On Saturday we drove Johann’s grandparents to visit an old friend of theirs. Jacqueline (Jackie) Talouarn and Marco (Johann’s grandfather) knew each other during the war. She was married to Jean LeGalleu, who was the head of Marco’s resistance group in Paris. Just one month after they were married, Jean LeGalleu was denounced by a fellow Frenchman and sentenced to five years in prison. He spent nearly three years in a prison in France before being sent to the concentration camp in Mauthausen, one of only two “Grade III camps, which meant they were intended to be the toughest camps for the ‘Incorrigible Political Enemies of the Reich.’ Unlike many other concentration camps, intended for all categories of prisoners, Mauthausen was mostly used for extermination through labor of the intelligentsia.” There he was used as a medical guinea pig and injected with various serums as part of Nazi experiments. He spent one year in Mauthausen and was one of the few to go home again after the liberation, but his brutal treatment at the hands of the Nazis had broken him. When he returned to Paris, the flesh was falling off of his body and he had a grapefruit-sized hole above his hip. He never recovered his health. He died on Christmas day, two years after his release.
Jackie, in the meantime, had been arrested herself, two years after her husband was arrested. She had been hiding members of the resistance in her house and was sent to a French prison also. Her luck was bad. Just after D-Day, the Nazis cleared out the prison in France and Jackie was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. The trip took four days, with the prisoners wedged into cattle cars. After arrival, the women were stripped and told to line up for a medical exam. An older woman in line with Jackie couldn’t bring herself to disrobe and was sobbing. “Just do it, and don’t let them see you cry,” Jackie said. But the woman didn’t listen and was brutally beaten.
After the medical exam, they were told to line up for showers. Even in prison back in Paris, word had gotten back about what the “showers” in the concentration camps were really for. Jackie thought she was going to die and has never felt such a sense of relief as she did that day when the water came on. Ravensbruck was notoriously brutal and exterminated 130,000 women between 1939 and 1945. Jackie is one of only 40,000 to survive it. When the American troops finally made their way into Germany and liberated her camp, it was May 5, 1945, nearly a year after D-Day. She was 24 years old. She weighed 81 pounds. She and her fellow prisoners had been digging a large hole, which they were all sure they would be shot and thrown into when they were finished with it.
Jackie didn’t cry when she told us her story. In fact, her voice didn’t betray much emotion, even when she took out her concentration camp uniform to show it to us. She has told the story many times, as she speaks at schools around France to help educate next generations about the horrors of racism and anti-semitism, in the hopes that such a thing will never happen again. What an inspiration it was to meet such a heroic woman.