A Story of Courage, Fear and Hope, 1939-1944
“A beguiling mixture of travel, memoir, history and good old-fashioned storytelling – a slice of hidden France” -KATE MOSSE
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Phoenix paperback edition published July 2009.)
After many years of living in the Pyrenees, Rosemary Bailey came to realise how little she knew – and people did not want her to know – about the impact of the Second World War on her community. She resolved to investigate the realities of the French experience of Occupation, the truth about Resistance and collaboration, the vital importance of the refugee routes across the mountains, and the heroic men and women who risked everything to help others escape.
The wartime experiences of the region are still very much a veiled history. Although people now acknowledge that the role of the Resistance in winning the war was glorified way beyond its actual numbers or achievements, few are willing to admit the extent of the acceptance of the German occupation, of the Fascist ideals of the Vichy government and the degree of collusion, passive or active, that occurred throughout these war years. The world still knows little of the French concentration camps in the Pyrenees, the treatment of the Jews, the reaction to the Spanish refugees who fled across the border at the end of the Spanish Civil War and their role in the Resistance. Many of the archives remain firmly closed.
This is a portrait of human tragedy, heroism and cruelty that will create an unforgettable portrait of the Second World War from a contemporary angle. Rosemary Bailey brilliantly connects the history to places that can still be visited today, the Mediterranean beaches where thousands were forced into camps, the escape routes followed across the mountains, the Resistance hideouts and midnight parachute landing grounds, and Valmanya, the village burned to the ground in vicious reprisal. She succeeds in creating immediacy out of the past, through love letters, interviews and encounters with people today, offering an emotional history underlying the bitter facts of wartime that is deeply affecting.
Responses to Love and War in the Pyrenees
Probably the most difficult part of researching a book like Love and War in the Pyrenees, set in the relatively recent past, is finding people willing to talk – willing to talk about difficult and traumatic experiences of which they may never have spoken before. Slowly my characters emerged, the 80 year old psychologist now living in America with his childhood memories of the concentration camp at Rivesaltes, and the mother he never saw again; the British soldiers who escaped across the Pyrenees; the Spanish refugees from Franco escaping in the other direction, their memories of makeshift camps on the beaches of France still bitter; the villagers describing the burning of the village of Valmanya, a vicious German reprisal against the Resistance, still a matter of controversy. Still there were many who had no desire to talk, or remember.
But since the hardback appeared last summer, I have heard from numerous people, writing letters, sending emails via my website, even turning up at the door; the English Quakers in Southwest France now keen to reconstruct their own story, find out more about the work their modest forbears did in the camps; the daughter of concentration camp victims offering me their last letters; the mysterious skeletons found buried in Andorra, probably killed by renegade passeurs; the elderly Catalan farmer describing how they hid the pig from the Germans; the teacher who recalled his childhood in the Ariège, the sweets offered by the soldiers- “You recaptured my childhood,” he told me; the American soldier who had been parachuted into the mountains aid the Resistance and whom I finally met in Paris. All stories that of course I wish I had been able to incorporate into the book, but it is in the nature of such a subject that they will emerge only afterwards. Thus one becomes part of a larger pattern, contributing to a jigsaw puzzle that will continue to be the work of many hands.
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