She was a brilliant young scholar teaching history and geography at the University of Strasbourg when the Nazis overran Alsace and took her husband prisoner.
Knowing she would never see him alive again if she didn't get him out of prison camp, for he was a Jew, she smuggled him some pills that gave him a high fever and subsequently a bed in the prison hospital. She visited him there, slipped him a workman's smock for a disguise and was waiting for him in a car outside the prison when he climbed over the wall. Another time, when he was recaptured, this farmborn intellectual overtook a Nazi armored car with the aid of some friends, gunned down the German captors and rescued her husband all over again.
"This is the amazing thing about the French Resistance," said veteran correspondent David Schoenbrun, who has written a book about it --"Soldiers of the Night" -- "they were all ordinary people, all kinds of people, who rose to the occasion. It should be an inspiration for America today."
Many of these guerrilla fighters were women. Perhaps the most remarkable of all was Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a 30-ish mother of two who worked in a Paris publishing house and who became with the conquest of France, the fabled "Hedgehod," leader of an underground network of at least 3,000 people.
She was the one who arranged a reunion in 1977 for survivors of the Resistance, bringing them back to the days when there was no time for the usual class divisions, for right wing or left wing, for rich or poor. Schoenbrun was at that meeting.
"It was a terribly complex story," he said. "Four times, I almost quit. There were so many different groups. I decided to follow a few of the biggest operations through the war, cutting back and forth."
The result is an enormously readable mix of history and adventure that gives a panoramic view of France under the Nazis -- a very different view from "The Sorrow and the Pity," Marcel Ophuls' long documentary film on collaborationists and faint-hearts in the Occupation.
Ophuls fled France when the Germans took over, the writer pointed out, and so didn't see the Resistance at first hand. Ironically, the film concentrated on the district of Clermont-Ferrand, which was in fact one of the hottest centers of maquis guerrillas.
It's natural that part of a conquered people will go along with the conquerors," Schoenburn said. "What's remarkable is the number who didn't."
As an American intelligence agent in North Africa and France and as a combat correspondent who found himself literally the first American soldier to reach the Rhine, he knew a lot of brave French people.
One, a well-to-do homosexual who was the lover of a German soldier, turned into a deadly killer when he learned the officer was actually Gestapo, dispatching not only the officer but dozens of others. He told Schoenbrun about it years later over coffee. The name was changed for the book, needless to say.
Oh, the stories. Fourcade wriggling naked between the bars of a jail, her dress gripped in her teeth. A radio operator saved by his housemaid, who gathered his radio into her huge apron like a load of laundry an instant before the Germans burst into the room.
The man who slipped out of a watched house under cover of a funeral procession and escaped as a slow-walking mourner, head down. The saboteurs who threw sand in gear-boxes, derailed trains (and published a how-to book on the subject), and just after D-Day, delayed a crack Nazi division for hours when it was most needed at the front . . . .
The book also details the never-ending bickering amoung underground groups and among the Allies themselves at every stage in the war and especially during the invasion, when all the various individual motives, from De Gaulle's to Patton's got in the way. The results make one wonder how we won the war at all. To quote:
"Neither the British nor DeGaulle, in England, nor the Americans, in North Africa, were yet willing to send a mass of arms to underground groups they did not truly command . . . . The arms drops were, therefore, carefully dosed, just enough to keep the Resistance from rebelling, not enough to make the Resistance a potentially dangerous independent armed force."
In other words, the rear-echelon powers didn't really want the Resistance to do too well - until the right time. When that time did come, however, the order to start fighting in the open was given prematurely, and the lives of many brave people were wasted.
"I hope I have written more than a history," said Schoenbrun. "I hope I have shown that people can rise above themselves in time of trouble. We're in trouble in America today: We're in an economic war, we have OPEC and the Soviet threat and worst of all we have this 'Me' attitude. I'm an optimist. sI think the American people will rise to the occasion."