Posted January 18th, 2009 by Jen in features, france/french, germany, persecuted church, politics/world news
In Nazi occupied France during the dark days of WWII, there was a group of valiant and daring individuals known as the French Resistance. They dared to defy the vice-grip of Nazi Germany (as well as the French collaborators) using stealth, reconnaissance, infiltration, and whatever means necessary to save their beloved country and fellow man from destruction. Most of these brave souls were subject to betrayal, unspeakable torture, or death. One of these members of the French Resistance appeared to be an ordinary housewife, but Berthe Fraser was anything but ordinary.
Berthe Fraser was among hundreds of people who rose to the treacherous task of defending France. Be they a housewife, a mother, a Catholic, a Jew, a communist, an artist, or a politician, these resistance fighters came from all layers of society, both male and female, young and old, and without their heroic acts, Hitler’s march through France may not have been halted.
The French Resistance took many forms, from groups of armed guerilla bands who escaped to the mountains, known as the Maquis, to organizers of escape networks for Jews and other targets of the Nazis, to publishers of underground newspapers, to those who carried out sabotage operations, to couriers who carried coded messages back and forth between Allied members.
Mrs. Fraser’s story begins with her birth in 1894 as Berthe Emilie Vicogne. She married an Englishman and thus became a British subject. When the rumblings of WWII hit France, Berthe Fraser was going about her domestic life in her hometown of Arras, France, all the while organizing an underground network that saved the lives of countless English agents and pilots. Her husband reported later to an English newspaper:
Twice betrayed but never broken, Berthe Fraser was an unshakable woman for whom I have the utmost awe and respect. I can relate to where she was in life; a woman in her 40s, tending to her home. I don’t know if she had any children, but as a woman, I feel the risks of undertaking the work of the Resistance were doubly perilous.
I wish there was more information available about this woman. I know she suffered extreme torture during her second capture, and this trauma surely accounts for the lack of details. Who wants to recall the horror? I can find no record of a public interview. I discovered in the back matter of the book SOE in France by M.R.D. Foot, that Berthe Fraser died in 1956, her health never restored.
In 1941, someone betrayed Berthe, and she was arrested by the Gestapo. She spent 15 months in a Belgian prison, and was released in December 1942. Did this imprisonment deter her? No. Berthe immediately jumped back into the work of fighting Hitler’s campaign of death and terror.
Berthe was betrayed again in 1944, unbelievably by one of the very English agents whose life she saved. She spent six months in solitary confinement at Loos where she was tortured every day. She was stripped and flogged in front of Nazi troops and condemned to death. Never did she betray her friends in the Resistance or the English army. How many lives she saved through her own afflictions will never be known.
When the Allies stormed the prison on September 1, 1944, Berthe Fraser was just hanging onto life, and she is reported to have said, “Thank you boys, you are just in time.”
Sisters in Resistance, a documentary film by Independent Lens.
Charlotte Gray, a Warner Bros. film.
For Freedom, a novel by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. An excellent young adult book for grades 6-12.
Outwitting the Gestapo, a memoir by Lucie Aubrac.
Sisters in the Resistance by Margaret Collins Weitz.
Code Name Christiane Clouet: A Woman in the French Resistance by Claire Chevrillon.
An American Heroine in the French Resistance: The Diary and Memoir of Virginia D’Albert-Lake by Virginia D’Albert-Lake.