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Resistance: A Frenchwoman's Journal of the…

Resistance: A Frenchwoman's Journal of the War (1946)

by Agnès Humbert

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3844146,235 (4.1)60
A real-life Suite Française, this riveting diary by a key female member of the French Resistance in WWII is translated into English for the first time. Agnès Humbert was an art historian in Paris during the German occupation in 1940. Though she might well have weathered the oppressive regime, Humbert was stirred to action by the atrocities she witnessed. In an act of astonishing bravery, she joined forces with several colleagues to form an organized resistance--very likely the first such group to fight back against the occupation. (In fact, their newsletter, Résistance, gave the French Resistance its name.) In the throes of their struggle for freedom, the members of Humbert's group were betrayed to the Gestapo; Humbert herself was imprisoned. In immediate, electrifying detail, Humbert describes her time in prison, her deportation to Germany, where for more than two years she endured a string of brutal labor camps, and the horror of discovering that seven of her friends were executed by a firing squad. But through the direst of conditions, and ill health in the labor camps, Humbert retains hope for herself, for her friends, and for humanity. Originally published in France in 1946, the book was soon forgotten and is now translated into English for the first time.--From publisher description.… (more)
  1. 10
    Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (ToTheWest)
    ToTheWest: Compare the openings of both these books -- one fictional, the other true -- for depictions of the fall of Paris.
  2. 00
    The Long Holiday by Francis Ambrière (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Both books published in 1946 by French POWs, Long Holiday won the Prix Goncourt.

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Humbert kept a journal relating events as they happened when Paris fell to the Germans in June 1940. With few men left in the civilian population, what became known as the French Resistance was organized by women. The early entries describe the shock and dismay at what is happening to her beloved city and country, when she was inspired to do something, if only to spread information. She met others with the same goal, and together they printed a newsletter titled Résistance, the first use of the word that eventually gave the name to the movement. When Humbert's activities were discovered by the Gestapo in April 1941, although they had little to go on, she was arrested and immediately imprisoned.

At her trial she was given 5 years in prison and sent to a forced labour camp. From this point the book gives an account of the extraordinarily horrific experiences as a slave labourer, but written soon after her liberation in April 1945. Because this section continues in journal format, it serves to show the prolonged time of extreme, agonizing ill-treatment. During this time she maintained her resistance, sabotaging every product she worked on.

After her liberation, she again kept a journal, reprinted as the final section in the book, making only the middle section written from memory. There are many outstanding features in her account, the most noted being that she retained her positive attitude, sense of humour and consideration for other prisoners. When she was liberated, the German town of Wanfried was in chaos and Humbert took a leading part in the organization of facilities, food supply, medical treatment to the townspeople, prisoners, and huge population of army personnel, many of whom behaved like hooligans. Conditions were quite different to the idea many of us might have about liberation where everyone is suddenly free, and ready to go home. She appreciated the difference between Nazis and those who were forced into the party and used the information to form a method of identifying Nazis which led to many arrests. Humbert's contribution to the war effort, resistance, and recovery was extensive and nothing short of heroic.

Her book, one of the first about the war years in France and slave labour camps was published in January 1946 although not translated until 2008. The Afterword by Julien Blanc is of particular interest by filling in the details of Humbert's life, her process of writing the book and the Resistance movement. There is also an extensive appendix detailing documents on the Resistance, translator's notes, bibliography and index. A highly recommended five-star read. ( )
2 vote VivienneR | Sep 1, 2016 |
Resistance is the journal of Agnes Humbert, a resident of Paris who writes of the German occupation of Paris. She was forty-three at the time and her first instinct was flight. She left Paris but returned a few weeks later. She and a friend formed one of the first resistance cells in Paris, which was unfortunately betrayed in 1941. Her colleagues were executed and she was deported to Germany and spent years as a slave labourer.

This felt like I was peeking over her shoulder and reading her diary. I received a first hand look at what a French woman felt and did when she saw her country fall. She personally did not surrender, she both fought and suffered to help free her country. Her years in Germany as a forced labourer were truly horrifying and stand as a testament to the degree of human suffering the Nazis inflicted on others.

Translated by Barbara Mellor this book is the story of one woman’s war. Some of the small details caused joy such as her seeing a Stefan Zweig book in the bookseller’s window one day but when she went back later, it had been removed and included on the list of banned books yet the bookseller slipped her a copy anyway. Of course other details of her years of suffering were difficult to read about but Agnes Humbert was a remarkable woman with a zest for living and courage to spare. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Feb 19, 2016 |
Great opportunity to learn about the Resistance and the treatment of the French under the Nazis. Incredible story very well written. Got a little long and repetitive but that was what happened to her! ( )
  aine.fin | Feb 20, 2015 |
The title perfectly describes Agnes, who was working in a Paris museum when the Germans came. She became involved with the production and distribution of an underground newspaper, Resistance, was captured and imprisoned, put on trial and found guilty and sent to Germany as a factory laborer. Once American troops arrived to free her, they found her spunk and linguistic skills invaluable so they put her in charge of a soup kitchen and hospital for refugees. Later her passionate zeal and incredible ability to recall names, dates and facts made her an adept Nazi-hunter.

It seems odd to say that I enjoyed a book about imprisonment and slave labor but I guess what I enjoyed is how well Agnes was able to convey the details of the situation. Intellectually, we all know that the treatment German prisoners received during WWII was terrible but we are so far removed from it that it's an abstract. Agnes paints such real pictures with her words and brings you right there. Alas, my French is not good enough to read the original, but I am thankful we have an English translation.

"Between bursts of jazz, the radio broadcasts the whoops and cheers of delirious crowds, now in Paris, now in London, and we join in, shouting for joy. And then we dance. I danced on 11 November 1918, too, but in 1918 I didn't know what it was to suffer and to witness the suffering of others. Now that I know, I dance more intensely, laugh more intensely - and hate more intensely." ( )
  VictoriaPL | Nov 5, 2014 |
This is the translation of a diary kept by a French woman who was a political prisoner during WW2. She was sent to Germany and spent 4 years in forced work camp/prison. Another amazing account of human endurance and perserverance in such horrid conditions. It really is a wonder how humans can treat other humans so unhumanly. A good read if you are interested in WW2 history and the human spirit. ( )
  Kraga | Mar 17, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Agnès Humbertprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blanc, JulienAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mellor, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Rumours are flying, all flatly contradictory, but it seems clear that the Germans are advancing on all fronts.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Anne Sebba wrote in The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 26-27, 2016): Agnès Humbert was a middle-aged art historian, divorced with two grown sons, when the German Occupation of Paris began. "Résistance," her chronicle of the war, is based on her secret diary describing how, as early as October 1940, when most in Paris were waiting to see which the wind blew, "every ounce of blood in my body [was] rushing to my head. At last! Now I can see an opportunity to do something more than propaganda." But Humbert was caught when the Nazis penetrated her Resistance network. Seven male colleagues captured with her were executed, while she and three other women were sentenced to hard labor and deported to Germany.
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