Codename Suzette: An Extraordinary Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi Paris
This book is both uplifting and horrifying. It charts the occupation of Paris by the Nazis in WW2 and their persecution of the Jewish population, beginning with the detention of immigrant adults and ending with toddlers deported to concentration camps.
The focus is on Suzanne Spaak, a wealthy Belgian who married into her country’s most prominent political family. Her life before the war was privileged and secure and could have stayed that way even in exile in France, but she determined to help the children of Jewish parents who were threatened or deported. Although not French, nor religious, nor political in outlook, she engaged with any who shared her resolve to rescue and disperse these children. Using her money and social status selflessly, at huge personal risk she set up secret records of the children and where they were sent in the hope that after the war they could be re-united with their families, a hope that must so often have been dashed.
This is a thoroughly researched and compelling account of that dangerous undertaking, drawing on many sources, including interviews with Suzanne Spaak’s two children. Though Spaak’s work is the chief focus, through it we get an illuminating perspective on the politics of occupied France.
The author says that in post-war accounts Suzanne Spaak ‘was always a footnote’ because she did not belong to any of the well-known resistance groups. Her aim was to change that, and she has done so in full measure.