Slaves of the Reich

ONE OF THE PRISONERS AT NEUENGAMME when Sumner and Phillip Jackson arrived was Michel Hollard, the head of France’s Agir Resistance network. Hollard had done more than anyone else to tell the Allies the secrets of the V-1 rocket. The Gestapo captured him and subjected him to the baignoire, a torture that would later be called ‘water-boarding’, in which he was forced backwards into a bath of water and held under for varying periods. His repeated half-hour sessions, dunked and dragged up from the water, left him vomiting and sick. He did not betray the other members of his network, and he was transferred to the Fresnes prison in Paris and then to Compiègne. The SS took him to Neuengamme, where he became prisoner Number 33,948, in early June 1944. Sumner and Phillip met Hollard shortly after their arrival. Hollard told his biographer of ‘a remarkable American called Jackson, formerly a doctor at the American Hospital at Neuilly’. Jackson, like Hollard, had helped the Allies to eliminate much of the V-1 threat when he passed along the plans that Erich Posch-Pastor had brought to his office. The American and French résistantsbecame friends, surviving twelve-hour days at hard labour in the Walther small arms factory.

‘Nobody knew why they had been deported and Jackson never talked about it,’ author George Martelli wrote, with help from Hollard himself, in The Man Who Saved London.

A man of sixty [in fact, fifty-eight], very upright, with white hair, strong features, and a stern, almost hard expression, he appeared as a person of great energy and forceful character. He was extremely reserved in manner and this and the dignity with which he supported [i.e., stood] the camp life immediately aroused the sympathy of Michel, with whom he soon established a tacit understanding. During their weekly meetings few words were exchanged and those only of a strictly practical use.

To survive Neuengamme was almost impossible. Polish, Russian, Danish, French and other prisoners were worked to death, and many were murdered. For the slightest infraction, men were hanged in the camp square. The Nazis secretly hanged many more in a row of cells from ropes permanently attached to rings in the ceilings. As at Auschwitz, a crematorium disposed of the bodies.

Jackson told Michel Hollard of his desperation to let his family in America know that he and Phillip were alive. Hollard smuggled a post-card out of the camp to his sister in Switzerland. She wrote to Jackson’s sister, Freda Swensen, a nurse living in Belmont, Massachusetts. When Freda read the letter, she notified the American government. The United States was certain at last that Dr Jackson was alive. But the American army was a long way from Neuengamme.

In early August, another friend of Sylvia Beach’s died. The writer Jean Prévost, whom she and Adrienne had nurtured as a youthful author in the 1920s, had joined the Resistance early in 1943. Not content with being an écrivain résistant, circulating illicit pamphlets, the writer whose head was so hard that Hemingway had broken his thumb on it became a fighter in the Vercors. Using the nom de guerre Capitaine Goderville, he commanded maquisards in ambushes on German positions. Three days after the Allies invaded France, his unit mobilized to confront German troops throughout the hilly region in eastern France. Prévost and his band fought hard in the forests for six weeks. Then, at seven in the morning on 1 August, they were ambushed and killed. It was another hard loss for Sylvia, whose consolation was that another friend in the Resistance, Violaine Hoppenot, was still alive.

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