Friday, August 8, 2008

Resistance: A Woman's Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France by Agnes Humbert (Jill)

Resistance: A Woman’s Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France
By Agnes Humbert
Completed August 8, 2008

In her memoir, Resistance: A Woman’s Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France, Agnes Humbert spelled out her acts of resistance and eventual imprisonment during German-occupied France in the 1940’s. Humbert was a 43-year-old art historian when the Nazis invaded Paris, and she and her fellow intellectuals refused to be complacent with German occupation. Together, they created the short-lived Resistance newspaper – an underground publication devoted to undermining Nazi propaganda. After five months, the Gestapo detained Humbert and her allies, and for five years, she survived harsh imprisonment for her crimes, including serving time in a German work camp.

Through Humbert’s writing, readers learned about the interrogation and punishment of French nationalists, and how strenuous German work camp life was for its prisoners. Humbert’s style was easy and clipped, only containing the essential elements about her comrades and their activities. Humbert described her involvement in the Resistance as inconsequential, but historical sources (according to the book notes) showed that Humbert was a very important player. This inconsistency left me unsettled: was Humbert really insignificant or just humble?

It’s important to note that Resistance was written primarily after Humbert’s liberation. However, Humbert still wrote it in a diary-style (each entry was marked with a date), as if she had a journal and pen in prison with her. This was not the case. She worked feverishly on her “diary” for nine months after her release, and she had a solid memory because she recalled details such as times, dates, people’s appearances and the weather. Her eye as an art historian probably helped, but I wondered how one could remember such intricate details. For me, Humbert’s account would have been stronger if she had written it as a chapter-to-chapter memoir.

With that said, Resistance is a primary resource for readers interested in World War II history. Undoubtedly, Agnes Humbert was a brave, smart woman who loved her country (she also had a wicked sense of humor). While I disagree with the format of the book, the historical information gleaned from it was worthwhile and illuminating. ( )

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