E. The news came on, and it has been announced that your very favorite food or drink is now outlawed by international law. The punishment for sale, growing, distribution or consumption is severe. Can you live without it? What length would you go to get it?
During the Occupation in France, this was the reality. During that time, the shadow that was Nazi Germany shadowed all of Europe. Within the cities this was especially true. Those of us who were in the countryside had less of an issue, but foodstuffs would go for exorbitant prices. The Vichy government responded by issuing tickets that could be used in exchange for basic items such as meat, butter and cooking oil. Everyone, during that time, it seemed, was hungry.
Direct buying from those of us who were fortunate to be landowners and farmers was absolutely forbidden Nevermind how frequent and how natural a practice it was, the restriction was strictly enforced and those who were caught risked confiscation, or in some extreme situations, even death. I was not thinking about that as much as I would have to look into the faces of the starving. Emaciated men, women and children – particularly the children, threatened to rend my heart in two. The French can be accused of many things, but the one thing that they had above all else was a creativity aimed at survival. If we lacked potatoes, and coffee, surely other types of artichokes from elsewhere and chicory would take their place for the time that they would hold out in our all-too-bare larders.
There are those who still claim to this day that say that the French through their arrogance and pride played very handily into Germany’s discrimination and injustice and the Holocaust. I would counter that the Jews of Europe were not the only ones who were made to suffer. Germany did not only seek to merely seduce and enslave France, but to destroy it body and soul and to make certain that she would never rise again to prominence, let alone for her to be admired throughout the world. I confess that I am not French, but I love my husband’s country almost as if it were my own. And I can say without reservation that we who were caught in Occupied France had little choice but to obey our occupiers – except for those times when we did not. Of course, few would make open proclamation to the Nazis that we were defiant. No, we were far more subtle than that.
During the occupation, it was the custom of Germany’s officers to billett on the properties of various families in the countryside. The Château de Rochefort, though certainly placed far enough away from the populated areas and in a forest that is hard to reach, did not escape the notice of a very prominent German Officer, Colonel Henirich Geissmann. He arrived a the gates of the Château de Rochefort on August 15th, 1940 with two other officers. Would I deign to let them stay here? (Was it a question where I really had a choice in the matter?) I agreed, for what else could I have done? Geissmann was tall and could have been considered handsome even in spite of the recession of his blonde hair.
He and the officers looked around but were very polite and certainly they conducted themselves as good guests as I invited them in. They took one of the larger guest rooms for all three of them and did not demand any more than this, in spite of the Château being ample enough to shelter each in their own suite of rooms.
“Madame, your Grace, I have always very much enjoyed the French culture and the people, ” Colonel Geissmann declared in French that evening, his command of French was not altogether bad, considering it was not his native language, “In fact, my wife, who is now living in Berlin, was from the South around La Rochelle.”
I nodded and tactfully changed the subject. If I knew her family or they knew me, I did not want them placed in danger. “Would you and your men care to take dinner in the study. It is very comfortable there.” I would have to be careful what I served, for if they go the idea that we had more than others, it would be a good enough reason to search the house and the many catacomb-like passages beneath the Château and adjoining buildings.
“Non, non, Madame” Colonel Geissmann shook his head.”we would like to dine with you.”
Such a thing, particularly in France was unseemly, that I was a widow had little to do with the impropriety of Colonel Geissman’s request. “I will make sure that cook serves you all in the dining room, then.” I wondered if I could tactfully avoid it by decrying that I was unwell by the time that dinner was served, but I knew that the ruse would be seen through. Geissmann was not a stupid man by any stretch of the imagination, and my reticence would be seen as a key indication as to my being a collaborator with the Resistance. Thankfully, the household cook kept things very simple, in spite of our guests.There really was no need to put on any ruse. Chicory was served for coffee, the leeks and other vegetables were grown in our own gardens and the biscuits were a little smaller than they would have been before the war and the wine, a humble bordeaux was from our own vinyards and was not of a particular aged vintage. It would, however, suffice.
“You have a lovely home, Madame de Rochefort,” Guiessmann took a sip of his coffee, “Was it your ancestors?”
“Non, my late husband’s,” I answered truthfully.
“I am truly sorry, Madame,” Guiessmann answered, “war is a terrible thing, especially for women and children.”
I did not answer him but only gave a wan smile. How could I explain to an officer of an enemy and occupying army that my husband had been dead for centuries and was lying in his tomb beneath the very Chateau in which we were sitting or the manner of his death. “We do what we can to carry on, Monsieur Colonel.” I began to rise from my chair and he in gentlemanly fashion went to do the same, as did the other officers in attendance. “Non, Monseiurs,” I said, “the windows must be shuttered, for that is the regulation as you know. Please enjoy the rest of the wine. I shall return.”
I slipped out and went to each room closing the few shutters and heavy draperies that had been opened during the day. I was grateful for the peace, for even though I can be an excellent hostess, these guests were not exactly expected or welcome. The Resistance did cut a route to move food for redistribution through the de Rochefort lands. The last thing I needed was for them or I to be caught. I could only hope that Colonel Guiessmann and his fellow officers would move along and soon.
That of course, was not to happen and how things got very precarious for me and those around me who were a part of the French Resistance.
(to be continued)
Muse: Fanny Fae / Faelyn / Comtesse Frances de Rochefort
Fandom: Original Character / Folklore / Mythology / History
Word Count: 1150
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