Sun, Sep 10, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Life in the bowels of Nazi Germany

When history intervened, Frenchwoman Mireille Journet found herself stuck in a totalitarian nightmare, but with pluck and luck she made it out alive

By William Grimes  /  NY TIMES SERVICE

Nothing came of the incident. The official was on the way down and embroiled in party infighting. Abel also managed to avoid combat duty late in the war. Sent to basic training, he threw himself on the ground during a field exercise. Every war needs dead people, he told his perplexed sergeant, who turned his attention to more promising material and sent his hopeless, overage recruit home.

Marokvia, in her own small way, resisted. Early in the war she refused an offer by the Gestapo to return to France as an informer. Later, when she was hired by a publisher to translate mystery novels into French, she put her own spin on orders from above.

“I did adaptation for French taste, as required, turning tall, blond, handsome Aryans into short, darker non-Aryans,” she writes. “Some types even got wavy hair and fleshy noses.” More seriously, she helped some escaped Polish prisoners find their way to the Swiss border from her village in the Black Forest.

Here and there, some Germans also resisted, or at least tried to get at the truth. The village priest in Bergheim pointedly omits the required Nazi formulas from his sermons. Others furtively listen to the BBC. In Sankt Peter, a shop owner employs a Jewish weaver and hides her.

“There are so many of us,” Marokvia once tells her husband, who corrects her sharply. “No, there are not,” he responds. “We just attract each other and lose perspective.” True.

Almost unbelievably, Marokvia considers staying in Germany after the war. Her husband has other ideas. But Paris, they find, is not the same Paris they knew. Some former friends denounce them. Knowing only a few words of English, they set sail for the US and a new life.

Marokvia kept wartime journals and diaries. In 1944 she burned them, alerted that the Gestapo was on the way to her door in Bergheim. “This slice of life, 50 years in the past, is a tragicomic mural on the walls of a cave,” she writes. “My memory, like a flashlight, its batteries half spent, conjures stray images out of the darkness.”

The batteries may be weakening, but the images are vivid, the lives truly extraordinary. Marokvia, who wrote about her childhood in Immortelles: Memoir of a Will-o’-the Wisp, is at work on a third volume of her memoirs. At a steady pace, she could finish it by her 100th birthday.

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