his way, yet they stand there a moment longer divided from each other by the pickets of the gate.
Finally, though, he leans forward and kisses her on both cheeks. “À bientot, courage, je t’aime,” he says, the words running together as if he can’t get them out quickly enough. And then, all at once, he’s mounted his bicycle and is on his way down the road.
She stands there, following him with her eyes as he moves farther and farther away from her, watching until he is no more than an imaginary speck on the road to Avignon.
(12) Second interrogation
On Thursday, just like the evening before, Dr Dugoujon is watching from his prison peephole as “Max” is once more returned to his cell. Barely conscious, his head lolling like a doll’s, he’s half carried, half dragged by his two guards. A bandage wrapped around his head is soaked with blood and his clothes hang in tatters. With each step forward, a harsh moan comes out of him.
“It’s really a shame,” Dr Dugoujon hears one of the guards saying.
“But he’s a dangerous man,” replies the other.
(13) M. Rougis
There are always witnesses. That’s one thing history teaches us. And Claude Rougis is one of them. As a council employee, he’d been sent to Caluire on June 21 to scrape out the gutters on either side of the road. So he was there when one of the men being arrested at Dr Dugoujon’s villa took off running. He zigzagged across place Castellane, then jumped a low wall and plunged into the woods leading down to the river. Shots were fired and one or two of the Germans even went after him, but their search was over almost before it began.
1.) Rougis, who’d seen the man throw himself into a ditch full of nettles, couldn’t imagine how he’d avoided detection. As he told a journalist years later, “The Gestapo didn’t think to look in the ditch among the grass and such. Funny, that.”
(14) Third interrogation
We don’t know exactly what happened on Friday, June 25 when “Max” was taken to Barbie’s headquarters for his third confrontation with Barbie, but it isn’t hard, based on what other prisoners have said, to imagine the Obstuf pacing back and forth, casting an occasional glance at his prisoner who sits slumped on a chair in front of him. Mischker and Koth have spent the last couple of hours working him over and it shows. His face is the color of a ripe plum, one eye is swollen shut and gouts of blood stain his shirtfront. But he’s conscious, thinks Klaus as he pulls out his desk chair and sits down. He can answer questions if he wants to.
“Now, ‘Max,’” he says quietly, folding his hands on top of the desk and pretending to have all the time in the world, “I know we’ve been hard on you and you’ve held up admirably. But really, what is the point? Don’t you think we already know all about your Armée Secrète?”
Across from him, “Max” lifts his head and squints at his interrogator through his good eye, bracing himself for what he senses is coming . . . a friendly chat, benign, harmless, a respite . . . Except he knows that it won’t be. You’re tired . . . then they offer you something—a cigarette, some brandy, whatever—and it’s hard, incredibly hard, to refuse. That’s how small the space around you is . . . just the two of you . . . everything’s over anyway. So what does it matter—one little sip of brandy? One or two small bits of information—letterboxes already burnt, agents already arrested? But then, after that, it’s too easy . . . and he’s weak . . . It’s like the time before, in Chartres . . .
“After all, no one can be expected to hold out forever,” continues Klaus, trying to keep the vexation out of his voice. But it’s not easy. Knochen has been on his ass all week, and the telex he sent today made it clear: all seven of the Caluire prisoners need to be turned over to BDS Paris by tomorrow at the latest. Klaus doesn’t think they’ll be able to do much better than he has, but they can try. What’s the method that Knochen is always preaching? Pretend you already have the information you want, then get the suspect to write it down. Klaus is doubtful about this. Firstly, he already pretends that he knows more than he does. And as for a written confession, why would it be any better than a spoken one? He looks over at “Max,” who droops in his chair, his breathing ragged, and decides a bit of consolation is in order.
He pushes the buzzer on his desk to summon Thedy, who enters, hips rolling,
her face as made-up as a putain’s. But she doesn’t argue when Klaus asks her to fetch a little wine and a sandwich for the prisoner while he steps out for a quick lunch.
The food, which arrives within minutes of Barbie’s departure, is brought in on a small tray lined with a napkin. And then, after that, “Max” is left alone. It’s the first time in how many days? He can’t even remember. He gazes longingly at the pork sandwich but he knows he’d never be able to manage it—not with his cracked and broken teeth. But he picks up the glass of wine—it’s a hearty merlot—and takes a small sip. He shouldn’t . . . a bribe of course . . . but he is so thirsty. He swallows the rest and feels a little stronger.
(15) Suicide attempt
To tell the story of “Max’s” scar, we have to go back to June 18, 1940, just one day after Marshal Pétain ordered the French army to stand down. Other préfets had left their posts long before, packing themselves and their families up and fleeing southward. But “Max” had stayed on in Chartres, believing it was his duty, not knowing that he was courting arrest.
It’s simple, his captors had said when they came to get him that night: Just sign this “protocol.” But “Max” refused because signing would have meant condemning Senegalese soldiers to death—soldiers who’d stood their ground outside the city, who’d continued to fight even after the rest of the French army pulled out. But the Germans, who’d been enraged by their obstinacy, claimed they were nothing more than war criminals. When “Max” protested, they beat him, then shut him up in a cellar full of grisly remains. After a feeble attempt to escape, they even shot him. Finally, left alone in a makeshift cell in the early hours of the morning, he considered his options. It was a debate he recalled in his journal, published long after the war under the title of Premier Combat:
Whatever happens, I cannot sign.
Anything rather than that, even death. . . .
I know that the only human being to whom I still owe anything, my mother who gave me life, will forgive me when she knows that I acted so that French soldiers would not be treated as criminals and so that she would not have to be ashamed of her son.
The floor of his cell happened to be littered with glass from a broken window, so it was easy. All he had to do was pick up one of the shards, slice open his throat and let the blackness envelop him.
His captors found him in time, though, and he was saved. For a while, he even stayed on his official capacity, assisting the Germans in their administration of the city, but inside he was seething, merely biding his time until he could get to de Gaulle in London.
(16) Second attempt?
When Barbie returns from lunch, his eyes are immediately drawn to the empty wine glass. “Well, that’s better,” he says, looking significantly at “Max.”
An electric hum has settled into “Max’s” bones, pinpricks of light swim in front of his eye, but he can still sense that Barbie is keyed up . . . He’s frustrated, worried, no longer so sure of himself . . . Hardly a cold-blooded interrogator . . . just an unbalanced sadist, ready to lash out at anything. The least little thing and he’d come apart . . . It wouldn’t take much . . .
Marshaling what little is left of his strength, “Max” looks directly at Barbie and addresses him for the first time: “I am Max,” he says through swollen lips, “but my real name is Jean Moulin.” Then, exhausted, he adds: “I will say no more.”
Klaus is astonished. The man has spoken. De Gaulle’s personal representative. The golden goose. And he, Klaus, has accomplished it. Quickly, he follows up with his questions: Who are your military chiefs? What is the Armée Secrète planning? When is the invasion?
But Moulin won’t answer. Klaus doesn’t think he’s even listening. It’s insufferable, this idiotic, pointless resistance of his—as if he were the one in charge, as if he made the rules—and suddenly, before he can even tell himself to reach for a blackjack, he’s hitting Moulin with it—on the head, the neck, the shoulders—until, finally, the man slides to the floor. Klaus stands over him, breathing hard, the blackjack dangling impotently from one hand. Well, it’s his fault, he had a choice, thinks Klaus, giving him a kick in the ribs.
Moulin groans, but it takes another kick to bring him around. Klaus watches as he uncurls himself slowly, then gestures weakly. At first, Klaus doesn’t understand—it could mean anything—but then it comes to him: he’s miming the act of writing. Yes! thinks Klaus, this is what Knochen was talking about.
He helps Moulin onto the chair and returns to his desk for a pencil and piece of paper. At the top of the sheet, in the distinctive Gothic script that the Jesuits taught him, he writes “Jean Moulins.” But when Klaus hands the sheet to him, he shakes his head, takes the pencil and laboriously crosses out the “s.” Klaus, who is watching closely, nods: Moulin, yes, he’s got it.
He claps Moulin on the shoulder then in a gesture that is almost paternal. “An organizational chart,” he suggests, not wanting to press too hard. “That’s enough for right now.” And then he leaves the room, giving the prisoner five minutes to himself.
When he returns, Moulin is ready for him. He holds out his sheet of paper and Klaus snatches it up, eager to see what the Résistance chef has revealed, what secrets he’s—but then he sees what’s on the paper and a bolt of black fury goes through him. There is no chart. There are no names. He glances at Moulin, incredulous, then turns back to the paper. The drawing is crude and smudged in places with blood, but there is no question who it’s meant to be. The pointed chin, the protruding ears, the hair combed into a quiff: that is his face, but everything’s distorted, worthless, inane, ridiculous—an unhappy accident of nature. He looks at Moulin again and lets the rage that’s inside him erupt and spill over onto the man in front of him as he batters the bastard into submission, using his fists, a cosh, a length of wood—whatever.
Lucie Aubrac is given an aspirin container full of cyanide crystals by a science professor at the university. He warns her: “Be careful—with that amount you could kill all of Lyon.”
But Lucie (as she explains in her book, written when she was an old, old lady) doesn’t want to kill all of Lyon. She’s after just one man—René Hardy, the Judas who betrayed her husband, Raymond, and all of the others rounded up at Caluire, including of course Jean Moulin. She’s heard from Raymond so she knows he is still alive, but no one has heard anything about Moulin.
Some members of Lucie’s movement aren’t as convinced as she is about the case against Hardy. They remind her that he’s a hero of the Résistance, a saboteur who’s destroyed more than 100 trains. But why then, she asks, did he come to the meeting in Caluire when he wasn’t even invited? And how did he manage to escape so easily? And then, when he was finally apprehended and turned over to Barbie, why was he sent to a German military hospital where he’s been all this time? (Such lavish care for a broken arm!)
There’s no way of getting inside that hospital—security is too tight—but Lucie is resourceful. She mixes a bit of the cyanide with some jam from her kitchen and funnels it into a little glass jar—a single serving, not enough to share. Then she packs it up with other foodstuffs and sends it off to Hardy, a thoughtful gift from one resister to another.
After that, she goes to the morgue three or four times a week for several weeks, hoping to find Hardy’s body, but she never does. It’s proof, she thinks, of his guilt. He must have sensed that this unsolicited food package was dangerous, a means of retaliation. She only hopes that he didn’t pass it on to some unsuspecting person.
(18) Gestapo headquarters
The plane trees of Paris are a bright golden color when Laure Moulin travels there in October of 1943, seeking clarification from the Gestapo. It is an arduous undertaking for a provincial schoolteacher like herself, who, at age fifty, has never married and lives with her mother. Nonetheless, it’s essential. There is no other way to get the answers she’s seeking.
Only a few days earlier, an envoyé of the Gestapo had appeared at their door announcing Jean’s death. Until that moment (even though there had been no letter, no visit from a courier—nothing), Laure and her mother had still hoped. They knew Jean had been arrested but it was under an assumed name, so who was to say that Jacques Martel wasn’t alive in some corner of France or Germany? But with official notification that he was dead—a heart attack, they said, suffered while being transported to Germany—Laure feels as if something solid has come loose inside her. She can no longer go about her everyday life—teaching English, caring for maman, just getting up in morning—without knowing how and when her brother died.
But it isn’t easy to find these things out. She applies first at 11, rue des Saussaies; then at 84, avenue Foch; then finally at 86, avenue Foch (a complete tour of all the Gestapo sites) before encountering someone helpful, in this case one of the so-called souris grises whose uniforms are so dowdy. The girl, whose freckled face is scrubbed clean, listens closely, then rushes off promising to find the officer who handled the case.
The young man she returns with is ridiculously tall—a recruiting poster with his blond hair and blue eyes—but he, too, listens politely as she retells her story. His name, as she will learn later, is Heinrich Meiners.
“I have the dossier in my office, but I can tell you nothing,” he says as they stand together in the corridor.
“But I’ve come all this way,” she says. “Isn’t there anything you can tell me?” Then, seeing him hesitate, she asks: “Was he at Fresnes?”
Meiners seems taken aback by this question. “No, of course not,” he says as if knowing the horrible reputation of that prison. “When your brother was transferred from Lyon to Paris, he went to a villa privée. He was given traitement d’honneur.”
Laure nods. She is doubtful about this, but at least it’s something to tell maman.
“Can you tell me where he’s buried?” she asks.
“But he wasn’t buried,” says Meiners. “He was cremated.”
Laure feels the breath go out of her. This is something she hadn’t expected. She had thought there would be a body, a burial place, a gravestone.
“Later, when it is authorized,” he adds, “we will bring you the ashes.”
Laure looks up at the young man in front of her as her eyes cloud with tears. She is almost certain this will never happen.
For a moment Meiners is silent. Down the hall a telephone is ringing. Clerks push past them carrying stacks of files. But he must see her distress because he says, “As a homme privé, I understand your douleur, but I am a German officer and my duty comes first.”
Laure fumbles in her purse for a handkerchief and wipes her eyes with it. All she
wants now is to get away from this place, to board the train and be at home with maman.
But as she turns to go, Meiners touches her on the elbow. “Your brother believed he was doing his duty,” he says, in a less official, almost personal tone of voice, “but you have to understand that he was working against us.”
Yes, thinks Laure. That is the way it always goes: nations quarrel and then young men die. But she will not let her brother die. He may not have a gravestone, but she will take it upon herself to tell his story, his complete story. She’ll talk with his colleagues, his friends, the people who loved him, his rivals even—with everyone in fact—so that whatever he did in secret can be acknowledged by history.
The biography Laure subsequently wrote about her brother doesn’t answer all our questions—who betrayed him, for instance, or how and where he died, or why he wasn’t kept alive as a hostage at least—but her painstaking research, undertaken while memories were still fresh, is one of our most trustworthy sources. Jean Moulin, whose best-kept secret was always himself, may be unknowable, but his sister’s account brings us closer to him than anyone else ever has.
Years later in La Paz, where the South American sun is always too bright, Regina Altmann keeps mostly to herself, hiding behind the pulled shades and closed drapes that keep her from looking out. She tries not to dwell on the past and on how much better things were then, but there are times when she gives in and goes through her box of souvenirs: the certificate she’d received in cookery and home economics while still a teenager, the letters Klaus sent her when he was stationed in France (not so many of those), photos of their daughter that were taken when the two of them were living in Trier with his mother. These are “happy” keepsakes, but sometimes, such as when she’s cleaning her husband’s office, she’ll run across something else—a threatening letter that Klaus has received or a newspaper clipping about that man Hardy who’d been acquitted twice but is still being hounded by the press. She can’t understand why Klaus keeps things like that, but she leaves them alone because he’d be angry if she didn’t. But when she finds the drawing that someone did of him—a caricature really—she doesn’t hesitate to throw it away. He asks her about it later—hasn’t she seen it? Didn’t she know that he wanted to keep it?—but it was too frightful to look at, much less keep. Even now she shudders to think about the monstrous head with its shovel-like chin and ears like a gorilla’s.
And besides, there was blood on it. She didn’t want to have something like that on her hands.