Springtime – 1943 – France
After fleeing the nightly barrage of Allied bombers over Paris, Marcelle arrived in Evaux les Bains, in the heart of the Auvergne Region. She stepped off the train with her baby, Gerard, and luggage in tow. Hoping to put the terror of living in Occupied France behind her, they had endured a harrowing day-and-a-half train ride, only to have the train strafed time and again by the Allies. Finally, their fear and torment was behind them. They were now safe.
She shook the coal dust from her clothes, from her infant, stamped her feet of soot and brushed a lengthy shank of her dark hair behind her ear. She needed directions to the village of Mainsat where her 8-year-old son, Thierry, awaited her arrival. He, too, had fled Paris seven months earlier, along with the remaining Parisian children.
She stepped up to a cluster of local peasants, who reminded her of her beloved Bretons. The women wore regional dress—black, full-length dresses with white aprons and round, white lace coifs pinned on their heads, while the men wore dark blue denim smocks over black work pants. Seeing the Auvernais for the first time, Marcelle breathed a sigh of relief for she felt as if she was back home in Brittany. But, once she began to ask for directions and heard their reply, she realized the regional dialect was not one she understood. It took a few minutes for her to understand their response. During that interim, her presence was met with more than a distant and cool demeanor . . . in fact, one of great antipathy.
Hoping she had understood the directions correctly, she thanked them, shifted her baby up in her arms, grabbed her belongings with the other hand, and began to head out of town. After only a few meters away, she heard what sounded like a cat-call. She turned back, just as the words, ‘saleté refugiate,’ were hurled her way. Not understanding the words, she knew by the tone and the curl of their lips that she was not accepted. Even the thought of the words struck at her heart. As she walked further down the dusty road, the meaning of the words came to her: ‘filthy refugee’. To have such foul words flung at her at a time when she already felt so abandoned and so alone, she almost dropped to her knees.
Although a very young woman now, Marcelle was born on the last day of WWI, never knew her own father and suffered the humiliation of illegitimacy. Now she tried to save her two—yes, two illegitimate children—from the degradation of the human spirit during wartime. It was difficult enough to be loathed by the Nazis. But, the almost crippling pain she felt from the collective fear and hatred from her own Frenchmen due to war was almost more than she could handle.
Instead, she put on a smile and trudged on. She had her beloved son awaiting her arrival. And, she understood the fear. She had felt it in Paris. It was the reason she had fled. Everyone had become a possible enemy; anyone could be a collaborationist. Yes, in trying to save her little family, she had become a ‘saleté refugiate’ and she would have to rise above it.
Excerpt from my historical novel, A Cup of Redemption