domingo, 10 de outubro de 2010

Résistance - Agnes Humbert

Finished reading this book today and must give it a thumbs up and reccomend anyone who complains about life to read it. The book is strong reading material specially when you know its the truth and nothing but the truth... and that what happened to her happened to millions and millions of other human beings too. The amazing thing about Agnes is how she can retell all of her suffering and horrid happenings with so much irony. Her sarcasm and ironic style of writing just makes you want to delve in the book and into her mind as well.There is a part in the book which she is talking to one of her close friends - an ex french prisoner - and he tells her the most horrendous stories that he saw happen before his own eyes. He explains how in the camp that he was a prisioner in the german would get all the "intelectuals" and do experiences with them. For example: they would tie them naked with a leash on their neck and to get a bowl of food to keep from starving they had to go on all fours and bark like a dog. The worst one is him retelling of how one day the german soldiers decided to do another new "experiment". They chose five jews - a lawyer, an administrator, and three doctors - and then got five cows. They put the men behind the cows and forced them to copulate with the cows. He was one of the men who's task was to hold the cows still. As he preformed his job he said that the germans laughs filled his ears and that is the worst sound he ever heard in his whole life. The book is filled with these and many more other cruelties - but in the end, after she goes through it all her will power is strengthened, her sense of justice is fortified and yet she never loses her human compassion which flows freely from her heart.
Here are some snippets of a book review I found online:

  1. Résistance
  3. : Memoirs of Occupied France
  4. by Agnès Humbert
Agnes Humbert is a captured member of the French Resistance and is shipped off to Germany for 'war work'. Immediately after the war, Agnès Humbert, published an account of her four-year incarceration, first in a French prison in the centre of Paris, then as a slave labourer in Germany. Her book, now translated for the first time into English, is unusually detailed, unlike those of many victims who chose not to tell their stories until years later when memory is no longer fresh. Agnes was an unusual woman. Born in 1894, the daughter of an army officer, she became a Symbolist painter and married an Egyptian artist, moving with him to a Breton village to raise their two sons.
She was an early anti-fascist and a woman of the left when those terms meant fellow travelling with the Soviet Union. After her marriage broke up in 1934, she went to work at the anthropological institute, the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, part of a distinguished team of specialists in art and culture that as soon as France fell in 1940 formed one of the earliest organised Resistance groups.
The activities for which she was punished were so paltry: a little newspaper, scrawling slogans on banknotes. But the underground circle was quickly betrayed and its members arrested. A was taken to a prison on the rue du Cherche-Midi, where she spent a year in solitary confinement.
In her coffin-like cell, there is nothing but the loneliness and mental torment of total isolation, apart from a system of communication with the other prisoners whom she never sees. But the French prison is luxury compared with the deportation to Germany. If you ignore, for a moment, Nazi Germany's political ideology and ask what made it tick, the answer is sadism. It enjoyed inflicting pain and reducing human beings to zeroes.
It did not only do this to Jews, Gypsies and Slavs, and its enemies like Humbert, but to its own citizens for pathetically trivial infractions of domestic law. The slave labour units were governed by the same principles as the death camps: work the inmates to death on starvation rations in an experiment to see what the human body can endure before it gives out.
Her account is agony to read and the I am frequently forced to ask if one could have survived more than a few days under the torture she describes. The women are covered in crabs and lice, they are making rayon in factories with toxic chemicals burning their skin, fed on a few hundred calories a day. They have no soap. They own a toothbrush and comb that they continuously steal from one another. Without scissors, their toenails grow into their own flesh. Not even the clothes on their backs are exclusively their own. 
What kept Agnès Humbert going was her personality: her will, her optimism and her political beliefs. She is absolutely certain that Germany will be defeated because she believes in a moral universe in which all is set to rights again by human struggle. 
But the Nazis are not capable of making her 'destructed'. From the moment she is liberated by the Americans, her formidable powers of organisation are revived, ready to help the newly occupying forces alleviate the suffering of survivors and arrest the perpetrators. She returned to France, but her health was damaged by what she had endured. She died in 1963. Her book adds to the small record of how the human mind can preserve the heart and soul intact against all attempts to annihilate it.

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