This year’s “Read On” book is The Nightingale, by Kristen Hannah.
If you haven’t participated before, KYGMC, International Paper, The Josephine Ardery Foundation, The Charles E. and Mary Elizabeth Scripps Foundation and Hayswood have made it possible to give free books to high school literature classes, adult book clubs and adult members of the community to promote literacy. You can pick the book up at the museum, Fleming and Mason County Public Libraries or any of the venues for our “Read On” events. The Nightingale is historical fiction that touches on many themes and tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on their own dangerous path toward survival and freedom in German-occupied war-torn France. Besides giving us a lesson about the war during World War Two as it occurred in France and how it affected ALL of its people, it is a novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit.
For most of us, living in a war zone is something few Americans know anything about. Unless you’ve served in the military, you are probably pretty complacent about security and safety. I would say that Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center became the target of a massive terrorist attack that took the lives of 3,000 people, was as close to London’s Blitz with intense bombing by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe as we’ve come. The Blitz, however, lasted for 8 months with 348 German bombers and 617 fighters targeting London within 2 hours of the first day! What if war came to our nation and town, where troops were on the ground! No matter who you are, your life would be in danger. How would you react? Would you just keep a low profile and go about your daily lives even if that meant dodging check points and moving in the shadows?
Resistance was the “smuggling of messages, food, weapons, sabotage, and actual military engagement. It was willful disobedience, such as continuing to practice religious and cultural traditions in defiance of the rules or creating art, music, poetry inside ghettos and concentration camps. For many, simply maintaining the will to live in the face of abject brutality was an act of spiritual resistance.” When thinking about resistance, consider when and where an act took place; the immediate consequences of one’s actions to self and family; the degree of control the Nazis had on a country or local population; the cultural attitudes of particular native populations toward different victim groups historically; and the availability and risk of potential hiding places.
If you visit the KYGMC World War II exhibit, you will see information on several Resistance fighters, some of them famous like iconic entertainer of the Jazz Age, Josephine Baker. She housed resistance fighters at her French chateau and supplied them with visas. She attended parties and diplomatic functions, including parties at the Italian embassy that brought her in the orbit of high-ranking Axis bureaucrats. She collected information on German troop movements and what harbors or airfields were in action. She wrote down intelligence on her hands and arms, pinning notes inside her underwear knowing she would never face a strip-search. She carried over 50 classified documents and secret intelligence to General Charles de Gaulle by writing the information down in invisible ink on her sheet music.
Louis Jourdan was too young for army service. He was making a film when Italy declared war on France. He spent a year on a work gang and was ordered to make German propaganda films, which he refused to do, and fled to join his family in unoccupied France. His father was arrested by the Gestapo and months later he escaped and joined the French resistance. Louis, along with his family, worked on illegal leaflets, helping print and distribute them. You might have seen Louis Jourdan in Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The Paradine Case” (1947), “Letter from an Unknown Woman” (1948), but I remember him in “Gigi”(1958) and “Octopussy” (1983).
Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, was a military test pilot who was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. He joined the Army Air Forces directly out of high school from West Virginia. In March 1944, while on his eighth mission, he was shot down over German-occupied France. Members of the French underground helped him avoid German forces. “He taught the Maquis (as French resistance was called) to make home-made bombs, a skill he learned from his dad (who was a well digger). Yeager escaped to Spain through the Pyrenees with their help. He also helped another airman, who lost a leg, escape with him.” During World War II, pilots who were helped by resistance groups during evasion couldn’t return to air combat in the same theater. The reason was that if the pilot were downed and captured, he could reveal information about the resistance. Since the allies were already in France and the Maquis were openly fighting against the Nazis, Yeager argued there was little that he could reveal that the Nazis would learn. Eisenhower agreed and returned him to flying status. By the end of the war, he was a fighter ace credited with shooting down at least 12 German planes, including five in one day.
We think of Audrey Hepburn in a black dress eating “Breakfasts at Tiffany’s”. Operation Market Garden was the invasion of the Netherlands which left British paratroopers stranded. Teen-aged Audrey kept a “Red Devil” (member of the 1st Airborne Division- Britian) hidden in the cellar and she also ran food and messages to other downed pilots. She transported supplies, medicine and worked as a translator because she could speak fluent English. “In retaliation for another act of resistance, Audrey was [randomly] rounded up with other girls, to be taken to Germany to work in kitchens. She escaped from that and basically went into hiding after that, because it was too dangerous out in the street.” Her family hid in the same cellar that housed their “Red Devil” guest. After food was depleted, they ate tulip bulbs. When those were gone, they ate weeds until they were liberated by the Canadians.
All Germans cannot be characterized as Nazis. Those opposing the Nazi regime were motivated by such factors “as the mistreatment of Jews, harassment of the churches and the harsh actions of Himmler and the Gestapo.” “Unlike the more coordinated Italian Resistance, Soviet Partisans, Polish Underground state, Greek Resistance, Yugoslav Partisans, French Resistance, Dutch Resistance, and Norwegian Resistance Movement, the German resistance consisted of small isolated groups that were unable to mobilize widespread political opposition. German resistance included individual attacks on Nazi authority, sabotage and the successful disclosure of information regarding Nazi armaments factories to the allies.” Visit the World War II exhibit to learn more about the resistance and the brave people who endured occupation.
Other events for the “Read” include:
Oct. 1-31, Code Escape Room at Fleming County Library; Oct. 5, Free seminar at the museum: Carpetbaggers and the Nightingale; U.S. Military Support for the French Underground (RSVP), 6-7 p.m.; Oct. 7, Kick-Off for “The Nightingale”- A Night in Paris, KYGMC Parking lot with free entertainment 6:30- 8:00; Oct. 8, “Casablanca” 7:30 p.m. in the historic Russell Theatre; Oct.15, movie at 7:30, “Monuments Men”; Oct. 23, (date change from calendar-RSVP) , Saturday Seminar at KYGMC 10:30, featuring Arwen Donahue, “This is Home Now: Kentucky’s Holocaust Survivors Speak”; Oct. 22, movie at the Russell Theatre, “Escape to Victory” at 7:30; Oct. 23 online, Degenerate Music: Concert of Forbidden music of the Nazi Era; Oct. 26, “Scarce-it-tea” at 6:30, KYGMC (RSVP). Oct. 30, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., World War II Encampment at the KYGMC Courtyard.
Readers may email questions to [email protected] @Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, Maysville, KY