On se comprend à demi-mots. “We understand each other with half words, without finishing our sentences.” I learned this French expression from Fanny. It describes a kind of meeting of the minds, parallel sensibilities—each of us not merely anticipating or knowing what the other is thinking, but actually thinking alike at the same time, sharing the same reaction. It was a good way of describing our personal connection. Fanny remarked how striking it was that such complicity could exist between a young American student, born after the war, and a Polish-born Viennese refugee, French resister, survivor of two concentration camps, and lifelong Communist Party activist.
Fanny and I met in April 1978, on a train from Paris to East Berlin, for a pilgrimage to Ravensbrück, the only concentration camp for women, for the most part political prisoners. The pilgrimage, as it was (and is still) known, was an annual event organized by the Amicale de Ravensbrück, the association of former women prisoners that formed in 1945 for the purpose of educating the public about the camp, supporting the survivors, lobbying the government for recognition and benefits. Like the other amicales, or “friendship associations,” it was part of a network united by the umbrella organization FNDIRP, the National Federation of Deported and Imprisoned Resistance Fighters and Patriots. I was in Paris with a year-long fellowship to study the role of women in the French Resistance. Having contacted the organization in an effort to locate and interview women resisters, I met with its director, Cécile Lesieur. The timing was excellent; it so happened that some eighty survivors of Ravensbrück would soon be traveling to the camp for a pilgrimage. Cécile Lesieur invited me to join them. I could meet the members myself and visit the camp for the first time.
As the women collected at the Gare du Nord, I looked around and found myself in a sea of old people. But it was I who was young. In fact, most of them were in their sixties and seventies at the time. They were still hale and hearty enough to endure the two-day overnight trek by rail. In later years, when they became too frail for such a journey, the Amicale chartered a plane, but it wasn’t the same. In 1978 we traveled to Ravensbrück by train, just as some had done as early as 1943, and others as late as 1945. This time, the women were quick to remark, was different: they were passengers now, in compartments with seats and bunks, not livestock in cattle cars.
I found myself sharing a compartment with Fanny Dutet. Cécile had placed us together on purpose, as Fanny was known for her interest in young people and her activities with Communist Party–run youth groups. She was thin and vital and vigorous. She had a shock of short white hair and wore wool pants and a cardigan. She was among the older members of the group, and one of the most dynamic. She was not known for her reserve—life was too short for reserve. Fanny was the type of person who would ask people personal or philosophical questions in the first five minutes of meeting—for example, whether you preferred to feel remorse or regret. On another train, many years later, I once saw her interrupt a woman reading a Bible to ask her whether there could be God after Auschwitz. That was her idea of a good conversation starter. Though that conversation took place in German (that day we were en route to Paris from Vienna), it was easy to decipher: there was Fanny, rolling up her sleeve to reveal her tattoo, there was the hapless passenger, embarrassed and horrified. For Fanny, this was a reflex, a way of life: she embraced every opportunity to educate, to inform, to engage. When opportunities were scarce, she created them. It was also her mission for the Party, which is to say it was her life.
When I took my place in the compartment that day, a conversation began that has never stopped. I am having it even now, although Fanny is no longer here in person. I don’t remember exactly how it came up, but one of the earliest topics we discussed on that first train ride was suicide. It was often on my mind, just below the surface, whenever I contemplated what it must have been like to be arrested, beaten or worse, and sent to a concentration camp. Maybe I am the one who brought it up; maybe it was Fanny. What I do remember about that exchange is that it was the first time I had met someone who was not shocked by my views and even shared them. So Fanny and I initially bonded over the subject of suicide on our way to a concentration camp. It was an auspicious beginning.
I was on my way to Ravensbrück with a group of former prisoners and we were traveling there by train. The irony had not escaped me. I was braced for a solemn, even lugubrious atmosphere. What I found was more like a carnival. Women were constantly popping their heads in to our compartment to say hello and ask us if we had slept well the night before. They switched seats so that they could talk with their friends or introduce themselves to one another. Going to the restroom meant braving an obstacle course of people embracing, chatting, reconnecting with each other up and down the corridors, and going from car to car. There was lots of laughing and ribaldry. The morning after a fully-clothed, not-so-restful sleep in the couchette, Fanny turned to me and asked what my first impression was. “Now I know why these women survived the camp,” was my reply. That sealed the deal between us. I did not remember that later, but Fanny did. She talked about it from time to time, which is why I remember it now.
Fanny Dutet was born Fanny Wolf to a Jewish family in a small town in eastern Poland in 1908 (some 200 kilometers due east of Auschwitz). From Poland, the Wolf family moved to Vienna, where they prospered and where Fanny grew up. In the 1930s, like many other refugees who were pouring into France to escape the encroachments of Hitler’s army and, later, the Anschluss, Fanny emigrated to France. Her brother, David, a left-wing Zionist, went to Palestine; her sister Anny moved to London; another sister, Heny, moved to Belgium. Of the four, Fanny was the free spirit. When Fanny left Vienna, she also left her first husband, whom I had always believed to have been a wealthy Viennese banker. Imagine my surprise to learn, many years later, that Fanny had actually married a circus impresario and left home . . . to join a traveling circus! I scoffed when I heard this story—it had to be a family legend—but it appears to be true. Did her husband give up the circus for a bank, or are the banker and circus impresario two different people? This is only one of scores of questions I have for Fanny now, but it is too late for her to answer.
Upon arriving in Paris, Fanny was drawn into the ambit of the French Communist Party and made it her home. She joined the Party in the thirties. When the Wehrmacht marched into France in June 1940, she was already deeply involved in the working-class movement for peace, freedom, and social justice. That is what communism meant to her generation. It was not the party of Stalin and the purges; it was the hope of the future, despite the Soviet derailment of the egalitarian communist project. I can’t emphasize this enough: for the activists, the rank-and-file and many if not most of the cadres, French communism was the path to a better future. For some at that point in history it was quite simply the antithesis of fascism—or antifascism. There is ample evidence of the gap between party policy enacted from on high, and the will, aspirations, and actions of scores of party members and sympathizers in this era.
In France, the Party was outlawed in September 1939 after the signing of the Nazi–Soviet non-aggression treaty, which was subsequently dissolved on June 21, 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Thousands of party members, whose only crime had been membership in a political party that was now illegal, were placed under “administrative arrest” in French internment camps during this period, but those not confined continued to function. An underground network was created before France had even fallen; it was this network that sustained the Party and the cause, and it was heavily staffed by women, who were relatively unknown to the police and who stepped in to repair the broken links. The Communist underground, therefore, preceded what came to be known as the “French Resistance.” The French Communist Party was part of a vast international organization; it absorbed members from sister parties in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere. Party activists from these countries brought with them the experience of illegality. Long before French resisters (of all political perspectives) began to build an underground, the French Communist Party had acquired the experience, the know-how, and the structural framework of an oppositional movement that was a model for other resisters who were new to clandestine organization. The survival of the organization was thanks in large part to activists like Fanny Dutet.
The Party was family in both the figurative and the literal sense. Living in the Party’s universe was a totalizing experience; it was Fanny’s world—her work life, her social life, her network of friends and associates. It is also where she met her second husband, Marcel Dutet. They were of like political mind and led companionate political lives. On a continuum ranging from Viennese banker to circus impresario, I would locate him somewhere in the middle. Marcel worked for the town of Aulnay-sous-Bois. I know very little about him and their marriage, a relationship that met an abrupt end when Marcel was arrested for resistance activities in June 1943 and shot by German firing squad the following October. In Aulnay-sous-Bois, where Fanny and Marcel lived before and during the war, before they met their separate fates, there is a street named for him. The small monument reads: “Marcel Dutet, Lieutenant in the FFI [combat wing of the Resistance, comprised of the Free French forces in London and resisters of the interior], 41 years old, Shot on Mont Valérien, Oct. 6, 1943.” (Mont Valérien had been a French military shooting range that the German occupying troops used for executions.) So it was with many prominent Communist resisters. Postwar acknowledgment took the form of street names in cities and towns of the so-called “red belt,” the ring of Communist-run municipalities surrounding Paris. Non-communist, mostly Gaullist, resisters, got the lion’s share of national honors—military decorations, pensions, compensation, and status. That tradition remained unbroken until the 1960s, with the slow, uneven recognition of resisters who happened to be Communists as well.
Fanny was a lieutenant in the FTP, Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, the armed combat section of the underground party that was officially constituted in spring 1942, although it had existed in embryonic form since the summer of 1941. Its specialty was urban guerrilla warfare: attacks on German installations or isolated German officers; raids for seizure of stocks, like official materials used to make false ID cards; arms collection and storage; bomb-making; backup protection for street protests; and the like. She was a liaison agent, a role assigned most often to women rather than men because they were less likely to attract suspicion—at least up to a point. Liaison officers were the human links, both vertical and horizontal, that held the movement together. They connected aboveground activists to their underground counterparts; members of the leadership to each other; and leaders at every level of the organization to those under their command. Liaison agents transmitted messages, documents, and arms. They stood lookout, surveyed possible attack sites, conveyed information on the success or failure of operations. Marcel was also in the FTP. I do not know what his precise role was but it seems likely that he was one of the fighters responsible for the armed attacks. The Germans called them “terrorists”; hence Marcel’s execution by firing squad several months after his arrest.
It was common for male and female resisters to masquerade as couples; a woman “covered” her male companion, even as they moved aboveground performing underground work. A couple was much less likely to attract attention than a man walking alone. Fanny and Marcel were one such actual couple—they both worked for the FTP—but because they were a real couple, each living underground under a false identity, using an invented name, the leadership forbade them to function as a team or even to see one another. This was a basic security measure, known as “compartmentalization,” which protected both of them and the movement more generally. Ideally, small resistance units were comprised of people who knew each other only under their assumed names, or noms de guerre, but security of this sort was more often than not a luxury rather than a reality. In defiance of security regulations, Fanny and Marcel continued to meet illicitly—albeit cautiously.
Fanny herself was arrested on October 8, 1943, when she was meeting another agent at a prearranged rendezvous. The group had been under surveillance by the Brigades spéciales, a special police unit created for the express purpose of hunting down resisters. She was in possession of incriminating evidence: underground flyers, activity reports destined for the leadership, and stolen ration tickets that were to be distributed to underground fighters who had no access to food under their false identities.
The police report (actually a police report of a police report) that gives a thumbnail sketch of Fanny’s activities and the reasons for her arrest is at odds with her oral testimony. Fanny stated that she and Marcel each had their respective roles and lived apart, in different hideouts, under false identities. According to the police report, however, Fanny had entered the Resistance upon the arrest of her husband in June 1943.
It is worth stopping here for a minute to ponder that erroneous statement—a mere detail by all appearances, and an irrelevant one at that. Were there no oral testimony from the principal herself, one might conclude that Fanny took up the work of her husband upon his arrest, which was indeed the case for a number of women resisters—some of whom assumed positions of leadership in their husbands’ stead. But the police report is mistaken; not only does it conflict with Fanny’s account, but it does not make sense given what we know of her life trajectory. It would be easy to overlook such a detail because we happen to know that it is incorrect. But it is highly significant, not so much for what it says about the accused, Fanny, but for what it implies about the opposition, in this case the police.
Upon her arrest, Fanny had alleged her innocence. Is the erroneous statement in the police report evidence that she succeeded in making a convincing case? Or, is it a gender-based assumption on the part of the police, who ascribed different roles and levels of responsibility to male and female resisters? If so, then gender-based expectations have literally been written into the official record, leaving us with a version of events that says more about the pursuers than the pursued.
It is truly extraordinary to be able to confront oral testimony with the archival record. There was a narrow window of time when classified archives began opening to researchers, and witnesses were still with us to tell their stories. That window has now all but closed. Whatever was not gleaned from the participants themselves is now lost to history. That fleeting moment of intersection has given us a lot to consider, including the relative merits of The Document, which is said to be fixed and therefore reliable, and The Word, which is subject to the erosion of time and the vicissitudes of memory—not fixed, but shifting. Contrary to what we have been taught and what we are inclined to believe, this tiny example suggests that oral testimony can, in fact, be more reliable than the archival record.
Fanny herself was arrested by the French police two days after Marcel’s execution, although she did not learn of it until many weeks later, in prison. At the time of her arrest, she was braced for interrogation and the torture that came with it. Above all, she did not want the French police or the Gestapo to learn of her connection to Marcel and the FTP. She knew the fate reserved for “terrorists,” especially “Bolshevik terrorists.” Upon interrogation, she denied her political involvement. When her questioner asked her why she had run if she had nothing to hide, Fanny did something truly astonishing: she told him she was Jewish.
Fanny told the Gestapo that she was Jewish. This seems stunning, a miscalculation of epic proportions. Could she possibly have thought that being Jewish would save her from a worse fate? Was there a fate worse than being Jewish at the hands of the Gestapo in occupied France? Fanny thought so. For one, she feared for Marcel and she feared for the organization should her captors come to suspect how much she knew, and whom. Further, women resisters were not executed by firing squad: they were tortured, beheaded in German prisons, or died slow or violent deaths in concentration camps, most likely Ravensbrück. Jews, on the other hand, were sent to extermination camps. Fanny’s strategy was to avoid two of the three possible scenarios, and to take her chances with the third.
So Fanny lucked out: she was sent to Auschwitz.
Fanny didn’t talk much about being Jewish. She didn’t hide it, but she did wear it on her left forearm. Being Jewish was not a significant part of how she defined herself, although it had everything to do with her itinerary. It was not a dissembling, exactly; I’d have to say that for Fanny, her Jewishness was more of an afterthought. Her family of origin had been cultural Jews, not religious ones. Fanny bristled at religion and everything associated with it. I have no doubt that this was part of the reason she did not elaborate upon her Jewish background in her testimony. At the time, most people still didn’t know how to think about Jewishness. For some it was a religion, for others it was a race. The Nazis and their acolytes had done a fabulous job shaping public perception of Jews—not a people or ethnicity but a race; not a culture but a religion.
When I told Fanny that a family member of mine had died of a rare disease known to afflict young Jewish males of Ashkenazi descent, she was outraged. That disease could be a “germ” carried by families of like origin smacked of the racial theories of the thirties. There was no basis in fact for such notions of biology; it was Nazi science. I see this now, but at the time, I wondered whether her reaction came from some deep, hidden source of unspoken ambivalence.
There were lots of reasons not to broadcast one’s Jewishness, even in the ’70s and ’80s (and no less so today, as recent events in France have shown us). I have mentioned two thus far, but there is another, this one more specific to the community of former resisters and camp survivors in which Fanny lived. Sadly, it has to do with the legitimacy of one’s Resistance credentials. A schism that extends to the present day between resisters and Jews dates from the end of the war, when returning deportees formed different “memory communities” according to where they had been and why they had been there. French resisters, or political prisoners, were a minority in Auschwitz; male resisters were sent to Buchenwald, or Neuengamme, or Sachsenhausen, etc.; the women to Ravensbrück. Auschwitz was for “racials,” as they were called. As many former resisters have remarked to me, “we were deported for what we did; they were deported for what they are.” It is a distinction heavy with meaning. To one is ascribed agency, to the other, accident. “Politicals” and “racials” cleaved into different postwar associations and “memory communities.” Even now, well into the twenty-first century, I hear historians speak of resisters and Jews as discrete, hermetic categories, as though one could not be Jewish and a resister at one and the same time. Fanny positioned herself in both camps, literally and figuratively, without fully identifying as Jewish. She used her Jewish identity to “cover” her identity as a resister.
By the time I knew her, Fanny, like other former detainees, had become the bearer of a government-issued card identifying her as a concentration camp survivor and French patriot. This card gave her special privileges: free access to public transportation, along with a designated seat, medical benefits, free admission to movies and exhibits, among other things. Fanny claimed that it also gave her the right to move to the front of any line. Perhaps this was indeed true, although I have never seen any other former camp prisoner flash her “deportee” card and cut in line. I remember accompanying Fanny to a grocery store near her apartment. We had been standing in line at the cash register for at least twenty seconds when Fanny grew impatient. She broke ranks, shoved her way to the front, and beckoned me to follow her. I was mortified. The other customers had to be wondering what entitled her to push them aside, and why her able-bodied companion couldn’t shop or stand in line for her. Fanny didn’t give such things a thought because they were not important in the greater, overarching scheme of life. Anyway, she deserved a place at the front. I, however, was preoccupied by what others must be thinking of us.
This was the very quality that exasperated Fanny about me. She thought me too timid, too fearful, too indirect. What I intended as discretion, she read as timidity. What I took for effrontery, Fanny saw as candor. What I viewed as fairness (like not cutting in line), she saw as bourgeois preoccupation with manners.
Fanny also bristled at my peculiar reluctance to force myself on strangers. Was it so terrible to stand there while she rolled up her sleeve, exposing her tattooed forearm to a hapless passing tourist who had stopped long enough to read the inscription on a plaque? Every encounter was a pedagogical opportunity. If such encounters did not happen naturally, then Fanny would invent one. “Hello, is this the stop for the 21 bus, and by the way, what do you know about Auschwitz?” This was her purpose in life just as it was her role in the Party. Among her many political tasks, Fanny worked with young people. It was her special gift, the reason Cécile Lesieur, the president of the Ravensbrück association, had put us together in that train car to begin with.
When I began the long-term project of delving into archives and interviewing former resisters like Fanny, I was filled with admiration—for their choices, their underground work, their ability to survive under the worst possible odds. It never occurred to me to interview people who had collaborated, or policed, or enslaved, even though I see now that it would have served my work, helped me to understand the countervailing influences of the time, the arbitrariness of life choices, or even the absence of choice. I identified with these resisters. I shared their values, their sensibilities, their politics. When you are twenty, casting yourself in the role of resister is natural and unquestioned. The very women who sat opposite me had been twenty once, too; they, like the majority of underground agents, had been between fifteen and thirty years old during the Second World War. They may have been little old ladies with doilies on their end tables when I encountered them, but they had once been young, vital, energetic, and impassioned. Young people made good resisters because they could run. They weren’t mothers and fathers yet. Their futures were uncharted. And most important, they took risks without fully comprehending the consequences. Ignorance, audacity, and fearlessness were some of the most important qualifications for the job of underground fighter. Without these young people, there would have been no Resistance with a capital R. That I would have joined their ranks was, in my mind, a foregone conclusion.
Our understanding—my understanding—of this period is deeper and more nuanced now. I am now over twenty. Choices seem less clear-cut. I know too much. I am no longer so confident that I would have acted like Fanny or any other resister. Who can say what he or she is capable of doing, or enduring, in an extreme situation?
Fanny did not know what she was capable of enduring, either.
Opportunities for annihilation, by oneself or by others, were not hard to come by in Auschwitz, but Fanny had something most others didn’t: a cyanide capsule. This was the resister’s insurance against breaking under torture. (High-ranking Gaullist resisters and parachuted British agents had cyanide, not Communists. This leads me to believe that Fanny worked in close proximity to the top echelon of the FTP leadership, when the Resistance of the interior and the Free French in London were starting to join forces.) A seamstress by trade who had worked for designer fashion houses in Paris, Fanny had a brilliant idea: she would hide the cyanide by sewing it into a cloth-covered button on her dress. This was the dress she always wore on her missions and she was wearing it the day of her arrest. Upon her arrest, she tore off the button before she was divested of her personal effects, and managed to save it. She kept that cyanide capsule throughout her prison term and all the way to Auschwitz. When she got to the camp, she sewed the pill into the hem of her prisoner’s uniform for safekeeping.
Fanny had suffered arrest, solitary confinement in a dank prison cell, the execution of her beloved husband, and deportation to Auschwitz, all while having cyanide at her disposal. I have to stop here to ask, as I asked her then: Really? What were you waiting for? How bad did things have to get?
Periodically, prisoners’ garments were sent to be “disinfected.” On those occasions, Fanny rescued the little pill she had secreted in the hem and re-interred it later. She showed me how she hid the cyanide while standing for roll call, passing it from one hand to the other, then dropping it to the ground, covering it with her bare foot, so that she could pass inspection hands free. Having that cyanide, having the option, made her strong, brave, and even cheeky. Fanny would be in control of her own death—not the French police, not the Gestapo, not the camp guards. Until one day she no longer needed the cyanide insurance plan. Her uniform had been sent to the “laundry” but this time, Fanny had unwittingly surrendered it without remembering to rescue her precious treasure! She had internalized her defenses, and no longer needed it.
Fanny was to face the rest of her journey—transfer to Ravensbrück, and ultimately, liberation—without a lethal backup plan.
One day, out of the blue, Fanny telephoned asking me to visit. I was happy to oblige; she had been eschewing visits for some time. Her health was poor, she was spending more and more days lying on her sofa bed with the blinds drawn, resting. When I arrived at her apartment, she made a stunning announcement: she was leaving Paris and moving to London to live with her sister, Anny. France had been her home for decades. Why would she move to London, now, and in poor health?
Fanny had already begun divesting herself of unnecessary possessions—which is to say, all of them. She escorted me into her tiny kitchen, opened the cupboard, and told me to help myself. I chose some crystal cordial glasses that had been her mother’s. I found it hard to believe that Fanny even owned crystal cordial glasses. She told me to choose whatever books I wanted and I collected quite a few. The next time I visited, a suitcase lay open on the bed. Her departure day was nearing. Again I left her apartment loaded with random treasures—old ID cards, a photograph, a school essay, some artifacts from the war.
Shortly thereafter, again to my surprise, Fanny announced her own visit. With the help of her concierge, she descended on my apartment bearing an old TV set, a comforter, some tea towels, and a blue envelope with two thousand francs in it. It was one month’s rent. There was no lingering. The visit was lightning fast; a final, last-minute errand before her trip to London.
For weeks I had been asking Fanny for Anny’s address, I talked about visiting her and Anny in London on my next break, I wanted to accompany her to the airport. She was evasive and even curt: “Don’t be so clingy, I am finished with you, get out of here!” I was as persistent as she was unconvincing. The most she would reveal was her day of departure.
That Fanny was leaving Paris was distressing, to say the least. I had no way to reach her at her new destination, and she had refused a final visit or goodbye. On the eve of her departure, I sat down at my desk and started to write her a letter, a letter that took me long into the night. If she would not grant me a final audience, then I would steal her attention by the only means still possible: committing my thoughts to paper.
The next morning, still dazed and exhausted from the intensity of my letter-writing, I decided to deliver my letter by hand to Fanny’s apartment. Paris mail was fast, but Fanny’s departure was imminent and I couldn’t take the chance. The metro ride to Glacière and the climb to Fanny’s apartment in the elevator felt like a strange and solemn journey to a non-destination. Fanny had made it abundantly clear that she didn’t want to see me, so I slipped the letter under her door without even as much as a knock.
The very next day, I opened my mailbox to find a letter from Fanny! It was brief, even lapidary, comprised as it was of “demi-mots.” The handwriting was scratchy, distorted, as though penned by someone whose grasp was going, almost gone. What I read in that letter was astonishing—Fanny had acknowledged my message, I had reached her, she had matched her sentiments to mine. She ended her reply with the word “adieu.”
All of the obvious clues, everything I had known but not known, came rushing back to me. I finally understood that Fanny was leaving for good. I could not get to her apartment fast enough. When I knocked on the door, there was no answer. It was too late! Had she already left? What was “leaving” anyway?
When there was no answer to my knock at the door of her apartment, I remembered that Fanny had told me I could contact her through her concierge. Jocelyne opened the door, took one look at me, and said “Mais vous êtes Paula!” Her eyes were red and swollen. She ushered me into the living room. “How do you know who I am?” I asked in disbelief. But Jocelyne was expecting me. When she discovered Fanny’s lifeless body in her apartment, she also found a letter addressed to me on the kitchen table. It was Jocelyne who had mailed it.
Save for that letter, Fanny’s apartment was utterly barren. Not an article of clothing in the closet, not a speck of food in the refrigerator, not a scrap of paper in the trashcan. There was nothing. Nothing but Fanny, stretched out on her sofa bed, her hands clasped over her chest.
The plan had been fully elaborated, exquisitely detailed, conceived and executed with utmost efficiency. Nothing had been left to chance. Nothing had been left. Fanny had spent the last months of her life distributing some belongings and disposing of the rest. She had calculated the time and timing of her own demise. She had sent last letters announcing her intentions to her brother and sisters, her cousin Gundl in Vienna, and a few friends. She had paid her last bills, emptied her bank account, disconnected her utilities. She had left a trail of crumbs so that when she was found, it would be possible to follow a path to those who needed to be notified. She had spoken to her doctor. She had contacted the city of Paris to find out how to plan for the removal of her body. She had arranged to be cremated and paid for her cremation. She had told the crematorium at Père Lachaise cemetery when to expect her. She had packed up her big life, folded it into a tiny square, and swallowed it whole.
Fanny had executed her last clandestine strike (coup de main). She had planned, coordinated, and enacted her own death with the precision strokes of a partisan fighter. Intelligence had been compartmentalized, information had been conveyed to people who did not know each other’s identities and had no way to communicate. No one person had the big picture, only the planner herself. Each phase connected seamlessly, noiselessly, invisibly with the next, at the precise moment required, neither too soon nor too late. It was the ultimate underground operation, and its success depended on masterful restraint and equally masterful audacity. Once the operation was set in motion, there could be no loss of nerve, no delay, no turning back. Escape routes had to be in place in the event of emergency. Problems had to be anticipated and deflected.
I was one such problem.
On the table in Jocelyne’s apartment had been another letter. It had my name on it all right, but the name was on the back of the envelope. It was the letter I had deposited under Fanny’s door the day before! I didn’t understand until I turned it over. It was still sealed.
There had been no reply to a letter Fanny never read. Yet word for word, I had taken Fanny’s message to be the rejoinder to my own. To this day I still have the letter I wrote to Fanny, and it is still sealed. While I was writing it, far into the night, Fanny lay dying. By the time Jocelyne posted Fanny’s letter to me, she was already gone.
Fanny knew that I would show up at her apartment to see her one last time before “going to London.” She “left” on Tuesday but told me that her departure was scheduled for Thursday. She knew that I would show up, and that by the time I got there, she would already be gone. She knew I would look for her concierge—she had been careful to plant those seeds before taking her “trip.” And amazingly enough, she knew what I was thinking, what I would say, and what I would do, even before I knew it myself.
On s’était bien comprises à demi-mots. We had understood each other all along, with neither language nor letters.