David P. Boder Interviews Charles Jean; August 21, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: [In English] We are still continuing . . . We are still continuing the charming evening at the home of Admiral Kahn, and we are now interviewing his present chauffeur who, I am told, was active in the Resistance. Madame Kahn will help us as a translator. Madame Kahn, will you ask him to give us first his name and how old he is?
  • Charles Jean: Charles Jean [exact spelling unknown], 31 years old.
  • David Boder: Now, Charles, will you ask him to tell us what he remembers from the time the war started where he was? And then what was he doing, gradually, until liberation.
  • Charles Jean: [In French] I left on August 26, 1939. I was stationed at Dunkerque in the Maine and was taken prisoner on June 4, 1940.It is not entirely clear to what location Charles Jean is referring to when he says he was stationed at "Dunkerque in the Maine." The main point is that on June 4, 1940, Charles Jean became one of the 1.5 million young Frenchmen who became prisoners of war as a result of France's cataclysmic defeat at the hands of Germany.1 I escaped from Dunkerque on June 25, 1940 and returned to my home in Vichy.Vichy, renowned for its mineral waters, is located northeast of Lyon in south central France. It became the capital of the collaborationist French government during the German occupation. The parliament of the Third Republic met at Vichy on July 9-10, 1940 and voted itself out of existence, turning the reins of government over to the authoritarian Marshal Pétain who was authorized to draft a constitution establishing his regime.2 Then I was . . . I was working, and then I was captured again by the Germans during the month of April '43, to go work in Germany.The obligatory German labor service, introduced in February 1943, was a great spur to young Frenchmen to join the resistance. It caused widespread discontent and contributed significantly to the loss of prestige by the Vichy regime as it proved itself incapable of shielding the French population from the onerous demands of the German occupation.3 I escaped once again from Cravant in Yonne.This might have been an internment camp.4 That was when I joined the Resistance [Maquis in French], the Auvergne Resistance, at Brugerons, near Olliergues.Auvergne is a region in south central France. It has a number of mountains and volcanic cones, which rise above large pine forests. This rugged terrain facilitated the formation and operation of guerilla groups.5
  • David Boder: [In English] Would you ask him . . . [unintelligible aside to interpreter] Will you ask him to tell us, what does the word "Maquis" mean?
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Well, the Resistance, the "underground" in which I worked . . . we were a part of the Francs-tireurs et Partisans Français.The Francs-Tireurs et Partisans Francais (full name: Francs-Tireurs et Partisans Francais-Main d'Oeuvre Immigres, or FTP-MOI) was the communist wing of the resistance movement and contained a number of Jewish combat groups as well recent immigrants to France of other nationalities. There are no clear indications as to whether or not Charles Jean was Jewish or was native-born or foreign-born.6 We were mostly young men under the orders of a Commander, with a whole staff. We were commanded exactly as if it were the army. We had arms that were parachuted to us by the English, as well as those arms that we were able to take off of the Germans that we took prisoner. We were commanded by a group from Clermont-Ferrand,Clermont-Ferrand, located in a hilly area of south central France, was the ancient capital of the Auvergne region. It is a key railroad hub.7 which we defended, in the resistance movement to which I belonged, and we were actually very well commanded by competent leaders who had already been in the war and who took their jobs very seriously. We were . . . there were approximately three hundred of us in the resistance to which I belonged. Around three hundred and I was working at the command post. I was fortunate to be the Commander's driver, a job which gave me a lot of advantages over my comrades who, three-quarters of the time, slept in the woods and didn't have the same comforts I had. I'm going to tell you about the final phase of our resistance, when we took Thiers,Thiers is a town located in south central France west of Clermont-Ferrand and south of Vichy. Despite the battles taking place at the time, the German obsession with murdering Jews was unceasing. As late as September 1944, one hundred Jews arrived in Auschwitz from Lyon, located due east of Thiers, four days before Lyon was liberated by French and Allied forces.8 a city known as the main cutlery producer in France. We were attacked at the command post on August 23, 1944 by a German SS detachment that we later learned had orders to exterminate us at any cost. We actually resisted pretty well, since the Germans were unable to take us. And their Commander, in retaliation, decided on that particular day to attack Thiers. About a hundred and fifty of us went into battle. I arrived later, following my hundred and fifty comrades, on the 24th or 23rd of August, I don't remember exactly, to attack Thiers. We had about a hundred and fifty men to take on the two or three hundred Germans who were there. We attacked Thiers from the north and the east. The battle was very hard. It lasted actually a day and a half and we counted eleven dead on our side and around forty on the German side. In the end, their leaders surrendered unconditionally. We took them prisoner, as well as a few of the militiaThe militia, or milice, was a paramilitary group of fanatic French fascists responsible for a number of atrocities.9 that were with them. After that, we were able to pick out five men among the Germans who were there, five of them who had slaughtered some of our own comrades, and we shot them, along with the seven militiamen who were with them.
  • David Boder: [In English] [interrupts] All right, now . . . continuez.
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Afterwards, that was when the Marshal's GuardIt is unclear to what group Charles Jean is referring.10 joined forces with us to liberate the rest of the sector where there were still a few Germans. After that, the war was over for us. We were assigned to barracks in Clermont-Ferrand, the Desaix barracks and the army determined that our work was done. I went home.
  • David Boder: [In English] Was he taken prisoner by the Germans? [off mic with interpreter] No, afterwards, when he was in the Maquis. Was he never taken prison? [off mic with interpreter] He was taken for compulsory . . . [more than one person speaking at once] He went to the Maquis. Can he tell us about some details of the [unintelligible]. You think that's all covered. Uh huh. And where did we find him? Where was he when . . . ? Who came in? The English or the Americans?
  • Marcelle Kahn: [In French] What were the first Allied troops that you saw?
  • Charles Jean: The first Allied troops were American and . . . American and French.These troops were among those who landed in southern France on August 15, 1944, and drove northward.11 In Thiers.
  • David Boder: [In English] So how did the French troops from there leave, right there after the . . . . . . Now how did it come out? There were French troops. That I know, where were they during that time? [aside to interpreter] Whose organization in France . . . Who was in the Maquis? [several voices talking at once] And the forces which came after . . . The troops who were landing in south France some weeks before . . . [more than one person talking] Our troops and especially in this town, the first Allied troops, regular troops were from AfricaThese might well have been North African troops recruited by the French.12 . . . [Boder and one other speaker talking simultaneously]
  • David Boder: [In English] And they were combined with the troops from Africa.
  • David Boder: So when the regular troops came in, did the Maquis continue to do partisan work? [unintelligible discussion off mic]
  • David Boder: Well, what are you doing now?
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Now, I am Engineer General Kahn's chauffeur and I'm very happy. I'm doing very well.
  • David Boder: [In English] [to interpreter] Well, that's good. And uh, how old is he?
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Thirty-one years old.
  • David Boder: [In English] Are you married?
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Yes.
  • David Boder: [In English] [to interpreter] Was he married before the war?
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Oh, no, no, not before the war. I only got married recently.
  • David Boder: [In English] He was alone . . . Were there many married Maquis?
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Oh, yes, many, many, many married men.
  • David Boder: [In English] Well, didn't their families get into trouble because of the Maquis?
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Oh, yes, yes, in Clermont-Ferrand, quite a few of our comrades found that their wives and their children had been bothered by the Gestapo because they themselves had joined the resistance. And we actually organized, for our comrades' wives in a place nearby . . . we organized in a hotel a sort of a shelter to take them in so they wouldn't be bothered and were under our protection. But the women had no active role with us. There were no women in our service, only the wives of our comrades who were being sheltered nearby.
  • David Boder: [In English] Well, and how did the general population treat the Maquis?
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Well, in Auvergne, the people were really nice to us. We basically had everything we needed. We went to the farms for supplies. We didn't have money, we used to pay . . . we had vouchers. Requisition vouchers that were paid back later. We did the same for tobacco as well as for automobiles. As for automobiles, we tried as often as possible to take cars from collaborators. I myself took General Ferré's [?] car, who was the one who commanded the mobile guards in Vichy.The garde mobile was a special police unit which already existed under the Third Republic and continued under the Vichy regime. It had anti-riot duties among others.13 And since he was a known collaborator, I took his car. Or as we say in the Resistance, I "ripped off" his car in Vichy, and I turned it in to the Resistance, which was very helpful.
  • David Boder: [In English] Yes, now, here is another question. Where did the Maquis get their supplies?
  • Unknown person: [unknown person off mic] He told you. In the town.
  • David Boder: Yes, but where did they get their military supplies? [conversation off mic] Yes, did they have radio service?
  • Charles Jean: [In French] Oh, yes, we had radio service. We had a code. Actually, I myself didn't know the code. The Officer knew it. We used to communicate with London for the parachute drops and most of our arms especially came to us from what we could take off of the Germans. Because the AS [armée secrète: secret army?]The Secret Army owed its allegiance to General Charles De Gaulle.14 was much better equipped with arms than we were ourselves because they were respected and the United Movements of the Resistance were much better armed than we were.The Mouvements unis de la Résistance ("United Movements of the Resistance"), or MUR, contained three non-communist resistance groups and had been formed by Jean Moulin, General De Gaulle's agent in France.15 We managed on our own, through our own means, you could say.
  • David Boder: [In English] All right, I thank you very much for this . . . [unintelligible]
  • David Boder: [In French] Thank you very much.
  1. It is not entirely clear to what location Charles Jean is referring to when he says he was stationed at "Dunkerque in the Maine." The main point is that on June 4, 1940, Charles Jean became one of the 1.5 million young Frenchmen who became prisoners of war as a result of France's cataclysmic defeat at the hands of Germany.
  2. Vichy, renowned for its mineral waters, is located northeast of Lyon in south central France. It became the capital of the collaborationist French government during the German occupation. The parliament of the Third Republic met at Vichy on July 9-10, 1940 and voted itself out of existence, turning the reins of government over to the authoritarian Marshal Pétain who was authorized to draft a constitution establishing his regime.
  3. The obligatory German labor service, introduced in February 1943, was a great spur to young Frenchmen to join the resistance. It caused widespread discontent and contributed significantly to the loss of prestige by the Vichy regime as it proved itself incapable of shielding the French population from the onerous demands of the German occupation.
  4. This might have been an internment camp.
  5. Auvergne is a region in south central France. It has a number of mountains and volcanic cones, which rise above large pine forests. This rugged terrain facilitated the formation and operation of guerilla groups.
  6. The Francs-Tireurs et Partisans Francais (full name: Francs-Tireurs et Partisans Francais-Main d'Oeuvre Immigres, or FTP-MOI) was the communist wing of the resistance movement and contained a number of Jewish combat groups as well recent immigrants to France of other nationalities. There are no clear indications as to whether or not Charles Jean was Jewish or was native-born or foreign-born.
  7. Clermont-Ferrand, located in a hilly area of south central France, was the ancient capital of the Auvergne region. It is a key railroad hub.
  8. Thiers is a town located in south central France west of Clermont-Ferrand and south of Vichy. Despite the battles taking place at the time, the German obsession with murdering Jews was unceasing. As late as September 1944, one hundred Jews arrived in Auschwitz from Lyon, located due east of Thiers, four days before Lyon was liberated by French and Allied forces.
  9. The militia, or milice, was a paramilitary group of fanatic French fascists responsible for a number of atrocities.
  10. It is unclear to what group Charles Jean is referring.
  11. These troops were among those who landed in southern France on August 15, 1944, and drove northward.
  12. These might well have been North African troops recruited by the French.
  13. The garde mobile was a special police unit which already existed under the Third Republic and continued under the Vichy regime. It had anti-riot duties among others.
  14. The Secret Army owed its allegiance to General Charles De Gaulle.
  15. The Mouvements unis de la Résistance ("United Movements of the Resistance"), or MUR, contained three non-communist resistance groups and had been formed by Jean Moulin, General De Gaulle's agent in France.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Deborah Joyce
  • English Translation : Deborah Joyce
  • Footnotes : Elliot Lefkovitz