Last Time I Saw Paris, The
From the The Mexico City College Collegian.
Wednesday, September 3 & October 29, 1947. Permission to reprint being sought.
The Last Time I Saw Paris
MCC’s Mme. Dauchat Relates War Experiences
(Editor's note: Recently some friends of Mme. Germaine Dauchat, French instructor at MCC,
suggested that we interview her on her war experiences. Our reporter, after
listening to her thrilling and fascinating story, said he felt that our readers
would be deprived of an exciting odyssey if we were to print her story in the
conventional interview form. Thus, with Mme.Daudiat's permission, we are printing the article in the first person, essentially as she told it to our reporter).
When the war broke out in 1939 I was teaching Latin and German in a boys' high school in Pontoise, a
small town on the Seine 60 kilometers northwest of Paris. Pontoise was a
railroad center and had a military barracks, and thus German planes were
bombing the area quite frequently. Many Parisian parents sent their children to
this small city, feeling they would be out of danger away from the metropolitan
area, but it turned out that it was more dangerous for them in Pontoise than if
they had remained in Paris. Fortunately there was a large cave near the school
and this served as a convenient shelter during air raids.
Eventually we had more teachers in the school than students. The
minister of the interior, Paul Reynaud (later premier), had issued a decree
forbidding teachers to abandon their posts. Nevertheless parents withdrew
their children one by one. I commuted every day from Paris until it was no
longer possible to travel to Pontoise. How well I remember that last day!
It was June 11, 1940
and the Germans were only a few miles from Paris. My train was stopping every
few minutes. The bridge over the Seine was barricaded and I found it necessary
to get off the train and climb over the barricade. There was a terrible
bombing going on, and the Germans were using incendiary bombs. I could see
houses blowing up as though they were made of playing cards.
It was impossible for me to get to the school so I went to an
air raid shelter. After the raid was finished I had to find a way to get back
to Paris. It was impossible to get back by train, so I hitchhiked to Paris.
Knowing I would be punished for abandoning my post, I went immediately to the
Academie de Paris to report my inability to reach my school. Just then an
inspector said a decree had been issued closing all schools. I suggested that I
might go to another part of France, and the inspector agreed with me. "By
all means, get out of Paris", he warned.
There was a terrible atmosphere in Paris on my last day there
June 13. There was hardly any traffic in the streets, and I met only one
person, an elderly woman with a dog. During the last day or two, there was only
one thing people said to each other: "Are you leaving or will you
stay?" The old lady said; "I'm an American. Nothing will happen to
me." Nevertheless, I decided to leave and prepared to take what belongings
I could. It was impossible to buy any luggage anywhere, since for several days
all the stores were all sold out. I went to the large department store, Galerie
Lafayette, but nobody would wait on me. All the clerks were talking with
each other about whether they would join the "exodus." I could find
no valises so I helped myself to what your American sailors call a duffle bag.
To tie it together, I picked up a dog leash. Since nobody would take my money,
I threw the bag over my back, like a soldier, and walked out.
My first wish was to join my fiancé, who was a soldier. I didn't
know exactly where he was, but I was confident I could find out. I wanted to
take a train, but found all the railroad stations closed, with soldiers
guarding them. I decided to take the "Metro" (the subway) to the
station and take a chance on getting a car
ride from there on. I couldn't get to the end of the line, but only to the
second to the last stop, Place d'ltalie. There was no
more electric current. The Germans were only a few hours away, and all the
utility workers had deserted their posts in the general panic.
I found myself walking
along the highway to Fontainebleau. There were thousands of civilians and
soldiers streaming along the road in the wildest disorder. I walked all night
(the night of June 13) and it was a terrible spectacle. People were getting
lost from each other and were shouting in the darkness to reestablish contact,
and children were crying everywhere. I was alone, and was noticed by three
soldiers. One of them, an exceptionally gallant young man, offered me his
protection, pledging: "I will never leave you."
Our first hope was to
find a horse. We saw a horse-drawn kitchen convoy carrying women and soldiers
and we climbed on one of the wagons. I seemed to have a nice soft seat, and then
realized I was sitting on a dead lamb. We had some good wine and the soldiers
were nice people, and I felt good after walking so many miles. On the wagon I
became acquainted with two girls, who were to be my constant companions for
Therese was a big, brawny
servant girl, and Odile was a stenographer.
The three soldiers who had become our companions wanted to get our
wagons off the road (to escape the Germans) but our horses were tired and it
was impossible to get them to go through the fields and woods.
(The fact that France was using horses shows
how ill prepared she was for the war.)
Then came a terrible
Everywhere I saw villages
Italian planes were strafing
us with machine guns every few minutes, and we women, not having steel helmets
like the shoulders, had to put greasy dish pans over our heads to serve as
It was dark and in the
confusion I got back into the wrong wagon and found myself the only woman among
a load of Senegalese soldiers.
the whole night crying, and wondering if the day would ever come.
Morning did come and it
was ironical to find such a bright, beautiful day amid all the desolation. We
found ourselves in an abandoned village, and I was able to join Therese and
We went to a farm and had
a party. We gathered all the loose poultry and the women cooked them.
I found myself seated next to an officer,
the only one among all the soldiers. He remarked to me that I didn’t seem to
speak the language of all the others, and I explained that I was a
We proceeded to have, in this
very rustic setting, a true drawing room discussion.
Then we started traveling again and found the roads filled with peasants
laden with all their possessions.
were many old people resting alongside of the road.
One of the most tragic things I saw were the burnt-black corpses
of many old people who were too feeble to take cover from the strafing of the
Out little group was
We never got hit once.
The next day was
another beautiful day–too beautiful for what was about to happen. All of a
sudden we found ourselves surrounded by Germans.
They seemed to mushroom from everywhere.
This was a terrible thing for our men [male]
companions, who were immediately taken prisoner. All this was accompanied by
terrible bombing and strafing.
women were told to go into the ditch.
While all the terrible noise was going on, I was in the ditch destroying
any papers which might prove embarrassing. During all this I saw some real human
I saw two low-cultured
women tearing each others’ hair out over a can of sardines. Then there was a
girl who had been professing her love to one of the French soldiers.
As soon as the battle died down, she got out
of the ditch and joined the Germans. The Senegalese soldiers suffered a
terrible fate. They were sent to the Ruhr after the last war and the Germans hated them.
On my way back to Paris I saw many of their bodies hanging from trees.
Being the only one who spoke German, I climbed out of the ditch after the battle cleared and asked
what we were expected to do. A German officer said we could return to Paris if we wished, but not for another 24
hours, so as not to interrupt German movements. In other words, we were to keep quiet for a day.
The night of
June 17, the eve of the Armistice, we slept in an abandoned village. We slept in stables on piles of hay. Being the only one who spoke
German, 1 was placed in charge of 27 women.
We had reached Sully-sur-Loire, about 150 kilometers south of Paris, and unoccupied France was just
across the river. But being so close did us no good, since the bridge had been blown up. So with unoccupied France within our own
vision, we had to turn around and return to Paris.
While we were in the stable, a German
officer summoned me out to speak to him.
We had a strange conversation. First of all he ordered champagne.
(The Germans seemingly went crazy over champagne during
their stay in France).
I had to toast
with him, although my heart was bleeding
and full of hate. I had to tell him all about my beloved Paris... where he
could buy the best clothes and perfume for his sweetheart in Berlin.
Next I sought out Therese and Odile and we made plans for our return to Paris.
It was going to be tremendously
difficult, because there was no regular transportation. We had some blankets'
and luckily we found a wheel barrow, and we put all our possessions in
it. But we were most lucky in Therese, the servant girl.
Odile and I were so frail and tired we could hardly carry our own
things, but big, good natured Therese was a godsend.
Without the slightest complaint, she pushed the wheelbarrow all
the way back to Paris—150 kilometers.
Wandering through the
woods, we found treasure upon treasure.
Scattered through the woods were furs, silver, elegant clothes—left
there by people who had to flee their cars during the strafing raids.
They had become public property, so we
Like a fable with a
moral, our treasure became a real burden to us.
People with cars refused to give us rides, since we had so much
impedimenta with us. We came upon a truckload of the most beautiful electric
irons we had ever seen, but we couldn’t do a thing about it.
Gradually, like an airplane pilot being
forced to jettison his cargo piece by piece, we discarded all our
The only thing we kept was a
Therese had never had one in her
At one time we came upon a car in which
we found an old lady and her dog.
you anything to eat?” the hungry old lady asked.
We gave her some sugar, but her dog snatched it out of our hand
and devoured it in one gulp.
We spent the next night in another abandoned village of not women, which was full of
women trying to get back to Paris. One professional
clairvoyant was quoting Nostradamus to the effect that the Germans would go
away, but she didn't say when.
We were so tired that we were about
to give up the idea of pushing a wheelbarrow back to Paris.
There were two men in the village and they
had found a big truck full of merchandise.
There was no gasoline to be found and the men were trying to find horses
to pull the truck back to Paris where they could sell their booty.
They promised us a ride.
We stayed there three days and all
the women did the men’s work.
to suspect that these two men, one of them a White Russian, were merely
exploiting our labor, and we decided to resume our wheelbarrow trip to Paris.
The following night we spent in an
abandoned farm house.
We needed some
meat, but didn’t have the courage to kill the chickens we found roaming about.
So in sign language (we thought it best) we asked some Germans soldiers to kill
Then we found some black
bread the German Army had discarded and we were lucky to get that.
Here for the third time we saw a
Czech (drafted into the German Army) trying to escape. The poor fellow wanted
to become a French prisoner!
noticed French soldiers who had been able to change into civilian clothes so as
not to become prisoners of war.
the Germans catch one French soldier trying to change his clothes.
After days of hay, rats and mice, we
finally reached Paris early on the morning of June 26.
I had a little house near Cité Universitaire
full of modern paintings and statuaries.
Therése never saw such things before and her first impulse was to put
her fancy hat on the head of one of the statues.
Paris was in a terrible state at this
The disruption brought a
cessation of all transportation and there was hardly any food available
anywhere. I had no trouble getting a teaching job since so many teachers had
(Also the French decided to
reopen the schools immediately in order to prevent the Germans from occupying
Ordinarily boys and girls go to
separate schools, but here they went together.
But it was an awful job for the director—he had to enforce regulations
against boys and girls conversing together. On the other hand he had, for his
own part, to keep the students from coming in contact with the German supervisors.
Teaching was a terrible ordeal at that time. We were being watched by the
Gestapo and we never knew if we were saying the right thing in class.
The nights were something terrible.
The Germans immediately put in “war time” so that it was daylight until almost 11:00 p.m. Nevertheless, we
could not be on the streets between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Anybody caught on the streets after 10:00
p.m. was taken to a German Army headquarters and made to shine boots of soldiers.
There was a rigid blackout and if a
thin ray of light exposed itself the soldiers would shoot through the
Then all through the quiet of
the night we could hear the heavy boots of soldiers marching up and down the
Sleep was all but impossible
because the Germans sent over planes almost scraping the roof tops in an
attempt to impress the people with their power.
During all this time I had but one
aim—to find my fiancé.
One day I
received a card (there was still mail service between the occupied and
unoccupied zones), from a place near Grenoble in the south of France, saying “I
I recognized the handwriting.
had to have permission to leave Paris, so I went to the German
I spent the whole day
there without any success, and a policeman suggested that I come there the next
morning at dawn, which I did. I waited until 11:00 a.m. and then was given a
number and told I would be notified when I could be interviewed.
I decided to take a new approach.
went to the Academie de Paris.
they arranged a “special mission” for me.
I had to go to Lyon (in
the unoccupied zone) to “bring back some test papers for the Sorbonne.”
I took my papers to the railroad
station and was lucky to get a reservation.
I found myself in a compartment with women, all of whom had some
position with the Germans.
reached the terminus of the occupied zone at Chalons, a German officer and
interpreter entered the train.
arranged to make myself the last person to be inspected.
Fortunately the Germans are impressed
by important titles and high sounding language.
The interpreter told the officer: “Let her cross over.
I can translate her letter, and she has a
very important function.”
So I went on into the unoccupied zone
and got off the train at Ardeche.
a note on the wall at the station:
at Le Cheylard.”
Again I recognized the
So I went to Le Cheylard and found my
fiancé, without a franc.
I learned that
his card was one of the last pieces of mail to get through.
We had a delicious dinner (there was
plenty of food in the rural regions, and this place was especially noted for
While we were eating, some
of his comrades interrupted us and told my Charlie: “You must go at once.
The Gestapo are looking for you.”
(The Gestapo had a complete record on
He was a disciple of the
anti-Nazi Henri Barbusse and as, a resident of the Saar region, he had made many
journeys into Germany to deliver propaganda to the anti-Nazi underground.)
So we had only
one day together.
I had brought many
things for Charlie and had to leave them in Le Cheylard.
Before dining we took a walk through the
mountains and every few minutes a beautiful car loaded with Germans would come
We had to hide in the
bushes to avoid being detected by their lights.
It was a terrible ordeal for Charlie.
Even the Vichy police were looking for him.
I had a friend in
Aix-en-Province, in the region back of Marseilles.
I called her on the telephone, and asked one question: “Is the
mayor nice?” She understood what I meant and answered, “Yes, he is nice.”
So we went to
Aix. The first two men we saw on the way were civilians being taken away as
We wondered if we would be
On the bus in route police got
aboard and inspected papers. They got only half way through and stopped.
Luck was on our aide once more.
Later an Army comrade of my fiancé, a rather
nice young fellow, came up to my fiancé, threw his arms around him and said:
“Charlie Dauchat, comment ailezvous!” Charlie answered, “I think you are
You must have someone else in
The man went away thinking he
It hurt Charlie to do a
thing like that but it was absolutely necessary.
realized it would be terribly difficult without having Charlie’s identity
discovered, we had hoped to get married as soon as possible.
After getting to Aix we waited for our
We found quarters in the home
of a widow, who immediately asked us for our papers. She said that the police
were insisting on identification of all guests.
I invented a long story about how against the wishes of my
parents I was running away to get married and that if we gave our names the
whole scheme would be upset, since my parents were looking for me.
She was somewhat sentimental and
accepted my story and cooperated with us.
We were later introduced to the mayor
who gave Charlie a new set of papers with an impressive French aristocratic
We were safe, but we couldn’t
We lived in a little community
outside of Aix in which each of us had a different task to carry out.
But neither of us had any money, and it was
impossible to have money sent to me from Paris. So I decided it would be
necessary to go back.
This was about Christmas time in 1940.
fortunate in making fiends with a man who was able to give him a job giving him
the isolation he needed.
The man had a
huge estate near Aix and he gave him a job as game watcher on his hunting
The only obstacle was that he
had to live with an Italian guide.
The Italian had
married an ugly old woman, but nevertheless he became insanely jealous of
Charlie’s presence and began to drink and get in a terrible temper.
Since Italy was at war with France there was
no telling what the Italian might do in a moment of rage.
As a game watcher, I don’t think
Charlie was in a position to do a very good job.
When he found persons trespassing on the property, instead of
arresting them, he would, to their surprise, give them a polite warning to
leave as soon as possible. Before long Charlie began to feel uneasy over the
large amount of visitors to the estate, and also considering the attitude of
the Italian, he decided to leave this job.
Meanwhile, I was back in Paris.
It was terrible for me.
Every day the
police would come and ask for Charlie or for my younger brother, Roger, a
promising young author, who was working in the underground as a de
My father was suffering from
heart trouble and died a few months after as a result of the constant mental
Gestapo caught my brother while posting bills at night.
They took him as a hostage, and I didn’t
know until a year ago what had happened to him.
From people who had escaped from the same camp I learned that he
had been taken to the horrible murder camp at Auschwitz and was executed on
July 14, 1942.
So now July 14 doesn’t
mean the same thing to me as it does to most French people.)
I couldn’t send
any of our money from Paris to Charlie.
A friend gave me an idea.
able to hide a number of 1000 franc notes in a silver hair brush by taking off
the top and putting it back again. By
putting bills in my powder puffs and other personal articles, I was able to
hide 50,000 francs.
So I was ready to leave
again for unoccupied France, this time without permission of any kind. Since
they took care of me the previous time I went back to Academie de Paris, but they could do nothing for me
since they were being "terribly supervised." Then I went
to the Dominican Friars, who, it turned out, were to do so much for Charlie and
They couldn’t arrange papers but
they gave me a lot of good advice.
I managed to get a train ticket even though I didn’t have
At the boundary between the
unoccupied and the occupied zones the Germans inspected our papers.
In German I told the inspector that I had a good, well-paying
job waiting for me on the other side.
(It always flattered the Germans when I spoke perfect German, which I
had picked up from studying at the University of Heidelberg and serving with
the French embassies in Berlin and Vienna.)
As a matter of fact, the inspectors at this point talked to me about
Paris and offered me a job there if I would return.
So they let me through, and I headed for Aix, where again I found
At that time the Germans were coming around and making all the
residents fill out long questionnaires, with instructions to bring them to the
Prefecture in Aix by themselves.
A White Russian offered to take all the papers at once,
supposedly to save us the trouble.
it was a bit mysterious and we declined the offer.
We went to the Dominican Friars who helped us arrange to get
married—under very romantic circumstances, it turned out.
couldn’t go to the mayor with a false name, such as Charlie carried.
With the help of the Dominicans, we were
able to get a special license through Msgr. Archbishop Villa á Rabel, who
waived the ban.
So on May 122, 1941, in the home of my
godmother in Aix, we were married in secret.
An altar was set
up in the parlor.
The only witnesses
were two Dominicans and two intimate friends.
We had a wedding breakfast, with real coffee—a great rarity.
gave us a bunch of white flowers, which we took back to our house.
People asked us the occasion and we merely
shrugged our shoulders and said: “We just happen to love flowers.”
Now that we had
been able to get married, our next desire was to get out of France.
Fortunately, I happened to remember an acquaintance I had made in Paris before
the war, the secretary of the Mexican Embassy, Alfonso Castro. I telephoned to Vichy and asked if I could
see him. I spent three weeks in Vichy telling the Mexican Embassy officials of the desperate situation of my husband
who had to get out of France if he wanted to escape death.
The Mexicans treated me wonderfully and
agreed to give my husband a visa for Mexico. Then I asked, “How about me?”
The Mexican ambassador replied: “Your
husband’s in danger, but you’re not.” I showed him my bracelet with two hearts mated, and asked him, “Could you separate
touched him as a beautiful sentiment and he agreed to give me a visa for Mexico
next big job was to get permission to leave the country.
So I went back to our good friends the
One Dominican father said
he had a good friend in the Prefecture in Marseilles.
This one official, Mme. Esmiol, had helped many men in
My husband boarded a ship in Marseilles
which was going to Oran, Algeria.
A German commission mounted the ship, but Mme. Esmiol had fixed it up with the
captain so that Charlie didn’t have to show his papers.
Then she told me, “You will not lose
him.” She was the closest thing to a
saint I have ever seen.
I had to remain behind in Marseilles.
Meanwhile, I was told that the last ship for Africa was leaving in two
days. I had to visit the Prefecture and the Mexican consulate.
There was a heavy, incessant rain and when I got through with my work I didn’t even have
time to change my wet clothes. Without any luggage, I boarded a train for Port
Vendres, which is almost half way to the Spanish border.
I was fortunate to get a passage on this
last ship to Africa.
ship, which was going to Oran, was full of farm owners, teachers and rich
people who had business in Algeria.
told the people I was going to America and they thought I was crazy.
They didn’t think it was any longer
In Oran I tried to get a plane to
Each passenger was weighed
in and I got passage only because I was so light.
It was very warm in Oran, although it was November, in 1941.
I had no wrap except a heavy winter coat
which I had been wearing in France.
only thing I carried was an oil painting of Charlie done in Aix by Mme.
In Casablanca I found Charlie waiting for me
at the airport.
His first impulse was
to laugh at my having to travel almost all the way around the world with only
the clothes I had on my back.
I wore was rather long and as it seemed to get hotter in Casablanca, I found it
necessary to make it shorter and shorter.
We could take no money out of the country
and after we spent $500 for our passage we had to spend our money as fast as we
So we hired a fiacre full time
and lived like kings until it was time to board our ship.
sailed on a Portuguese ship, the Serpa Pinto.
The trip to Mexico lasted five weeks and we had no bed.
But it didn’t make any difference.
We had left the land of danger and safety
was ours from now on.
My only regret was that I couldn’t be in
France three years later to see the Americans liberate Paris.