When the Germans invaded us,
knowing what Hitler's troops had done to Poland, complete
panic took the whole north of France and Belgium, and we
tried to escape... It was contagious and one thought of
nothing else but leaving the house and all its goods, even
farmers abandoned their cattle, we took only the strict
minimum and I found myself part of this improbable cohort,
some in a car, many by foot (the majority), by bicycle, with
wheelbarrows... it was indescribable. And we left too, my
parents took my son, I with my little girl and a friend in
But the radio lied to us, we did not know about the incredibly rapid advance of the german attack. First we left in the direction of "Saint Pol" until rumor said that the "Boches" were already there, so we did a quick u-turn and tried to get home, the car of my parents got home quite quickly... That of my friend ran out of gasoline and there was no possible supply of this precious liquid. And so we go by foot, by the small roads of villages, escaping from the news, meeting and parting with runaways and those that were trying to return.
Then, German soldiers were installed in our houses, my parents had to accept one, a young officer from Munich (Munchen) who spoke perfect French and was remarkably polite. I remember that when he moved to another house he bid us farewell, saying that if we happened to meet him in the street, he would pretend not to know us and we would have to do the same if we did not want to seem compromised with him, especially for me, my husband being away because of the war.
Others have had less luck, serving these people so proud of their rapid advance without loss of men, without combat or almost. All Germans were not brutes (the SS were); a lot were sent to the war, not pleased to be there, showing us photographs of their women and children.
Petain sent our armies as far as Tunisia, and my brother is with them. I had no news of my husband for a long time, but he returned to us at the end of 1940, quite sick, to go back to the school of which he was the director.
For the most part our lives resumed a tranquil course, despite the yoke of the occupying forces. We, in the countryside, did not suffer so much hunger, we had gardens, chickens, rabbits, we even managed to feed a pig... all northern pigs were called Adolf! And for survival one became very cunning, the black market was soon in place.
17th July, 1997
Helene has written other stories about this period :
This story has been translated by her grand-son Alexandre.
You can ask her some question if you click here to write to him.