Book review: The Cost of Courage - life in occupied France

Slim but dramatic volume tells the story of the Boulloches, an upper-middle-class Catholic family from Paris, and their harrowing experiences during the country's wartime occupation by the Nazis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 July, 2015, 5:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 July, 2015, 5:44pm


They are rightly called the Dark Years. From 1940 to 1944, France - with the help of the collaborationist Vichy government - was occupied by Germany. Many Frenchmen and women looked away or helped the Nazis outright. Others risked their lives and went underground in the Resistance movement.

In his slim but dramatic new book, The Cost of Courage, journalist Charles Kaiser ( 1968 in America, The Gay Metropolis) tells the story of the Boulloches, an upper-middle-class Catholic family from Paris, and their harrowing experiences during the Occupation. Kaiser, who has known the family for decades, sensitively chronicles how this clan responded to the calamity that befell France.

The exploits and miraculous escapes of André Boulloche take centre stage. Working for the Department of Bridges and Highways, André needed little convincing when a colleague asked him to join the Resistance in 1940, when it was barely even a movement. "Dignity is incompatible with submission," he said of his actions. "I am a man who feels the necessity of engagement."

André hardly had the makings of an action hero, but he proved resourceful, observing German troop movements, obtaining enemy building plans and setting up arms depots. Though his parents, Jacques and Hélène, were appalled by the Nazi occupation, they did not follow their son into the Resistance. But his younger sisters, Christiane and Jacqueline, did join, distinguishing themselves with their eagerness and cool heads under pressure.

Sadly, the coming invasion could not save the Boulloches. After a comrade betrayed André in 1944, he was wounded during his arrest, deported to Auschwitz and then sent to two other camps. He survived - a shock in itself, as such an itinerary usually meant death. André's parents and older brother were not so lucky. When the Gestapo came for Christiane and could not find her, officers arrested them instead. Sent to Germany, they died in separate concentration camps.

In a brief closing section, Kaiser details the post-war life of the surviving children, who were decorated for their service. André, tormented by guilt, kept his hair shorn in a crew cut and wore a black tie every day to honour those who perished in the Occupation. He became an ardent socialist and politician who strived to mend French-German relations before the European Union was founded.

The Cost of Courage by Charles Kaiser (Other Press)

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