On 22nd June 1940, just six weeks after German forces began their assault on western Europe, France surrendered to Hitler’s ferocious regime and life changed irrevocably for its millions of inhabitants. One of the affected was Virginia d’Albert-Lake, an American woman who had moved to Paris with her French husband in 1937. Since the outbreak of World War II she had kept a diary; she wrote the following entry the day after France fell. Three years later, Virginia and her husband joined the Resistance, risking their lives as they gathered downed Allied pilots and escorted them to the Comet Line for evacuation. In 1944, Virginia was arrested. She survived a harrowing eleven months in various concentration camps and was finally reunited with Philippe in August 1945. She died in 1997, aged eighty-seven.
The Diary Entry
Sunday, June 23, 1940
France has capitulated, and according to the English broadcast, it is shameful capitulation which the French would never have made, had they not been forced to do so. The terms allow Germany to utilize the resources and land of this country against their present enemy Great Britain! Fighting will cease six hours after Germany has been notified of the signing of the Italian terms. Already we are able to feel the enemy pressure. Today in going to Dinard, we found all the clocks advanced one hour to German time (Central European). In passing the Hotel Royal where most Germans are, I was passed by and audaciously stared at by two officers. All of this makes my blood boil.
The Germans are encouraging the refugees to return to their homes, and those who go are given gas and have the best routes mapped out for them. We hear that certain trains will start running again tomorrow, and that soon, all services in Paris will be working again. We are warned to be very careful in what we say in public as Germans in civilian clothes are all over the place listening. Thus we have begun a new existence under the Nazi regime! We are beginning to experience those regulations that have shocked us for the last few years knowing of their existence in Germany! What a blow for France and for the whole civilized world.
Virginia d’Albert-Lake was a bona fide hero whose bravery resulted in sixty-six downed pilots escaping the clutches of Hitler’s men. No wonder, then, that she was later awarded the Croix de Guerre, the Legion of Honour, the Order of Leopold II, the Order of the British Empire, and the Medal of Honor. Her diary/memoir was published in 2006 by Fordham University Press, edited by the late Judy Barrett Litoff and titled An American Heroine in the French Resistance: The Diary and Memoir of Virginia D’Albert-Lake. It’s a must-read.
The Comet Line enabled a total of 776 downed airmen to escape France, Belgium and Spain during WWII, assisted by thousands of heroic volunteers. Wikipedia has a thorough write-up.
To learn more about the Battle of France, visit Wikipedia.