Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Boulloche Siblings

The Last Train Out of Paris

Auschwitz train. Photo by MaximilienM (2011)
Auschwitz train. Photo by MaximilienM (2011)
At 3:00 AM on Sunday, 6 August 1944, Gestapo agents burst into the third floor apartment in Paris belonging to Jacques and Hélène Boulloche (28, avenue d’Eylau). They were looking to arrest Christiane Boulloche, Jacques and Hélène’s 20 year-old daughter. The Boulloche sisters, Christiane and Jacqueline, and their brother, André, had joined the fledgling resistance movement in Paris at the outset of the Nazi occupation beginning in June 1940.
What made these 3 Résistants different than most? Well, first of all, they survived (André was one of the few who returned from the extermination camps—three including Auschwitz). The life expectancy of a resistance member in Paris (especially after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and the resistance movement became more active) was about 4-weeks. The second major difference was that they joined early on without having any political agenda. They joined because it was the right thing to do. Many of the Résistants during the subsequent years of occupation were communists and their leaders had political agendas. Towards the end when it became clear the Allies would liberate France and Paris, many people “joined” the resistance movement.
Jacques, Hélène, and the oldest son, Robert, did not join the resistance. Jacques and Robert were mid-level government bureaucrats who felt it was their duty to keep the country running (albeit under the Vichy regime). While they knew their 3 youngest children were involved, the parents knew nothing of their resistance activities. After the Allies successfully invaded Northern Africa in November 1942, the Germans took over France and eliminated the unoccupied zone. They also stepped up their brutality towards the citizens of Paris and France. They would now arrest, torture, and deport the immediate family members of a known or suspected Résistant.
Over the next week, visitors to the Boulloche apartment were detained and interrogated by the Gestapo and the French paramilitary police known as the Milice. During this time, the imprisoned Boulloches were tortured by the Gestapo (Hélène was water boarded) and when the Nazis finally determined these 3 people had no idea where Christiane was hiding, they were stuffed into a cattle car at the Pantin Station. Among the French prisoners on the train were André Boulloche’s friend and former school mate, André Rondenay, and another Résistant, Alain de Beaufort.
The train convoy left Paris on 15 August 1944 (ten days before the liberation of Paris). Less than an hour outside Paris, the train stopped and Rondenay and de Beaufort were taken off and loaded into a car. They were taken into the forest and executed by a Gestapo firing squad. The train was the last one leaving Paris that would arrive in Germany. It was also one of the few that did not carry Jews—only political prisoners (the Boulloche family were Catholic).
The men were taken to Buchenwald while the women went to Ravensbrück. Hélène died on 25 October 1944. After his wife’s letters stopped, Jacques died at Buchenwald on 18 February 1945, while Robert had succumbed on 20 January 1945 at a sub-camp of Dora-Mittelbau.
A black granite tomb inscribed Famille A. Boulloche is located at Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The names of the 3 family members, Jacques, Hélène, and Robert, are chiseled on the top. The grave is empty.
The full story of the Boulloche family during the occupation of Paris is told by Charles Kaiser in his book, The Cost of Courage. It’s a remarkable story that I urge you to read.
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