“After what we had been through, we could no longer live like others”

Madeleine Riffaud, at her home, in Paris, August 16, 2021.

Three days earlier, a fire broke out in his living room. Madeleine Riffaud, 99 years old, was alone in the apartment. The firefighters arrived in time and, once again, the former resistance fighter survived. Bedridden and blind, the poet keeps a very vivid memory of her incredible life and wants to bear witness. By offering herself, in the middle of the interview, one of those little cigars that she appreciates so much…

I wouldn’t have gotten here if…

… If I hadn’t received a tremendous kick in the , at Amiens station, in November 1940. It was a German officer who administered it to me because I refused the advances of his soldiers. I fell to the ground. I don’t like being humiliated. Especially at a time when the whole of France was humiliated. So, this kick from a Nazi pushed me to join the Resistance. We still had to figure out how to get in. I was only 16 years old. Who would have wanted such a kid in their network? It was not easy to find the right door.

Why did you want to get involved so much?

Perhaps this came from the example of my grandfather, a farm worker, a very good guy, who did not want to flee from the enemy. And my father, too. During the war of 1914-1918, he enlisted at the age of 18, mutinied and was seriously injured. In 1936, at the time of the Spanish Civil War, he wanted to enlist again. We didn’t want him because of his left leg in a twist. My own political awareness also dates back to the Spanish Civil War. In a magazine that was lying around on my father’s desk, I was very struck by the photos showing children caught up in the war, killed by the Francoists. I would have grown up, I would have gone there. But what did I have? 12 years. So, the commitment waited…

Did your parents push you in this direction?

They would have liked me to be a teacher, like them. Me no. Then, events made a bit of a decision for me. I was born and spent my childhood in the Somme, a land marked by war. Then there was the exodus, we were bombed on the road by stukas, German planes. I got through it, and so did my family. I was already a survivor!

Also read the analysis: Article reserved for our subscribers How to transmit the history of the Resistance without its witnesses

How did you join the Resistance?

I fell ill, quite opportunely, and in 1941 I was sent for six months to a sanatorium for students in Saint-Hilaire-du-Touvet, in Isère, on the other side of the demarcation line. Its director, Daniel Douady, hid resistance fighters, Jews with false medical certificates. Downstairs there was also a clandestine printing press, the key to which he kept in his pocket. It was at the sanatorium that I met Roger and Marcel Gagliardi, two brothers whose father was friends with mine. Tuberculosis quickly took Roger away.

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