Wednesday, March 13, 2024

June 1944: Arthur escapes up a mountain (variations on a theme)

 One of my favorite things when researching my grandfather's story, is when I happen upon the same story, either written at different times or written by different people.  The details often vary a little from version to version, but comparing them allows me to get a better feel for what really happened.  Here's a particularly exciting story that happened to my Grandpa Arthur, written over a period of 44 years. I'm going to present them in the order that I encountered them.  At the end, I include an excerpt written by Dr. Michel Planas that I believe describes the same hike.

1988: I recorded Arthur's oral testimony:

     Then we had a long, long march up the valley because a parachuting was coming, and the same night we went up the mountain. This was very, very … I had to carry my submachine gun, my radio, ammunition for the submachine gun, grenade – not plastic grenade, but ordinary grenade – and food and my personal belonging. I was loaded by I don’t know how many pounds, but this was very, very heavy and we had to walk very, very fast, because they expected Germans to be behind us in a hurry, and it was extremely hard. 

    I love mountains, but that day I hated them. I thought that an additional few steps would not be possible – we came to the end of our endurance, and we kept going and going and going, faster and faster and faster. Well, okay. 

    Well then we came back down again.

1974: In 2021 my mother gave me a written account that she found in Grandpa's effects after he died.  I believe Arthur wrote this in 1974, just before his oldest daughter (my Aunt Lilly) died of multiple sclerosis.

    Almost at the same time a news reached our commander through intelligence that Germans were preparing an expedition in our direction. Did they know about the parachuting? In any event we had to move at once and fast and climb the mountain. Pack mules and men formed a long line on the hunter’s trail, sometimes in the open, sometimes hidden in timber. I was heavily loaded. “Biscuit” box, not heavy but unhandy with sharp corners, submachine gun, cartridges (or bullets?), knapsack with personal belongings and some food, a canteen with wine, hand grenades. We had to carry a lot of ammunition, much more than regular infantry soldiers, because we had no supply service and had no adequate means of transportation.

Orders kept coming “faster, faster please”. Soon the muscles started aching. Still faster. It seems that two hundred yards more is the maximum the human strength could stand. And we kept going for miles. Faster, faster please. Each step caused a pain, an acute pain, an actual suffering. What else could we do? Germans were perhaps behind. Abandon part of the load, a few grenades? No! No! No!

Finally we are on the plateau, breathing heavily. A few patrols are dispatched around. The antenna of my biscuit radio is soon supported by the branches and leaves of an oak-tree. Everybody remain silent, so the enemy could not spot us easily. I fell asleep.

Midnight. The night is cool, very cool indeed, on the mountain top. Somebody wakes me. Get up! What is the matter? We are going back down! But parachuting? There will be no parachuting. Why? Nobody knows, but Captain Sanglier, perhaps.

1944: In 2022, my aunt sent me a folder of materials that had also been in Grandpa's effects, and in that folder, I found an article that Grandpa had written, in the fall of 1944, a tribute to a Swiss journalist named René Payot, whom the French and Belgians trusted and admired due to his objectivity and truthfulness.  The article was handwritten in French, on the back of a police report, of all things.  

After France was liberated, they stopped using forms that said "d'Etat" on them (as I believe the terminology was indicative of the collaborationist Vichy government, which by the end of the war was tremendously unpopular), so the police stopped using this particular police report.  After Valence was liberated in late August of 1944, Grandpa's FFI unit set up shop in the Valence police station, so he would have had easy access to such scrap paper. Paper was in short supply due to wartime shortages, and so people put the scrap to use instead of tossing it.

But here's the version of the story he wrote in October of 1944 (I've updated the punctuation and and capitalization a little). The language is often poetic, and any awkward phrasing is due to an imperfect translation:

Tribute to René Payot

    The order to march has just been given. The company leaves its advanced position facing the plain to join its comrades holding the plateau some thousand meters above. The interminable column winds its way along mountain paths and tracks, sometimes visible from afar, sometimes rushing into the woods, where the friendly foliage hides it, one might say materially, from foreign birds of prey. 

    Little by little, the pace of our progress slows. A growing fatigue takes hold of each man, whose shoulders bend under the burden of the mountain bag, weapons and as much ammunition as it was humanly possible to carry. The march has already lasted several hours, and the company is not yet halfway there. Time passes. Each step begins to cause muscle pain, which rapidly increases. Another couple of hundred meters, and we can't go any further, it seems. But at the end of this distance, the willpower wears us down, and we're still moving forward... We're still 10 km from the goal, drops of sweat flood our faces, drip into our eyes, blinding us, but we're still moving forward....

    A storm hits the mountain. The sky is furrowed with lightning. The thunder seems to want to burst the rocks. A torrential rain floods the woods. It seems that the earth and the heavens merge into a single chaos. There's not a thread of dryness left on us. The shoes, weighed down by the water they absorbed, wade through the sunken path, which suddenly became a torrent. But we are moving forward, we are still moving forward….

    Night has fallen by the time the company finally arrives at its destination. It will occupy two farms and a sheepfold. In near-darkness, as there is no electricity on the plateau, the various groups hunker down in the sheds and haylofts. We organize the guard service and the kitchens.

    Despite the cold and fatigue, the "radio" [a reference to Arthur - his FFI unit sometimes referred to him as "Radio Lubinski"] leaves the farm in search of the muleteer column that must have hanged itself in the mountains. In the opaque night, the darkness increasing, he sets off in search of the column to which he has entrusted his field radio, the little parachuted jewel known as "biscuit." 

    An hour later, he's finally listening. With headphones on and a pencil in hand, he quickly takes a few notes using the flickering light of a candle. A few minutes later he announces the latest news: "No message concerning us; Russian advance of 40 km in 24 hours in the Bialystok sector ... One thousand American bombers attacked German fuel resources ... Enemy counter-attacks repulsed by the British south-west of Caen, etc..."

    In everyone's mind is born this comment, "All in all, R.A.S., blood on the Polish plain so far away ... In the west the long-awaited day has not yet come."

    However, the "radio" adds: "Yes, but it's Saturday today; in half an hour, at 11.15 p.m., we'll be able to pick up René Payot on shortwave".

"It's true," we reply. "We couldn't get it yesterday, so we'll have to take it today."  And despite their great fatigue, a small circle of officers will stay by the "radio" to find out what RENÉ PAYOT will say.

    Who are you, Monsieur René Payot, that in every home in France people gather once a week to listen to you, and that it's probably the same in all the oppressed countries of Europe as far as the elites who know the French language are concerned? To what do you owe your prodigious ascendancy over millions of listeners?

    First of all, we all felt that at heart you were your ally. The neutrality of your country did not allow you to express this openly. But we understood each other, thanks to your finely ironic, nuanced phrases, thanks to your points that a Gaullist would grasp on the fly and which were probably unjustified for the heavy German mind, thanks above all to your transitions for which any epithet would seem vain.

    But this is not the main reason for your ascendancy. Your sympathy for the Allied cause cannot explain your prodigious success, for such sympathy had already been won for us among all the spokesmen of the free countries. We sensed in you, Monsieur Rene Payot, a man who, in order to dissect and analyze the facts of the life of nations, tries to set aside his sympathies and passions, a man who, in order to judge, tries to use only logic and intelligence. 

    Sometimes you come to conclusions that don't please us - or you, I'm sure. Nonetheless, we liked to read them, because they made us feel closer to reality. On the other hand, when the information or deductions you communicated to us corresponded to our deepest wishes, they gave us all the more satisfaction, because we knew they were the result of a search for truth and not of a desire for propaganda, whether in the service of a good or a bad cause.

    In tomorrow's world, which will be uniquely oriented towards the search for an improvement in the human condition and a fairer distribution of wealth, it is essential that great open minds no longer find a place. It is essential that in society there should always be men who can express themselves and write freely, obeying only their innate need to seek out what they honestly believe to be the truth, even if their ideas may displease official propaganda, the party in power or some trust.

    I hope that in countries that have remained free, as in those that are becoming free again, we will always find both critical and independent minds like yours, and the conditions that allow them to flourish and express themselves.

    But in the dark night of the long Nazi occupation, such conditions no longer existed, bringing then, through the ether, uncontrollable by the Gestapo, the reflections of the purest torch of Truth and Freedom.

Arthur Lubinski
Valence, October 1944

    We leave at nightfall and we take, above our cantonments, the forest path which cuts LA RAYE obliquely... 
    Night had fallen very dark. 
    No more road, we advance painfully while dragging the heavily laden mules. 
    After four hours of effort, we arrive in the grassy areas of the plateau where we find the Marquet farm which was still burning. 
    We set up the locations for automatic weapons and establish the guard tower. Then, we enter a small sheepfold that served as a grain shed and we take a few moments to rest a few tens of meters from the road... 
    At dawn, we have the visit of MERMOZ from the BARBU Community who resided in the farm located below the road to the South West of our position... 
      We go down again with Richard on OURCHES ... After an uneventful descent and a short hello to Compagnie PIERRE, we arrive at OURCHES where a few hours of sleep seemed welcome.

--Dr. Michel Planas, 1955 


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