Seven weeks before the Allied armies landed in Normandy , I went to France. Since that country was still under Nazi domination, I had to make a clandestine entry. That meant crossing the Pyrenees on foot. Once in France, I was able to travel by train and remained there, in all, three weeks. During that time I visited the Bas Pyrenees district , the southwest coastal zone, Paris, and Toulouse.
It was an arduous and dangerous journey, but a great adventure. It could have cost me my life, but as an experience it was worth all the risks involved. I obtained an invaluable insight into the spirit of a conquered nation. The thousands of Americans who arrived in France after I was there saw the French people at the moment of their liberation, when they were filled with the joy of knowing that their country was about to be freed. I saw them at the lowest point in their history, when their hope of being liberated had been dashed again and again, when they were being persecuted as never before by their enemies, and bombed by their friends.
In close contact with the Underground all the time, I was able to gauge accurately what was being accomplished in France in the way of active resistance. Passing as a Frenchwoman, I almost began to feel that I was French, and I was able to catch something of the spirit of the people. It was a revelation in how strong the will to live can be, not only in human beings but in a nation.
I also came to know the sensation which is a rare one for an American – that of being hunted. I understood what it felt like to tremble at the sound of a footstep, to jump every time there was a knock on the door. I had to learn to keep a close watch on my every movement and word. A mistake of any kind could easily have placed me in front of a firing squad.
- Mid-April 1944
- Bases-Pyrenees was one of the 83 departements created during the French Revolution in 1790. It is located in the southwest corner of France. To its south is Spain (Navarre and Aragon) and the Pyrenees mountain range. To the west is the Bay of Biscay. Its capital is Pau.