After the German invasion of Paris in June 1940, Andree Griotteray ‘found herself living in an occupied city, forced to work alongside the invaders… Her younger brother Alain set up his own resistance network to do whatever he could to defy the Nazis. Andree risked her life to help him’. Based on diaries written during the 1930s and 1940s and conversations which she held, and written largely as a response to the Alzheimer’s which now holds her in its grip, Andree’s War: How One Young Woman Outwitted the Nazis has been lovingly penned by Andree’s daughter, Francelle Bradford White. Here, White aims to tell us ‘her mother’s incredible story: the narrow escapes and moments of terror alongside a typical teenager’s concerns about food, fashion and boys’.
White’s account of her mother’s life begins with her being granted the Legion d’honneur in 1995, as a measure of her bravery during the Second World War. She was also accordingly awarded the Medaille de la Resistance and the Croix de Guerre. White then goes on to set out the history of her family, and the factors which she believes led her mother and uncle Alain to become leading figures in the realm of the French Resistance movement. She discusses what life was like for a comfortable and relatively well-off family such as the Griotterays in France’s capital, placing particular emphasis upon the alterations which came ‘as tensions in the run-up to the Second World War’ manifested themselves: ‘Shopping, a choice of reasonably elegant clothes, a choice of books, non-censored press, attending university, things which today are taken for granted and which should have been theirs, were no longer possible’. Andree’s own perceptions, along with interest in and experiences of certain elements of wartime life, can be seen throughout, from theatre and patriotism, to her colleagues at the Police Headquarters, refugees, and deportations.
Many of the diary entries are copied out exactly as they were written, and White speaks of the care which she has taken in preserving her mother’s use of idioms and certain patterns in her speech during her own efforts at translation. For instance, Andree’s entry for the 5th of August 1940 reads simply, ‘It is unbearably hot at the moment. We are leading the most awful life’.
Throughout, footnotes add often vital historical background to the whole; they are both succinct and well penned. Some also contain the author’s memories of particular items or incidences – of a marble bust passed down through the family from Andree’s father, for example. Further background to her mother’s diary entries is given too; White sets the scene and continually asserts her mother’s life and decisions made against the backdrop of war. Andree’s War is packed with such emotional depth. On the 23rd of August 1940, for example, Andree writes the following: ‘Life is so sad. It is impossible for a young French girl to be carefree and happy because the Germans are occupying most of my country. Maybe it does not upset everyone in the same way, but for me to walk around Paris, my home town, to see Germans travelling around in cars and admiring the sights, is heart-breaking. I do understand the government’s position in allowing them to march in, not wanting Paris to be bombed and destroyed, but it is very hard’.
Andree’s War holds interest throughout; the whole has been so well written, and the primary sources have been handled with such care. The book is absolutely fascinating, particularly with regard to the extent as to which the eldest Griotteray siblings aided the Resistance. Incredible feats of heroics show themselves, and the way in which the past story has been interspersed with more recent events, in which Andree’s efforts were both recognised and rewarded, works marvellously. Andree’s War is a memorable read, and is certainly a wonderful addition to the canon of World War Two diaries, respectfully written about a young woman who ultimately believed in sacrificing herself and her own safety for the greater good.