A Doctor’s House in Caluire
The house in caluire stands today exactly as it stood then, a handsome stone building on the corner of a small provincial square called the Place Castellane. Caluire is a suburb of Lyon, perched on a hill overlooking the sleepy waters of the River Saône. Raised on a terrace slightly above the level of the square, its three floors protected by a stone wall and iron railings, the house has the light gray shutters and dark green creeper of so many French villas of its period.
Today, as then, it is the property of Dr. Frédéric Dugoujon. In 1943 Lyon was under martial law, occupied by German forces, but most people tried to carry on as normally as possible. Dr. Dugoujon was among them. In common with the great majority of people he was not involved in resistance. But he had a friend who was a member of the resistance group Libération, and at this man’s request the doctor agreed to let his house be used for a secret meeting on the afternoon of 21 June. The doctor’s house was a bad choice for a meeting place. Having only one entrance it was a natural trap. Once inside, the only exit was through the front door.
The twenty-first of June was a Monday; the meeting was scheduled for 2:15 in the afternoon. It had been called by Jean Moulin, a prefect suspended on half-pay by the wartime Vichy government, who had crossed under a false identity to England, where he had been nominated by General de Gaulle as the political head of the Resistance. Seven other prominent members of the movement had been summoned to the meeting, whose purpose was to discuss the appointment of a new military leader for “the Secret Army.” This was the name given to the united military resistance, an organization which was in a state of crisis following a succession of arrests by the German security forces. Eight people was an unusually large number for such a meeting, but it seemed that a doctor’s house during surgery hours, with a steady arrival and departure of patients, would provide effective cover.
Between 2:00 and 2:20 the doorbell at the doctor’s house rang three times and the maid admitted five young or middle-aged men who were shown not into the ground-floor waiting room but up the stairs to a room on the second floor. They were Colonel Albert Lacaze, a regular army officer and a member of a small independent resistance group called France d’Abord; André Lassagne, the friend of Dr. Dugoujon, a professor of Italian and a member of the network Libération, which was close to the French Communist Party; Bruno Larat, who ran the COPA,* the service which organized parachute drops and landings for the Resistance; and Henri Aubry and René Hardy, both members of a powerful right-wing resistance group, Combat. All of these men were inside the house in good time for the meeting. Another person expected, Claude Serreulles, failed to turn up, having lost his way and taken the wrong tramcar.
* Acronyms and foreign titles are explained in the glossary on page 263.
Not all those sitting in the upstairs room knew each other by sight or even by name since they had adopted noms de guerre. They were aware that they had been summoned by the head of the Resistance whom they all knew as “Max.” But “Max” did not come. So, for forty-five minutes, five men involved in a hazardous common undertaking but more or less strangers to each other sat together in an increasingly exposed situation. The conspirators were unarmed, unguarded, in a house with no escape route. It was a standard precaution in the Resistance to walk away from a broken appointment after a short delay and start again. But on 21 June these men were lulled into waiting, by the welcoming atmosphere of the house, or by the reassuring routine of the surgery which they could hear on the floor below—the ringing of the doorbell, the footsteps going backwards and forwards across the hall, the occasional noise of voices, including the voices of women and children, the greetings given by the maid, Madame Brossier, to regular patients; normal life in all its distracting familiarity. Then as time passed, and their conversation started to go round in circles, they began to wonder what had happened to “Max.”
Just before three o’clock the front doorbell rang again, twice, and Madame Brossier was confronted by three more men, all of whom she showed into the doctor’s waiting room where they joined a group of six patients. One of them was “Max.” The others were Raymond Aubrac, like Lassagne a member of Libération, and Lieutenant-Colonel Schwartzfeld, like Colonel Lacaze a member of France d’Abord. Although “Max” and Aubrac realized at once that they had been shown into the wrong room, and knew that by remaining they were further delaying the start of a meeting that was already forty minutes behind schedule, they stayed there for five minutes, inhibited even from discussing what to do by the presence of the doctor’s bona fide patients. Perhaps they thought they were the first to arrive. Perhaps they thought that the doctor had failed to brief the maid. Perhaps they were waiting for an opportunity to talk freely. In his consulting room across the hallway Dr. Dugoujon was examining a small boy who was accompanied by his mother. A few minutes after three there was a sudden loud banging at the front door followed by a crash, and the orderly routine of the doctor’s house in the Place Castellane was broken forever.
“The first I knew that something unusual was going on,” said Dr. Dugoujon in 1985,
was when I heard a noise in the hall. I left my patient and came out to find that several men in civilian clothes, armed with pistols, had burst through the front door. I don’t know why they did that. If they had rung the bell the maid would have let them in. I asked them what they thought they were doing. Of course I was pretty sure I knew the answer already. There was a big brute who came toward me as though to hit me, and then a smaller man with piercing blue eyes and a sharp, pointed face who ordered me into my own waiting room with all the patients. That was my first sight of Klaus Barbie, who was the head of the Lyon Gestapo. They rounded up everyone they found in the house and pushed them into the waiting room. Then they handcuffed all the men and took us away for questioning. There were German soldiers outside. We were all handcuffed except for a young man with fair hair.
The doctor’s house had been raided by a Sonderkommando, a special police group recently formed in Lyon to intensify operations against the Resistance. Upstairs they burst into the room where the meeting was assembled and ordered everyone to lie on the floor. Then their leader broke off the leg of an antique Henri II table and started to beat André Lassagne. Hardy was arrested by an SS corporal called Harry Steingritt and he was the only man taken at Caluire who was not handcuffed. “I understand some German,” said Dr. Dugoujon,
and I heard them say there were no more handcuffs. So they tied a leather strap to one of his wrists and a soldier held the end of it. Outside the house when we were about to be loaded into their cars this man without handcuffs suddenly pulled the strap out of the guard’s hands, punched the soldier in the stomach and ran off. He ran very fast across the square, dodging between the trees. Another soldier shouted at him and then started shooting, but the man got across the square and disappeared round the corner and none of the soldiers really searched for him.
Nonetheless one of the bullets fired had wounded Hardy in the arm.
The seven resisters arrested at Caluire, with Dr. Dugoujon and most of the patients in the waiting room, were taken first to Gestapo headquarters in the Ecole de Santé Militaire in the avenue Berthelot, where they were locked up till the evening. Then they were ordered out of their separate cells and lined up in the corridor. That was the second time Dr. Dugoujon met Klaus Barbie.
It was the same little chap from my house that afternoon. He walked down the line and asked each one of us if we were “Max.” But he didn’t ask me that. To me he just said, “You had a gun in the drawer of your desk. Why?” It was true I had a gun in my desk. I said I always kept a gun in my desk, against robbers. He said it was illegal. I said I knew that. He just smiled. Not a particularly unpleasant smile. He gave the impression that he already knew all the answers to his own questions and he was only looking for confirmation. I realized that this was his professional manner. But I was also impressed by his confidence that he would be able to find out everything he wanted to know in due course.
After a brief interrogation, Dr. Dugoujon was transferred to the central prison of Fort Montluc; with him went Jean Moulin, Raymond Aubrac, Lieutenant-Colonel Schwartzfeld and Colonel Lacaze.
For the resistance leaders their first night in Montluc was a bitter experience. Not only had their meeting been discovered but the Gestapo knew the code name “Max” and strongly suspected that he was among them. It was Midsummer night, the shortest night of the year, and though he was guarded by German soldiers and French prison warders, Jean Moulin must have had hopes, however slight, of escape since the Resistance in Lyon had the means to rescue prisoners. He must also have had hopes that his false identity, Jean Martel, art dealer from Nice, would hold, since he alone among those arrested carried a letter of recommendation from a doctor in Marseille for Dr. Dugoujon’s attention.
Meanwhile at the Ecole de Santé Militaire the three prisoners who remained were already being beaten. They were the three younger men from the upper room, Henri Aubry, Bruno Larat and André Lassagne. Barbie started his interrogation of Lassagne with this terrible phrase: “Your ‘Secret Army’ is a secret for nobody, certainly not for us.” On that first night Barbie selected Lassagne, as the most likely “Max,” for special treatment. He was not only beaten but dragged out three times to stand before a firing squad. At one point a colleague of Barbie’s entered the room and threw a bundle of resistance mail onto the desk saying, in French, “Max is among them.”
As for René Hardy, after running across the Place Castellane he had hidden in a ditch and then made his way to a friend’s house to seek attention for his wound. He was seen taking refuge and reported to French police who were investigating the shooting incident in the Place Castellane. They arrested him and took him late at night to the Antiquaille hospital, where he remained in police custody. When the French police investigation was complete Hardy was delivered to the Gestapo and confined in a German military hospital, the Croix-Rousse. The decision to hand him over was taken by the commissioner of French police in Lyon, René Cussonac, who was executed after the liberation of Lyon for this action among many others. Shortly after the execution of the police commissioner Hardy, too, was tried for treason. He was acquitted, but for the rest of his life he was suspected of having betrayed the meeting at Caluire to the Gestapo.
A man’s life can sometimes be defined by his death. In the case of Jean Moulin nobody knows when he died, or how or where. His body was never found. After two days of inquiry the Gestapo had acquired enough information to begin Moulin’s interrogation. That evening Dr. Dugoujon saw him being dragged back to his cell with his face covered in blood. There were three other occasions when members of the Resistance claim to have seen him in a dying condition, once in Lyon, twice in the villa in Neuilly outside Paris occupied by SS Major Karl Boemelburg, the head of the Gestapo in France. What is clear is that Jean Moulin was last seen alive in France. His dead body was first identified by a policeman two weeks later in Frankfurt, Germany. His death certificate states that he died in Metz, just before the German border. The most likely cause of death was multiple head injuries, but it is not certain how these were inflicted, or by whom. In the absence of certainty it is widely concluded that he died as a hero, having refused to talk, and was beaten into a coma on the orders of the senior Gestapo officer in Lyon, SS Lieutenant Klaus Barbie. Despite the lack of detail Jean Moulin’s case is a classic example of defining a man’s life by his death.
Excerpted from Resistance and Betrayal by Patrick Marnham. Copyright © 2002 by Patrick Marnham. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.