Monday, June 27, 2022

1920s - 1940s: The photographs mentioned in _Biscuit_

 Currently, there are three photographs mentioned in Biscuit:

It was a photograph, and it captured her perfectly. Her head was cocked slightly to one side and the top of her short hair was pulled sleekly back from her face, with short loose strands curling around her cheeks. She was wearing a dark dress and the heart pendant he’d given her for her birthday earlier that spring. She was looking up at the photographer with a small, secretive smile. 

My grandmother, Roma Neufeld, 1927 (about).
She was about 15 years old here.

As it turned out, Arthur’s mother didn’t have a photograph he could send to Roma. But Masia arranged for a photographer to take one. Arthur got a haircut from his father’s barber, borrowed a suit, and wore a black bowtie. He thought he looked rather grown up.
My grandfather, Arthur Lubinski, 1927 (about).
He would have been about 17.

Arthur retrieved his camera, and asked to take a picture of Roma, Paul, and Liliane.  They agreed, happily posing, though Roma asked him to frame the picture so that  her belly didn’t show. Arthur snapped several pictures, then put his camera away.

Great-Uncle Paul (Lubinski), Aunt Lilly (with the bow), and Grandma Roma,
Probably taken in December 1945.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

1940s: I have a copies of my manuscript

I ordered six proof copies of my manuscript and they arrived on Wednesday, and all I can say is WOW. It's impossible to describe how exciting it is to hold an actual physical copy of the book I wrote. 

I do wish the "Not for resale" banner was about an inch lower, and didn't go RIGHT THROUGH MY GRANDPARENTS' faces, but it's still really quite sweet.  I put a copy of it on the coffee table, and as I watched TV, I just kept glancing down at and grinning at it.

Four of the copies have been shipped to various beta readers, one was handed to my daughter (she's a beta-reader, too) and the final one is going to my last beta reader when he visits in a few weeks.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

1940s: The Book Title is: "Biscuit"

Ok .... Biscuit.  You might be wondering why I used that as the title. Well, it's simple: "Biscuit" was my grandfather's code name during WWII.  Seemed like the perfect title for a book that is primarily about his experiences during that time.

Two things:

  1. It's not pronounced "BISS-cut" like it would be in English. Rather you should use the French pronunciation, which is "Biss-KWEE."   
  2. In France (and England for that matter), a biscuit isn't a savory quick bread that you slather in gravy. Rather it's a dry dense crispy sweet dessert. So in essence, they called my grandpa "Cookie." (He was the radio operator, and was named after the metal tin his radio was packed in -- the radio itself was commonly nicknamed the "biscuit tin radio" by the Allies.)

It was my husband Chris who came up with the title.  

I had been thinking about calling it "The Maquisard," or "The Armband."  I like calling the French Resistance "the Maquis" and I kind of like calling Maquis members "maquisards" (which is what they were actually called). And I have his actual armband that he was given a few weeks after D-Day hanging on my living room wall.

Anyway, I told my husband the titles I was considering, and he looked thoughtful and said something like, "I dunno... I think maybe you should call the book Biscuit."  And I considered it for about two seconds and knew he was right, and that was that.  

Friday, June 17, 2022

1940s: Well, I have a book cover (sort of)


This is the cover of the manuscript draft

Well, I uploaded the book to Kindle Direct Publishing today. It's saved as "draft" so it won't go for sale, but it did allow me to order 5 proof copies (grrr... I need 6), for $5 each.  That's unbelievably inexpensive. Printing it through Barnes and Noble would have been $9 per copy. Lulu was going to cost $16.    Office Max would have cost (gulp) $40.  The latter two would have allowed me to have it spiral-bound which would have been nifty (and easier for beta-readers to mark up), but it wasn't worth $11 per copy, so it's being bound like a regular paperback book. It's also big, 8.5 x 11", and 342 pages (171 sheets).

Because I was trying to make it as inexpensive as I could to print, I didn't start each chapter on a new page ... there's just a triple-line-break between the end of the chapter, and the numeral that heads the next chapter. So that means I have a lot of "widows" and "orphans" and stranded chapter headings and stuff like that. Definitely not formatted nicely for printing, but that's OK for a galley proof for my beta-readers.

I also had some fun with the cover. It's been 20 years since I used Photoshop regularly, and I was REALLY out of practice, both with graphic design, and using the software. But I had some fun with it, and the lack of professional artwork is OK for an early draft of the book.

Here are the original pictures of my grandparents: The pictures of Roma Neufeld and Arthur Lubinski and were taken in the late 1920s, when they were still teenagers, well before they got married, in 1935. For the cover, I was trying to make them look like they were standing together, but the photos were very likely taken in different countries. The photo of my grandmother was probably taken in Poland, and the one of my grandfather was taken in Brussels, Belgium.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

1944: My grandfather's FFI papers

 My aunt (thank you!!) found a treasure trove - a bunch of papers and letters and documents all concerning my grandfather's time in WWII.  

This is the first:  His FFI (French Forces of the Interior) ID cards that show that he volunteered for and fought in the French resistance during WWII. This is the equivalent of a military ID.

Front of FFI ID

Back of FFI ID

Friday, May 13, 2022

Spring 1940: So ... who was "Foch's Pupil"?

My grandfather wrote in his Journal 1940 about what he saw on May 11, 1940 (the day after the Nazis began their invasion of western Europe). 

A few things of note: 

  1. I preserved his British spelling and occasionally incorrect verb tenses. (He wrote this journal to practice his English, which he was still learning. I'm still in awe of how clear and well-written it was, for someone who was writing in a foreign language).
  2. I corrected his capitalization
  3. I used American-style quotation marks.
  4. I used hyperlinks to provide extra info for what are probably unfamiliar terms for most Americans.

     In the first important street near the maternity I saw a big crowd. Something happened on the pavement. A noise of many cars, motor-cycles and trucks could be heard. Setting myself on tiptoe I understood at once the matter. The British motorised infantry hurried to the front. The soldiers weared an uniform unknown to me. A very plate helmet on the top, short trousers and a shirt with large pockets in the front. They were all very young and merry. 

Gurkha Shorts

     The crowd was happy to see them coming so speedy to the rescue of Belgium. Men shrieked (shouted!), waving their hats. Women and girls send kisses and throwed flowers. The Englishmen replied showing the thumbs of their right hands directed down, which meaned, I suppose: "We shall show the Germans what we are!" The Crowd was obviously optimistic. In the Rue de la Loi where were the ministries I noticed three high French officers. I remember quite well the oldest of them. He had gray hair, big, lively eyes, seemed thoughtful but quiet. A man of the street trusted him. He was perhaps Foch’s pupil, or another great chiefs, winners of Verdun or Chemin des Dames, makers of the victory of 1918.

So, does anyone know who [Ferdinand] "Foch's pupil" was?  Was there anyone in particular who that might have been? A friend pointed out that my grandfather probably didn't know who the man was, and was speculating, and he may be right. But that doesn't mean there wasn't someone who was known by that or perhaps "L'élève de Foch." 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Summer 1937: Discovering My Grandparents Delayed Their Honeymoon

 So, my grandparents got married in 1935. In 1988, Grandpa told me:

And then, I forgot when it was, a year later, we got married. Married in ‘35. In January of ‘35.

Somewhere along the way, my aunt told me it was January 12th, and that they eloped to the Brussels Town Hall, a building built in the 1400s:

Brussels Hôtel de Ville/Stradhuis 

Later, a historian in Belgium initiated a search for my grandparents in the Brussels city archives, and she was able to corroborate their wedding date: January 12, 1935.

Now, here's the detail we discovered that caught us by surprise: My grandparents evidently delayed their honeymoon for 2 1/2 years.   We think they went to the seashore (So when I was writing that chapter, I simply decided they went on holiday in Ostend).  They never told their daughters or me that they didn't take their honeymoon until the summer of 1937, but I'm virtually certain that that's what happened.

The one thing they DID tell us about it was that Grandpa read a biography of Marie Curie out loud to Grandma while they were on their honeymoon.   We think the biography in question was Madam Curie by Éve Curie because: 

  1. My family is pretty sure that that was the book based on memories of family stories.
  2. My grandfather nicknamed my grandmother "Ciupcia" (pronounced "choop-chah"), something he was inspired to do by the book he read to her on their honeymoon. The book described Marie's nickname, and was something that sounded a little like "anchupichu" (it's Polish). And that book has the following quote:

‘Manyusya’ a name of affection, and ‘Anciupecio’ a comic nickname dating from her earliest infancy. ‘My Anciupecio, how mussed your hair is! And how red you are!’”

That feels like very strong evidence that Éve's Madame Curie was indeed the book they read on their honeymoon.  And that book wasn't published until the summer of 1937 (simultaneously in France, Britain, Italy, Spain, the United States), two-and-a-half years after my grandparents got married. I looked for earlier books published about her but didn't find any (it doesn't mean there weren't any, just that I didn't find any -- it's hard to do searches in foreign languages).

I have no actual knowledge about why they delayed their honeymoon for that long, but I do have a guess: they wanted to wait until they had the money to take real honeymoon. Grandpa graduated from college in 1934, just six months before they got married, and would have been just starting out as an engineer. Grandma didn't graduate until early summer of 1935, six or so months after they got married. Waiting two years meant they had time to establish themselves a little, and save up some money for a nice holiday by the sea.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Fall 1941: Hints of Deception and Covering Up an Escape

 I may have found something cool: Possible evidence of deception on the part of my grandparents, an attempt to hide their whereabouts and also when they escaped Belgium to southern France.

My historian friend in Brussels got me several pieces of really interesting information today:

  1. My great-grandmother Masia's maiden name:  She was born Masia (or Mascha) Schiker.
  2. My grandparent's previous address: Rue de la Victoire 155, in Saint-Gilles (suburb of Brussels). Click the link for a street view image. (Note: It's the blue door to the left of the "POP0" graffiti)
  3. The date my grandparents moved into their apartment on Avenue de Mai 286: August 24, 1937
  4. The date my grandparents "moved out" of Ave de Mai: February 20, 1942.
  5. The address where they "moved" in 1942: Rue Stroobant 42 in Ixelles (suburb of Brussels)

Four and five are particularly interesting, because they directly contradict his oral testimony from 1988. One of the difficulties I've had, is knowing how to resolve contradictions between sources, and when to trust one over another.   The dates above are part of historical records, from the census and other archival and official sources.  But, are they correct?  I think not.

To understand why I think they are wrong, you've got to understand why my grandparents left Belgium.  They had two main reasons:

The first (and more important) was that Grandpa thought he was suspected of sabotaging aircraft fuel tanks at the factory where he was a foreman.  He wasn't the one who did it - in the family stories he always said it was one of his employees.  He never said (to me at least) if he even knew who was really responsible, and the story is vague enough in the details that it seems like he didn't know exactly how it was done.  For instance, he said "sand and other more abrasive than sand" powders went into the fuel tanks, and not for example, "silicon carbide or aluminum oxide that I took from the supply closet." He said it was done after it was inspected, but didn't say something like, "there was this window of time where you could access the tank when they sat on the truck overnight, unguarded."  In his words:

And someone in my division sabotaged the work by leaving in the tank after inspection, putting into it, inside ... some abrasive powder, sand and other – more abrasive than sand – powders. Obviously this would damage airplane engines to be tested. It was very bad. Before the Gestapo came to investigate what happened and who was responsible, I left a second time; we left Brussels. So the first time, it was in May, 1940, and now it was in late September, 1941.

The second reason: the owner of the factory was directly collaborating with the Nazis, violating Belgium's "Galopin doctrine" that aimed to keep the Belgian economy going despite the occupation. It stated that it was acceptible to produce and sell goods that a) were not war materiel, and b) helped Belgians even if it also benefited Germany.  So, food and consumer goods, fine. Munitions, no, and Grandpa didn't like that his employer was violating that doctrine. In 1974, he wrote:

Soon after the invasion the plant was bought by a “collaborator” i.e. by an individual for whom the desire of getting rich was stronger than any moral objection against working for the enemy. We started working for the German Navy and the Wehrmacht. These facts and some other considerations were the reasons why I made up my mind to leave Belgium for non-occupied France with my wife Roma and our one year old baby Lillian.

So, between the two reasons, he decided to GTFO. And it has also occurred to me that leaving when he did benefited the saboteurs -- by deflecting any suspicion squarely onto Grandpa. He would have appeared guilty because he disappeared.

But (and this is where it gets interesting) in 1988, Grandpa specifically stated that they left Belgium in the fall (late September or early October) of 1941, not February of 1942.  And he also said in a note to his daughter Lilly written in the early 1970s, that he worked on his English in 1941-1943 when he was in France.  So two different sources state he was in France in 1941.  He also talked about the weather in Brussels and how it compared to Antibes a few days later, and that description fits a fall timeframe better than deep winter timeframe as well.   Exact dates are easy to forget, but seasons less so. 

I can accept that there probably are mistakes in his testimony. Grandpa was a pretty brilliant man, very logical and rational, and was still sharp in 1988. BUT, he was elderly, 47 years removed from the events he was describing, AND at times he stated outright that he didn't remember everything exactly.
And ... I think it's unlikely he got the year/season wrong in this case. Escaping to France was a Big Deal. And we remember Big Deals. They left everything behind, taking only their daughter and a small suitcase. 

So, what's the situation with the address where they supposedly moved, and the date he moved there?  

I suspect that they either never lived at the Rue Stroobant address, or it was a much older, outdated address.  When someone moves under normal circumstances, they leave forwarding orders, so their mail is forwarded to their new address. But my grandparents were escaping. They would have wanted to throw off any investigations into their whereabouts (France), and what better way than to leave an official address that shows that they are still in Belgium? 
And, I also suspect the Feb 20, 1942 date was when their lease ended, not when they left.  And perhaps they even paid the rent through February, to deflect suspicion further.

Damn. I wish my grandfather were alive, so I could ask him.   

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Chapters names, dates, quotes: Arranging stuff on the page

Yesterday, I talked about making choices between French and English vocabulary. But more choices keep presenting themselves, and I'm finding myself with analysis paralysis.

The beginning of each chapter starts with three things: 

  • A specific date (as a tribute to my grandfather's Journal 1940), either day/month/year, and sometimes additional things like time of day, or year only. 
  • A quotation by a family member about what happens during that chapter.
  • Chapter name

So then, which order is better? Chapter title, quote, then date? Or quote first (which leaves it sort of outside the chapter), THEN chapter title and date?    

So, this ...

Chapter Title/Quote/Date

Note: Click the image to enlarge (optional)

.... or this?

Quote/Chapter Title/Date

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Français vs English: Word choice when writing in English, but in a French setting

So as I write my grandfather's stories, I'm constantly having to decide between using French vs. English words.  I don't like it when books that take place in France (but are written in English) use common French words (like "oui" instead of "yes") to make it seem "très français" -- that practice seems pretentious and unnecessary. Besides, I think the use of French words in an English-language book can be distracting, and tends to pull the reader out of the world of the book.  If you notice a word is in French, it means the flow of information, the telepathy (as Stephen King calls it) between the writer and the reader stumbles slightly.

So, my default is English.  Besides, that's the language I know well.  


There are exceptions (because of course there must be exceptions. Sigh...)

The most important exception: proper nouns. The name of the town is "Beaumont-lès-Valence," NOT "Beautiful Mountain of Valence."  Étoile is the name of the town, not "Star." Dr. Jean Planas, is named Jean, not John. His son Michel is named Michel, and not Michael. My name is Cathy Byland Weeks, not Cathy Byland Semaines.

Other exceptions/issues:

When the word in French is actually better than the English: maternité is "birth center" or "maternity hospital/clinic" in English. I like the word, and that it's a single word, and "birth center" seems too modern a term.  So, I used maternité.  But now I'm reconsidering this one. Not sure yet. Maternité or maternity clinic -- what do you think?

When the proper noun is a descriptive name of an organization: I haven't decided on Secret Army vs Armée secrète. There's nothing to be gained by using the French, I don't think, except that "Secret Army" seems a little corny.  

Codenames: My grandfather's commanding officer was codenamed "Sanglier," which means "boar" or "wild boar." And his son served in the same maquis unit as head of the medical/first aid group. His codename was "Marcassin." Which means ... "young wild boar."  So, they were ...  Boar and Baby Boar, and that is some wonderful humor.  If I use the French words, as I've been doing, because they were in effect *names*, the humor is lost on English speakers. But if I use the English words, it seems ... a little corny.  I am leaning in that direction though (damn it. I've got Sanglier all through the text).

Historical acronyms:  in France, during WW2, there was the STO (Service du travail obligatoire) or "Compulsory Work Service" where Frenchmen were sent to work camps in Germany because Hitler drafted so many German men into the Wehrmacht, that there weren't enough workers to keep the German economy going (let alone a war economy), so the Nazis demanded France, Poland, and Russia make up the difference and provide them with workers.  In the end, I decided refer to it as STO (with a footnote to explain the acronym the first time it occurs), but describe it as compulsory work service, conscription, work camps, etc.  I could make up an acronym for English, maybe "CWS," but ... STO was used commonly and CWS has no historical usage at all.  

Thursday, April 21, 2022

July 1944: The Murder of My Grandfather's Landlady (revisited)

So, last March, I wrote an article about reconciling different sources of information, both from the same person at different times, but also from different people, when they include different, and sometimes contradictory information.

Well, this morning, a historian in France sent me a key piece of information, and it contradicts (slightly) my grandfather's account, and also Dr. Michel Planas's account. Except ... I'm not entirely sure that Dr. Planas's story is about the same event. Perhaps it is? Probably? But how can I be sure?

Note: there are two men called "Dr. Planas" in this article*. They were both medical doctors and were father and son, and served in the same FFI unit:

  • Dr. Jean Planas, who was my grandfather's commanding officer in the 4th company. He is referred to as Captain Planas or Captain Sanglier (his code name) in this article.
  • Dr. Michel Planas who was the head of the medical/first aid division for the company.   I refer to Michel as "Dr. Planas."

Anyway, the historian in France I mentioned above (and true to the historian brand, he has been incredibly helpful and generous with his time and research), found Madame Auvergne and her niece's graves in Beaumont-lès-Valence. So I now have:

  1. Exact date of death.
  2. Mme. Auvergne's first name.
  3. The name of her niece.
  4. Yet another corroboration of my grandfather's stories.  
Here's the text (translated to English) of what is on the graves:

Élise AUVERGNE, 46 years, died on July 16, 1944, cowardly murdered
Colette CHAVARAN, 9 years, died on July 16, 1944, cowardly murdered

The historian also confirmed that Colette was indeed Mme Auvergne's niece.

Ok, now on to the primary sources. If you read the previous article, you can skim the quotes.

In 1974, when my grandfather was about 64, he wrote:
Sometime in June, while the 4th Company was still on Ourches, J- F-, one of us, went home without any authorization, got drunk and shot to death Mme. Auvergne. The Auvergnes were the owners of the old house in which my wife and child lived. She had a reputation being a friend of Germans. In fact she belonged to a family of collaborators, but the rumors of her having denounced the FFI’s (the home of one FFI has been burned by Germans who gave 5 minutes to this family to leave the house) were probably only gossip. She knew about me being in the Maquis and my wife has not been investigated. J- F-’s self-handed stupid act resulted in a real danger to many families of FFI, mostly to mine. In addition, inadvertently he shot also her niece, the father of which was a POW in Germany since 1940.
Captain Sanglier was very angry at J-. He was dispatched, under armed guard to the headquarters of Major Antoine. From now on J- served in a command of desperados, most of whom were killed in extremely dangerous missions, but he survived.

In 1988, when he was 78, he told me the story in much greater detail. Here's the transcript:

     Yes, in our unit, our company was a man whose brain was not fully developed ... we say retarded.
    And the Germans suspected that someone was in the maquis. And they were right. And they came to Beaumont-lès-Valence and burned the farm. And the whole village, the whole town was trying to guess who denounced them. How the Germans knew it? 
    Well, we lived in a home, you know this seventeenth century peasant home with no floor, with one tiny window. We lived over there. It belonged to the Auvergnes; Mr. and Mrs. Auvergne ... They were people from the right and they were … France was divided and they were for Vichy, for the government. Not for de Gaulle in London, but Vichy government which collaborated with Germans. And she was flirting with German officers, etc. And then came the suspicion that she denounced. 
     And my retarded friend, he came through the mountains, came from the mountains and shot down Mrs. Auvergne with a pistol. Killed her. And she was keeping in her hand, her niece, whose father was a prisoner of war in Germany.  And it’s a miracle that this was not Lillian because Lillian was supposed to stay with Madame Auvergne, but at the last moment, Mother left her with someone else. I don’t know what she did. 
     But in any event, almost Lillian was killed and the man returned to the Maquis. He came without permission, he killed someone without permission, and therefore as punishment, he was sent to a company whose duties were dangerous to such an extent that his probability of survival was very remote. And nevertheless he survived. 
     Madame Auvergne did not denounce these people. If she had, she would have denounced me. Roma would have suffered; the child ... It was not she. And after the war – he survived the war – after the war he had to go to a court and was accused of killing someone. And the gendarme – police – came to me, to ask what I knew about it. I said, “Madame Auvergne had wrong political ideas but she did not denounce. I wouldn’t be alive.”

Yet, here is how Dr. Planas described it (and I still suspect it is the same event):

Three tragic episodes disrupted the shaping of our Company: June 12, a member of the 3rd Section stole from Warrant Officer LABROSSE a Colt 45, a US Navy weapon, and went to shoot a milice volunteer in Beaumont.  Unfortunately, his lack of composure made him shoot down the wife and daughter of this sinister individual who came between our comrade and his target....

It's written very briefly, and a little vaguely, almost as if the writer wanted to report as few details as possible, yet still remain true to the history, and include the unit's mistakes and tragedies as well as the triumphs. 

Dr. Planas wrote the account in 1955, only 11 years after the events in question, when the memory of the war was still very fresh and raw in everyone's minds, and he was writing about friends and neighbors many of whom were still very much alive. 

Dr. Planas was only about 33 when he wrote it AND he was very specific: June 12th.  Not, "sometime that summer," or even "sometime in June," but June 12th.
I also think it's fair to say that an 11-year-old memory in a 33-year-old man is probably more accurate than a 30- or 44-year-old memory in an elderly man as was the case with my grandfather, though I should mention that my grandfather was still quite sharp in 1988 - no dementia whatsoever.  But he does occasionally state in the 1988 recording that there were things he'd forgotten. 

But it's also fair to say that after 10 years, details such as dates are going to slip even a young man's mind. When I was 33, I am certain I didn't remember the exact date of my college graduation for instance.  And given how extremely ah, busy the summer of 1944 was, confusing the dates doesn't seem unreasonable, or unlikely.

And, I think it's very likely that Dr. Planas was working from memory, and not from an official record or archive. In his history, he wrote that on August 25,1944, the company archive that my grandfather helped Captain Planas keep, had been destroyed:

The chief muleteer Farnetti had been killed, two mules killed by incendiary bullets, the rest of the troop had been able to fall back and the two mule-drivers - PINOT and DEFAYSSE - brought back the two remaining mules. DEFAYSSE was slightly injured. One of the mules killed led by FARNETTI carried the box which contained all the archives of the Company held by the Captain and the Radio LUBINSKI.
That's fairly strong evidence that he was probably working from memory in 1955, rather than from the company records.  But the mule carrying the archive burned to death, so ... no official archive exists.

Here's how my grandfather described the death of the men and mules (in 1974; he didn't repeat it in 1988):

During the night the cooks of the 4th Company carrying on mules their equipment and supplies have been ordered to follow the Company a few hours later. In the meantime, after the American tanks withdrew and we were asleep in a field, the mule convoy passed by and for some unexplained reason has not been stopped by any patrol. As a result the cooks alone approached the critical highway No 7. Suddenly they found themselves under enemy fire. Two were killed, two others escaped, the mules were killed and some of them burned by a supply of gasoline they carried and which caught fire. 

Grandpa didn't give the date for that event, nor did he mention the archive he helped maintain.

Other interesting differences: Dr. Planas didn't mention the murderer's name in his account, and the name of the murderer as reported by my grandfather is not included in the list of members at the end of the company history. It may not actually be the same incident, but the details are awfully close, and I suspect it's indeed one and the same. 

What do the stories share?
  • Location: Beaumont-lès-Valence (a town of about 1200 people).
  • A member of the company went AWOL.
  • Weapon: pistol (Sten submachine guns were reasonably common, pistols less so).
  • A woman and a little girl were murdered.
  • Judgement issues (intellectually disabled in my grandfather's account, "lack of composure" in the other man's account).
How are they different?
  • Target. Was the target a member of the infamous Milice, or perhaps Mrs. Auvergne's husband, or was it Mrs. Auvergne herself? My grandfather never mentions Mr. Auvergne in any other way in any of his stories.  I'm not sure M. Auvergne was even present (or alive at the time).
  • Was the child a daughter or a niece?  Both accounts agree that the child was a little girl.
I tend to think it's unlikely that two different women/little girls were murdered by someone from an AWOL 4th Company member in the same tiny town, during the same summer. But ... it was wartime. I could be wrong.

In this case, I tend to trust my grandfather's account more, despite his being older, and the memories so far removed from the event, because he knew the people involved (and repeated the story many times over the years to my mother and aunts) whereas it seems as if Dr. Planas may not have known them, and that he simply remembered the second-hand details that were reported to  him incorrectly in the first place.

My grandfather also mentioned the man's actual name.  And the murderer's last name is the same as a local politician in one of the various towns where the 4th company was stationed. Could the murderer be related to the VIP? His son or brother perhaps? That's exactly the kind of detail that might get left out of unofficial records like the one I read.   

* There was actually a third Dr. Planas. Captain/Dr. Jean Sanglier's older son Richard also became a medical doctor, and he too served in the maquis, though in a different unit.

Monday, April 18, 2022

1940: My grandfather's probable employer

Have I mentioned that I really like historians?  Every single historian I've worked with has been really great, and the various historians in Europe who have been helping me find details about my grandfather do something absolutely excellent when they don't know the answer to a question - they pretty much always recommend further resources that may be able to help me find the information.

Most recently, the historian who helped me find when my grandparents' home in Brussels was built, put me in touch with a historian in Boechout, Belgium, who helped me find what is very likely the factory where my grandfather worked when the Nazis invaded western Europe.   

Here are the clues I was able to give them:

  1. Located in Boechout, Belgium.
  2. I thought the name of the place had the word "construction" in it, but couldn't be certain as the audio tape had a flaw, and I couldn't be sure of the name
  3. They made davits for the Dutch Navy (device to get a lifeboat into the water, when a ship is listing)
  4. They made aircraft fuel tanks
  5. They made Cointet Elements parts (probably the rollers at the base of the Cointet Elements; if you have an interest in tank traps, and how people tried to stop Panzers)
  6. They worked on converting British trucks left behind after the battle of Dunkirk in 1940, for use by the Wehrmacht (see the description below).
  7. The plant/factory was sold to a collaborator in 1940 or 1941, and there was anti-German sentiment among the workers - they sabotaged their own products by putting abrasive powder in the fuel tanks.
  8. Grandpa was a foreman there (he would have started working there between 1935 and 1940) with 150 men who worked for him.  He was also an engineer working on coal liquefaction technology (synthetic fuels), so maybe they produced synthetic petrol, too?

     So the work which my department had to do – hundreds, maybe thousands of trucks, small trucks which the Germans took from the British, or the British abandoned them before Dunkirk. Before going to England they abandoned everything, and Germans had only very big trucks which were good for good highways in Western Europe, but not for places like North Africa, so that the British, small versatile trucks were useful to them. So what we had to do is get rid of everything pertaining to British weapons and everything which was welded and got a ranger truck, so it could carry both German ammunition and German weapons like machine guns; etcetera, etcetera. Hundred of them passed over there.  Well, okay, nothing to be done; we did it. 

Here is their reply (in translation - it was written in Flemish/Dutch):

Dear Cathy,

In response to your inquiry, we would like to send you information regarding your grandfather and the factory where he worked.

Can you provide us with the following information about your grandfather: correct surname and first name, place and date of birth and death?

In the meantime, we are doing our best to gather some information about the factory where he had a leadership position. We know the following about the factory:

In 1923 the company started as an independent company “Werkhuizen Vanderstraeten”, production of small household items and galvanisation.
In 1937 the name was changed to “Werkhuizen van Boechout”.
And in 1941 the company merged with “Ethablissement Thirion” and the name was changed to “Verenigde werkhuizen van Boechout & Thirion”.

The manager was severely punished for his collaboration with the German occupier.

Later on, other mergers were made and there were changes in the naming. The company closed in 2011. The company was completely dismantled and a new residential area was created on the company grounds.

We hereby send you four photos that can also be consulted on our image bank.
Kind regards,

C-- H-- & R--- D--- 

DB04607 input port

DB04661 director's house, demolished in 1991

DB04557 plan of the factory 1936

DB04559 group photo frame and staff, is grandfather in it?

Click on the photos to enlarge them. The last photo is the most exciting, but it's too low resolution for me to be able to identify my grandpa. When I enlarge it enough to see facial details, it's too pixelated to see details.  I answered their email and provided my grandfather's name and the other info they asked for. I also asked for a higher-resolution image, or a direct link to the photo in their archive, which mostly does seem to have high-resolution scans (they have over 900 pages of images taken in 1939 alone so hopefully they'll tell me how to find it, so I don't have to page through them). 

As always, this is really exciting.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

May 1940: My grandparent's apartment and super cool modern technology

 Really, this is just a continuation of my making connections down through time article, about how there are generous people are willing to help complete strangers with research.  And the cool tech that helped me this time: Google Streetview, and a historical arial photography website for the city of Brussels. They both gave me information about locations and neighborhoods.

Anyway, I wrote to a historical society in Brussels that is devoted to the history of Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, the township in Brussels where my grandparents lived.  More specifically I wanted to know if this apartment building in Brussels had been built before the war (hence, it is the actual building they lived in?), or after the war (so not the building they lived in)?

In other words, if I describe THIS building in my grandparents' stories, would it be accurate?

286 Avenue de Mai
Note the curved sunroom on the right. 
That's how I placed which building it was in the photos.

Here's the answer I got:

Dear Ms. Weeks,

 This building was built during the interbellum, probably in 1935-1936 (permit from June 1934). The houses nr. 286, 288 and 290 constitute an ensemble built by three different owners. Number 286 was built by the architect who designed the ensemble, Paul Aernaut. There are indeed three apartments in this house.

I invite you to check on Bruciel (it would be “Brusky” in English), you will see an aerial photography from 1930-1935 of this very building being built!

 My department is responsible for the ‘duty to remember’ in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert. We make a lot of research about occupation and resistance during the war, so I would love to hear more about your family’s history. Also don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any further question about WWII in Brussels.


S---- F----- 

Ok, this is excellent news! And so YES, that is indeed the apartment my grandparents lived in, when my aunt was born. That makes me very happy.  

Here it is in on the map. Note the pink heart pin - that's 286 Ave de Mai.

Ave Herbert Hoover and Ave de Mai
make a wedge-shaped neighborhood.

Bit of a surprise that there is an Avenue in Brussels named after an American president, but whatever.

Note the wedge-shaped neighborhood.   They are close to the narrow end of the wedge, and in my stories, I'd written that they grew vegetables in the courtyard behind the building, but ... that doesn't look like there's much space for a garden there, particularly if you consider the building on Herbert Hoover that is directly north of my grandparents' apartment.   So, using Google Streetview, I looked at that building. Is it modern or old? Is my understanding of the size of the space correct?  

In the picture below, the building north of 286 Avenue de Mai is the one on the right with the gray wall, with the back of my grandparent's building peaking through the gap between it and the next building:


Wait? Grandpa and Grandma had a balcony? Did people grew food in containers on those balconies?  But ... yeah. Not much space and maybe not much sun exposure - that space behind the building is on the north side of the building.  Given the food shortages during the war, I'm sure that if there WAS any usable green space, that it probably would have been used to grow food. 

So then I decided to look up the historical arial photography site the historian sent me, and ... whoa. Pay dirt!!  Take a look:

1935 or 1936 - during construction. Lots of open space. But that building behind it wasn't there.

1944: The building behind it appears to be there. I suspect that new construction
probably didn't happen DURING the war, so my guess is that it was built prior to 1939.
But, note that there appears to be open space to both the left and right.

1953.  Much clearer picture, but little change from 1944.  That is definitely open space to left and right. 

And, I wondered if maybe people really did grow veggies in those open spaces. Here's are two closeups of the 1944 photos, and ... maybe? They are patchy looking. Maybe they are vegetable gardens? Click on the images to enlarge even more.

1944 closeup of the open space to left of building.

1944 closeup of the open space to right of building.

Here's the Belgian arial photography site if you want to play with it.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

1940-1947: Vintage map of France and playing with stickers

It might be reasonable to describe this project as perhaps the biggest, most expensive scrapbook page ever created. The map (printed in the late 1930s) wasn't especially expensive, but it's big (including the frame, it's 26" wide by 28" tall, 66cm x 71cm) and professional framing ain't cheap (and I even sprung for non-glare glass).

Framed map. (Click to enlarge)

Maps of France aren't expensive.  You can get excellent modern road maps off Amazon for a few dollars. But when I started researching my grandparent's lives during WWII, I realized that I needed a map that showed French and preferably Belgian roads and rails as they were during WWII.

My husband Chris is my resident map guy, and I don't know how he found it, but he stumbled across a book printed by the British Naval Intelligence back in 1942, called FRANCE: Volume 1 - Physical Geography.  The book was actually restricted, not because it contained anything top secret, but because it contained everything about France's geography that one might need to, say, help the French Resistance units fight off Nazis, and it was all contained in one small, convenient book.  It's no longer restricted, of course. Today you can find far more detailed information using Google Maps and Wikipedia.

But most importantly, it contained a pocket in the inside back cover with a vintage map that had been printed in the late 1930s.  And he found a copy of the book at a used book store in England, and the proprietor verified the map was intact and in good shape. $25 including shipping from England, and 10 days later, I had it in my hands.

Front cover


Title page

Pocket with intact map.

Map! (Note the creases)

I bought a cheap poster frame big enough to hold the map, thinking I'd place sticker versions of arrows and pins to show where my grandparents were, and to show their movements.

But it looked awful.   First, the poster frame wasn't stiff enough to hold the map flat between the clear plastic, and the particle board backing (which I covered with acid-free card stock to protect the vintage map), and I didn't have time to press the map flat for a few months between heavy objects - I needed it now. The book was in progress. So those creases were very evident, and it was hard to to follow the map in a continuous manner, because you had to tilt your head different ways when you went over the crease. 

And the poster frame fit one dimension well (it was the right width) but was wildly too tall so there was this huge blank section above the map (remember how I said it wasn't sturdy enough to hold it flat? It also wan't really sturdy enough to hold it centered vertically in the frame).  And I didn't want to use tape to hold it in place, because it was a vintage map. We must protect vintage maps, right?

I tried smoothing it, even (VERY CAREFULLY) ironing it, but that map had been folded for the better part of a century, and the creases were proving very stubborn, and resisted (pun intended!) all my efforts.

Another problem was that it didn't quite have the resolution I wanted - Ourches, France for example isn't even marked (town only has 250 people today, and had fewer than 100 people in the 1940s, but I could still stick a pin about where it is.

So I decided to have it professionally framed. I like maps, and I had a feeling that if I actually finished the book about my grandparents (end of January 2022, I finished the first draft, and I'm starting revisions soon), that I'd want to have the map as a permanent memento.  

I had been thinking that someday, I'd return the map to the book.  But ... those creases were a problem in a cheap frame, and they were going to be a problem in a professional frame, too.  So (and this still makes me cringe a little) I had it dry mounted on foam core.  

Yeah, no. That map is never going back into the book.  I feel a little like I permanently damaged the map.  But, it worked and it looks awesome. You can still see where the creases were if you look closely (and it gives it some character that I rather like), but it's laying flat now.  

As soon as I got it home I pulled out the map dots I'd ordered weeks ago, but never stuck to the cheap frame. The map dots are super cool - they come in all different colors, and they are transparent, so you can still see the map through them. I also bought "pin" stickers shaped like the pins in Google Maps. I only dropped pins in locations my grandfather specifically mentioned.  To replicate that below, I've turned the places that he specifically mentioned to the appropriate color.

Then, I went to town, sticking them to the glass:

  • Orange dots: First escape to France in May 1940, from Brussels to Pas-de-Calais on the North Sea, in a taxicab of all things, and then several weeks later, back to Brussels after France surrendered.  The route is entirely guesswork, though.  I know they started in Brussels and ended in Pas-de-Calais, and stayed on a farm as a refugee for several weeks.  I think they saw the North Sea, but the text isn't clear. When he said, "we arrived at Pas-de-Calais on the North Sea" did he mean that P-d-C is on the North Sea, (which it is - Dunkirk, Gravelines, and Calais are right there on the water, but there's plenty of that departmént which is not) or did he mean they arrived in P-d-C and were at the the North Sea? I took it to mean the latter, but the timing means they arrived when Dunkirk and Calais were a war zone.  I just can't know where they were for sure. It's a little like mapping a route from ... Terre Haute to Missouri at the Mississippi River. So there is an orange Brussels pin, but no orange pin in northern France.
  • Red dots: Second escape to France in the fall of 1941, from Brussels to Antibes, then back up to Valence.  The entire northern half of the route is guesswork.  Grandpa mentioned taking the train from Brussels as the starting point, to Besançon, but other than that, I've got nothing -- he didn't mention which train route at all, and there were many. Straight south through Luxembourg and Switzerland? Or through France, but extreme eastern France, with many stops? Or through the hub of Paris? So I chose to have them follow a couple of "escape lines" that resistance organizations used to get downed Allied airmen to safety. And ALL of the different escape lines passed through Paris on the train. It was also the fastest and most direct, with the fewest stops (and therefore checkpoints). So, Brussels - Paris - Dijon - Besançon by train.  From Besançon they walked 35 miles (56 km) through Arbois, probably to Poligny, then took the bus to Lyon, then train down to Antibes. Then the train back up to the Valence area, where they stayed for the next 5 1/2 years.
  • Green dots: Immigration to the US in Jan-Feb 1947, from Valence to Paris, then Paris to Calais by train, then a ferry across the channel, then train to London.  Then they took a plane from London to New York City.
It looked pretty great, but I really wanted to indicate modes of transportation, so I could find in an instant where certain things were. I imagined that I'd point to the map and say, "this is where they walked across the demarcation line, on foot."

So, I started looking for stickers.  But I couldn't find what I wanted. So I asked some friends on Ravelry, and someone suggested looking on Etsy for "planner stickers." Evidently people treat their planners a bit like scrapbooks and use fun stickers to categorize things. Huh. Who knew?

I ordered from several different vendors (at less than $3 per sheet, they were far more reasonably priced than what I could get at craft stores), but the ones I liked best were from OKPLANS.  Her stickers were a very deep black printed on a clear sheet, and they have the right amount of simplicity, and the right size.  And when some of the stickers from other vendors arrived and didn't look right at all (my first taxi sticker was barely a charcoal gray and didn't show up against the map well at all, and some stickers were printed on white paper which looked funny), I asked her to do some custom work and she did a great job, creating a vintage taxi and a vintage airplane with propellers and a triple-tail based on an actual Lockheed Constellation, which is the kind of plane my grandparents flew to America in.  So, a HUGE shout out to Kimberly for her excellent sticker-design skills.   And she didn't even charge me the custom work - I just paid for a normal sheet of stickers, and now she offers the designs I requested for sale in her store to anyone who wants them.  

Also, because the stickers are on the glass, you can see UNDER them and still read the map, by moving to the side a little.  Very nice unintended and 3-D effect.

So, here are a few closeups (click on the images to enlarge):

Orange Dots (first escape to France):

Taxi from Brussels to Pas-de-Calais, May-June 1940.

Red Dots (Second escape to France):

Pano that shows the entire trip from Brussels to Antibes,
fall, 1941. Smaller sections shown below.

Train from Brussels to Besançon, fall 1941.
Route is a guess, and follows escape lines.

On foot from Besançon through Arbois,
bus from Poligny to Lyon, fall 1941.

Train from Lyon to Antibes,
then back up to Valence, fall 1941.

Valence, Beaumont-lès-Valence, Étoile, Ourches. 1941-1947
Note the mountainous region off to the right - that's the Vercors massif.

Green Dots (Immigration to America):

Train from Valence to Paris, January 1947.

Train from Paris to Calais,
ferry across the English Channel,
train to London, February 1947.

Plane from London to the NYC, February 1947.

Lockheed Constellation! 
Four propellor engines and a triple tail.