Episode Eight – Julienne
6th June 1944, 9.30 P.M.
3 Kilometres outside St. Lô
“We can’t go through Caen.” Klaus said, once they were out of sight of the carnage that St. Lô was.
“Yeah, no kidding.” Julienne responded, her eyes looking straight ahead.
Behind the two of them, James made no noise- somewhat because he didn’t want to say anything but mostly because his mouth was taped.
“If they’re bombing St. Lô so badly, they’re bound to beating Caen to a pulp.”
“There’s a Resistance safe house I know,” Julienne said, changing the subject, “in Sarceaux.”
“It’s near a town called Argentan.” she said, looking at him.
“Again, where is that?” Klaus asked.
She allowed herself a light chuckle before saying, “You’re new to France, I see. It’s halfway between Paris and St. Lô.”
“It used to belong to a Jewish couple living in hiding. The Gestapo picked them up last year near Marseilles and then subsequently ransacked all their property, including this one.”
“What did they do with the Jews?”
“They sent them to Auschwitz. Why do you ask?”
“Curiosity. I’ve never known what happens to all these people once the police picks them up.”
“Oh, they get sent to Dachau, Auschwitz or Buchenwald or one of the million other places you people have built for them.”
“What happens at these places?”
“To be completely honest,” she said, “I have no idea. And I don’t care what they do. You should know. You’re in the Wehrmacht, for crying out loud.”
“We don’t run those places- the labour camps and concentration camps and such. The SS does.”
“You guys aren’t friends with the SS?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Klaus said, pausing to choose his words carefully, “but we do have our run-ins from time to time. And anyway, what goes on in those camps is classified according to a few friends I have in the SS. They just know it’s nothing good.”
“Expecting good to happen to Jews in the Reich is like expecting a five course meal these days. It just isn’t going to happen, no matter how many ration cards you steal. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
Klaus laughed a little with Julienne and for the first time in the day, he felt a little moment of happiness in him.
“So, anyway, where was I?” she asked
“The safe house.” Klaus prompted
“Yes. The safe house.” she said, “The safe house in Sarceaux is where we’ll stay for the rest of the night. I don’t know about you but I plan to get a few hours of sleep.”
“We deserve it.” Klaus added.
“We’ll leave for Paris tomorrow around noon. We can’t travel there during the night. Given the fact that the invasion is afoot, curfew will be stricter in Paris.”
Klaus nodded in agreement. Moreover, he just felt it best to leave the details of navigating France to a Frenchwoman. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
7th June 1944, 12.20 A.M.
The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France.
They arrived at Sarceaux at a little past midnight. In the distance, they could hear the sound of gunfire and bombs being dropped. War, it seemed, was always on their doorstep ready to engulf them no matter where they went. The house which Julienne referred to was a nondescript one- the paint was withering off it’s walls, the roof seemed to be in dire need of servicing and one of the windows was partially broken.
As they entered the house – Julienne followed by James and Klaus- it was apparent that nobody had lived in the house for quite some time. Julienne sneezed almost as soon as she kept one leg in the house- such was the dust in the air. The two chairs in the room and the sofa were covered in dust, so much so, that when Klaus threw James onto the latter, a cloud went up like a swarm of bees disturbed from their hive.
“Listen,” Klaus told Julienne, “I’m going to head out for a while. I need some fresh air. You think you can watch him?”
Julienne looked at James, who only stared back at her with contempt in his eyes, and agreed to Klaus’ request.
“Alright,” Klaus took a look at James, “don’t let him move anywhere. I’ll be back in five or ten minutes.”
Julienne nodded. Closing the door behind Klaus, she turned and looked at James for a brief moment before seating herself on a chair opposite to James.
“Alright, Monsieur L’Américain. You be a good boy and stay right there alright?” she asked, as if she were talking to a dog- and a dog that she hated, at that. James just made some noise, his words being swallowed by the tape over his mouth.
“I’m not removing that. You can forget about it.” Julienne said.
James continued, with increasing volume, to make noise – even moderately flailing his tied up arms for effect. Irritated, Julienne walked up to him, removed the gun out of her handbag and pointed it at James. “I know I can’t shoot to kill you but I will shoot to cause you pain. So shut the fuck up, will you?”
When James continued to make noise, she swiftly ripped the tape from his mouth and said, “Whatever the fuck it is, tell me quick. I am angry, I am tired, I am sleepless, I have a gun in my hand and you know I won’t hesitate to use it.”
“I need to pee.” James said, his buccal area still stinging from the harsh removal of the tape.
“Jesus! Do you have a tank for a bladder?” she asked, looking right at him- more specifically at his back. Honestly, it wasn’t a bad question. James was amazed at how long he had gone without having to answer nature’s call. But he wasn’t going to let the woman know about it. Once he was done, he turned and was face to face with a woman who had a gun in her hand.
She motioned him to walk forward, back into the house. And he dutifully obeyed. He was still well aware of the fact that he was an American in the middle of Nazi country and there was still some way to go before he could even think about escaping. He didn’t want to screw up the possibility of the big boat home even before it began.
Emerging from the backyard into the house, James entered a short passageway with two rooms on either side before it merged into the living room- where he had been held hostage. To his left was a bedroom and to his right was a kitchen.
The bedroom was small, with the walls painted in azure and adorned with a variety of paintings. Near the sole window in the room, he noticed bullet marks. The Gestapo had made sure people knew they were here, James thought. There was a large bed- enough for two people. On the carpet and on the linen covering the bed, James saw unmistakeable, huge splotches of dark red that time and people never removed. They’d tried – it was evident – but they’d failed.
“The Resistance kept it as a reminder.” Julienne said, simultaneously nudging James to move forward.
“Reminder of what?” James asked, stumbling across the next two steps before regaining his stature.
“There was a child here. The Jews, they had left their child here in the hopes that the Nazis would see a malnourished child- she had been left like that for days – and leave. Maybe even show them mercy.”
She sighed. “Nothing of the sort happened, as you can see.”
James, clearly confused by the empathic nature of her voice and her allegiance to the nation whose men killed that child, couldn’t resist asking, “Why do you care so much? You work for them. You have a husband who works for the Abwehr. You are, for all practical purposes, a traitor. Why do you care?”
“You think you know me, Américain. You don’t even know the half of it.” she said, throwing him down on the couch while she pulled her chair closer to him and sat.
“Before the war,” she said, looking down on the ground as she did, “I used to work at the post office, in St. Lô. It was a good job- nothing spectacular but paid me well. When the war broke out in thirty nine, and we heard that France and Britain were in war with Germany in support of Poland, it didn’t really bother me. As far as I, and a lot of other people, were concerned, la guerre était dans le Nord.“
James stared back at her quizzically. She didn’t fail to notice.
“Ooh là là! Mon cher l’Américain, tu ne sais pas Français?” she said, and laughed, a beautiful, borderline hysterical laugh. Again, all James could do was look away irritated.
“So you don’t know French? And you came to fight a war in my country?” she asked, still smiling widely.
“You need a gun and bombs to fight a war. Not French. Also, I’m not fighting in your country. Although I will be, in a few months.”
“Oh come on. Don’t be so serious, Américain,” she said, waving her hands dismissively, “And you’re not the first guy throwing the German shade at me. So that’s useless too.”
“Anyway,” she continued after a deep exhale, “I was saying that the war in Poland, when it began, it was still too far in the north for us. And plus, we had been invaded by the Germans before in 1914. And they couldn’t even get beyond Verdun. We didn’t have reason to fear anything.”
“Over time, we started hearing the news- Poland fell, then Belgium, Netherlands, Norway. One after the other, everybody seemed to be falling. And I think that was the first time I feared that we were going to lose the war.”
She took a deep breath and stayed silent for a some time- nearly a minute, before she spoke again.
“At the time, when France was gearing for war, I had a petit-ami. How do you say it in English?…Boyfriend. That’s right. I had a boyfriend. His name was Pierre. Pierre Rousillon. He worked at the post-office with me. When Belgium and the Netherlands became part of Nazi Germany, the Reserves were called to fight. And Pierre had signed up a while back and was put into the Reserves. So he went off to fight. Back home, I was worried. But what was I to do?”
She sighed. Placing the gun tenderly on the other chair beside her, she looked at James. And this time, the Julienne he saw was different. Somehow, she seemed vulnerable and human, not characteristics he associated with a ruthless, murdering double agent.
“Existence, at that point, became a daily question. Everyday, we would wait for the Germans to bomb us. Some days, we would hear them bomb Caen. Some days, there was nothing. And then June 1940 happened. Hitler captured Paris and suddenly it was all over. A few days later, the Germans came into our town- rolled in with tanks and everything.”
“To me, they seemed powerful. Unbeatable. After all, we had held them for four years at Verdun but didn’t last a month before they took Paris. And you know how it is. You lose Paris, you lose France. It was as simple as that. Stupid, but simple.”
“How stupid?” James asked.
“If this was say, America, and you just lost Washington. How would you react? What would logic dictate?”
“Protect the rest of the country.” James said, understanding.
“What I hated, was the fact that when Paris fell, people acted like they had nowhere to go. People acted like Paris was the end all, be all – that the survival of Paris decided the survival of France. If I was in charge, the logical thing would be to retreat to another city- it doesn’t matter where and it doesn’t matter if we win or lose. It could be Lyons, it could be Marseille, it could be Bordeaux, I don’t care. Somewhere.”
Briefly pausing to drink water from a jug nearby, she continued.
“But I digress. So, Paris fell and the war was over. And Pierre never came back.” she said bluntly, with almost no emotion.
“Is that why you sided with the Nazis? Because some part of you wanted revenge for Pierre?” James ventured with a question.
“Partly.” she agreed, “Partly for revenge. Partly because I felt like my country let me down when I needed it the most- that the French only fought for the bourgeoisie in Paris and not for a post-office girl in St. Lô. And partly because it was a matter of convenience.”
“How?” James asked again.
“Understand, Américain, that at the time, the Nazis had the Midas touch. Everything they touched, they got. And the English were alone. There was a widespread opinion at the time that despite all the speeches Churchill made, Britain was going to lose. It was only a matter of time before the Nazis ruled Europe from Kiev to Edinburgh- at least that’s what I thought.”
“But that wasn’t the pressing concern for me,” she said, “I didn’t care if Britain won or lost. France was under Nazi rule. And the news was that they were coming after everybody who had fought or knew someone who had fought the Germans on their way in. Naturally, I was alarmed. But not alarmed enough to leave my home town- especially since I had joined the newly formed Resistance there. To me, Américain, the Resistance symbolised the France I deserved but never got.”
“So one day, about three months into the occupation, I’m at the post office- we’re still working. Only, this time we’re working for the Germans. I’m sending this telegram for a gentleman named Rudolf Hubner when the SS marches in and rounds up a friend of mine- Marie. Her husband fought with the Army too. Next, they come for me but this gentleman stops them. He says something to them in German, they say something to him in German and this goes on for a while, heating up as it did. Finally, the SS relents and they leave with only Marie.”
“Rudy and I then got talking over coffee that evening- he invited me to ‘calm me down’ and ‘explain the situation’. At first, I didn’t feel anything for him. But over time, I realised that he was a nice person. He just happened to be on the opposite side. Side by side, I was working with the Resistance. At first they were suspicious of the fact that I was with a German, but over time, I started giving them some information- true but inconsequential information- about the Germans. So I earned their trust. Plus, I was the only one in close proximity to someone inside the German war machinery – so I became a huge asset. In reality, I found that I had a lot in common with Rudy and the Germans as a whole.”
“Really? How on earth did you deduce that?” James asked, mockingly.
“For starters, he spoke of how the Jews back in Germany were. He spoke of how they looted and fleeced common men like him and his family. That and a bunch of other stuff. But I realised that the Germans were right. We Aryans were being denied our rightful place on earth. And I slowly started to believe that it was only right that we take it back from those who had taken it from us- the Jews.”
“There’s personal context, here too. I’m not one for blind belief in an ideology. When I was growing up, we never had much. Papa would work his tail off everyday but get paid miserably by his supervisor. I saw him do this for twenty years, to no avail. And then, just before the war, he passed away.”
She wiped a tear as she looked back on the day. It played itself right before her eyes. She had come home early, happy that she was allowed to leave early that day. She remembered the scene as vividly as anybody could. She opened the door and there he was, slumped on a chair, eyes closed. Thinking he was asleep, she tried to wake him gently. “Papa! Papa! Je suis arrivée. Y’a-t-il quelquechose pour manger?” When he didn’t respond, she tried progressively and more hysterically to wake him up, until reality hit her.
“I always blamed Abraham- that was his name, the supervisor, – for Papa’s death. And I was furious because of the way he acted during the funeral, like he was sorry for Papa. I wanted him to feel the same pain that Papa did everyday for twenty years.”
“And did he,” James asked, “feel the pain like you wanted him to?”
She looked at him with her piercing eyes and said, “You’re sitting in his house. You tell me.”
James was shocked. “You handed these people to the Nazis?”
“Yes, I did. Rudy convinced me to do it when I told him about everything. It was the last thing he convinced me to do before he left for Antwerp in October. And I would do it again a hundred times over- for Rudy and for Papa.”
“What about the little girl?” James was indignant, “What did she do to you?”
“I didn’t say I would do it the same way a hundred times over,” she said melancholically, “Trust me when I say this, Américain. Being party to Anya’s murder remains my life’s biggest regret. I know you will have trouble believing me and I don’t expect you to understand. But Anya was not supposed to die.”
She got up from her chair, grabbed the gun again and took a new piece of duct tape from the shelf on the right side of the room. Coming close to James, she leaned in so much that he could feel the hot air being exhaled on his neck. Closing her eyes for a moment, she said, “I haven’t spoken about all of this to anybody for a long time, Américain. I can’t say I feel any better now than I did before this. But at least I don’t feel any worse.”
7th June 1944, 12.45 A.M.
The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France.
“You took a while coming back.” Julienne said, when Klaus entered the room. James was, at the end of his conversation with Julienne, duct taped one more time and made to sit on the sofa.
“I liked the fresh air.” Klaus replied, without emotion.
“I see.” Julienne replied.
“How’s he doing?” Klaus asked, nodding at James.
“Other than the fact that he has a bladder the size of the Reich itself, he’s fine.” She said. Klaus laughed.
“There’s some music playing on Radio Paris, if you want. It’s good music.” Klaus said.
“Please. I might as well listen to that if I can’t sleep.” Julienne insisted.
Walking over to the radio, Klaus switched it on and kept tuning it. The static sound filled the air for about fifteen minutes before finally, James and Julienne heard anything vaguely resembling music. Following another few seconds of a musical static hybrid, the radio was treating the room- at low volume – to a composition by Mozart.
None of the three recognised which sonata was playing but they didn’t really care. Each was absorbed in their own thoughts but all of them found Mozart soothing enough for their tired bodies. Soon enough, the sonata that was playing came to an end and it was immediately followed by a pause.
The pause was very brief, being interrupted by the smooth voice of the radio host.
“Bonjour messieurs et dames. Il s’agit d’une brève annonce des gros titres d’aujourd’hui. Comme d’habitude, nous allons le faire en français et en allemand.”
“Guten Morgen meine Damen und Herren. Dies ist eine kurze Ankündigung der heutigen Schlagzeilen. Wie gewohnt werden wir es auf Französisch und auf Deutsch tun.”
Klaus turned up the volume. He wanted to listen to the news- especially from the Normandy front. He had left the place over twenty four hours ago and he wanted to know what was happening. He didn’t like that he had to listen to the French version first everytime, which he didn’t understand.
“Les alliés ont tenté d’attaquer la côte normande, mais la première vague d’attaques n’ont eu que des gains mineurs. Le haut commandement de l’armée est convaincue que l’ennemi sera bientôt vaincu.”
“Die Alliierten versucht, die Küste der Normandie angreifen, aber die erste Welle der Angriffe hatten nur geringfügige Gewinne. Das Oberkommando des Heeres ist der Auffassung, dass der Feind bald besiegt werden.”
That’s a lie, James thought as he heard the German translation. There’s no way that with the amount of bombardment and the planning that went into D-Day, the Allies had only made minor gains. He was convinced Radio Paris was lying to the people. Then again, it was controlled by Germans. What did he expect?
“La Gestapo à St. Lȏ a confirmé que deux suspects-un homme et une femme – ont échappé garde avec un soldat Américain. Le mâle est un soldat allemand du nom de Klaus Morstein et la femelle est une femme du nom de Julienne Beaurechard. Ils sont armés et extrêmement dangereux et sont censés être sur le chemin de Paris. Ils sont les ennemis de l’État. Les ordres de la police sont à tirer à vue sur eux et civils seront offert une grande récompense pour information sur eux.”
Progressively, as the announcement went on, Julienne’s face became whiter and whiter. James and Klaus were now looking at her with wide-eyed interest. The fact that they had made radio news was not a good thing and Julienne’s face seemed to be confirming that it was indeed not good news. They didn’t have to wait for much time as the radio host transitioned into German.
“Die Gestapo zu St. Lȏ hat bestätigt, dass zwei Verdächtige, ein Mann und eine Frau – entgangen Sorgerecht mit einem amerikanischen Soldaten. Das Männchen ist ein deutscher Soldat mit dem Namen Klaus Morstein und das Weibchen ist eine Frau namens Julienne Beaurechard. Sie sind bewaffnet und sehr gefährlich, und sollen auf dem Weg nach Paris. Sie sind die Feinde des Staates. Die Polizei-Aufträge sind auf den Blick, sie zu erschießen und Zivilisten eine große Belohnung für Hinweise auf ihnen angeboten werden.”
For a full ten seconds after the announcement, none of the three listened to the radio. Nor did they speak. They all took their own time processing what they had just heard. And as if hit by an invisible hand on the head, Julienne kicked into action.
“What did we just hear?” she demanded Klaus, as if to confirm that she was not dreaming this up.
“Calm down, Julienne.” Klaus began.
“What do you mean? How am I supposed to ‘calm down’? Do you realise that right now, Gestapo officers in the entire country are looking for us?” she drew triangles in the air hysterically with the apices of each of her triangles indicating the three of them.
“What the hell do they mean? So, now we’re escapees from the Gestapo, enemies of the state, armed, dangerous, and on our way to Paris with a shoot-at-sight order on us? Is that it?” Julienne was positively delirious now.
Out of nowhere, Julienne felt a hand come down hard on her cheek and instantly, her anger was replaced by fear and submission.
“Yes,” Klaus was still calm, acting as if him slapping her had never happened, “that is it. Now, can you please not announce it to the whole neighbourhood?”