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An American Heroine in the French Resistance

The Diary and Memoir of Virginia D'Albert-Lake

Judy Litoff

Publication Year: 2006

This fascinating book tells the remarkable story of an ordinary American woman's heroism in the French Resistance. Virginia Roush fell in love with Philippe d'Albert-Lake during a visit to France in 1936; they married soon after. In 1943, they both joined the Resistance, where Virginia put her life in jeopardy as she sheltered downed airmen and later survived a Nazi prison camp. After the war, she stayed in France with Philippe, and was awarded the Lgion d'Honneur and the Medal of Honor. She died in 1997.Judy Barrett Litoff brings together two rare documents-Virginia's diary of wartime France until her capture in 1944 and her prison memoir written immediately after the war. Masterfully edited, they convey the compassion and toughness of a nearly forgotten heroine as they provide an invaluable record of the workings of the Resistance by one of the very few American women who participated in it.An indelible portrait of extraordinary strength of character . . . [D'Albert-Lake] is sombre, reflective, and attentive to every detail.-The New Yorker A sharply etched and moving story of love, companionship, commitment, and sacrifice. . . . This beautifully edited diary and memoir throw an original light on the French Resistance.-Robert Gildea, author of Marianne in Chains: In Search of the German Occupation, 1940-1945 At once a stunning self-portrait and dramatic narrative of a valorous young American woman . . . an exciting and gripping story, one of the best of the many wartime tales.-Walter CronkiteAn enthralling tale which brims with brave airmen and plucky heroines.-David Kirby, St. Petersburg Times

Published by: Fordham University Press


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pp. C-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

The making of An American Heroine in the French Resistance is the result of the aid and counsel of many thoughtful friends and colleagues. First and foremost, I would like to thank the journalist Jim Calio for introducing me to the diary and memoir...

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Editor's Note

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pp. ix-x

The handwritten wartime diary of Virginia d’Albert-Lake did not survive, but fortunately, Philippe d’Albert-Lake typed out the diary after the war. The original typescript is in the possession of Virginia’s son, Patrick d’Albert-Lake. Occasionally, in order...

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pp. xi-xxxiv

These were the thoughts of Virginia d’Albert-Lake shortly before her arrest by German authorities on June 12, 1944, as she escorted downed Allied airmen to a hidden forest encampment near Châteaudun, France. Virginia’s life was now at a...

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Remembering My Mother

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pp. xxxv-xxxviii

My mother never thought of herself as a hero. In wartime, of course, there are many opportunities to become a hero. Almost everyone has a chance. But when you talk to people who have actually done something heroic, they say, ‘‘Well, no, I’m not a hero. I...

I. The Diary

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pp. 1-2

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1. Outbreak of War to the Fall of France

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pp. 3-49

In commencing this story—‘‘my’’ story of the war, I plan that it be a diary of personal experiences, reflections and impressions. It should have had its beginning on Sunday Sept. 3, the day that the war was declared, first by England, then a few hours...

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2. Life after the Fall of France

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pp. 50-74

France has to hand over all her army matériel and resources to Germany, plus the greater part of her metropolitan land area; all to be employed against her ally. She has now no independent government, and will be allowed only a small armed...

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3. Life after the Fall of France

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pp. 75-88

We have remained at Nesles all month. These are peaceful days after the excitement of last month....

II. The Memoir, ‘‘My Story’’

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pp. 89-90

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4. Working for Comet Escape Line and Arrest

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pp. 91-118

The hideout in the garden of our country cottage was practically finished. 1 All day long we had worked without stopping. A stranger would never have guessed that at a stone’s throw from the house was a refuge large enough for two people. We...

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5. Imprisonment at Fresnes and Romainville

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pp. 119-141

It was mid-afternoon when we came into Paris, along the Avenue du Maine, down the Boulevard du Montparnasse, up the Boulevard des Invalides and across the Pont Alexandre. This was my ‘‘quartier.’’ The sight of those familiar streets made my heart...

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6. Deportation to Ravensbrűck

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pp. 142-154

The fifteenth of August dawned into a brilliant, hot day. It was the Assumption, and permission had been given for a mass to be held at 10:00 in the courtyard by a priest from outside the fort. But about 8:00, there was another official...

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7. Internment at Ravensbrűckand Torgau

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pp. 155-176

The next day, the seventh,1 saw us in Berlin. We only skirted the city and so couldn’t see much of the bomb damage. About forty kilometers north of the city we pulled into a station called Fűrstenberg. It was nearly midday...

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8. Internment at Könisgberg

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pp. 177-208

In the early morning of the 16th of October, we left Ravensbrűck once again. We waited for hours previous to our departure, standing in line, first for galoshes, then for a shower bath and the change of clothes. The galoshes were heavy, shapeless and wooden-soles, and never fitted to the foot, they rubbed and made...

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9. Return to Ravensbrűck

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pp. 209-222

My musing was violently interrupted by a great clamor in the courtyard. Men were shouting and women were screaming. Shots were being fired. Was it the Russians? Had they come at last? I must hurry! Why did I have to be undressed just at a moment like this? My...

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10. Liebenau

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pp. 223-237

The twenty-eighth of February dawned just like any other of the cold damp ones that had preceded it. I was taken aback when one of our neighbors, a Pole with whom we had been friendly suddenly remarked, ‘‘Virginia, I have the feeling that something...

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11. Epilogue

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pp. 238-241

The low-swung Citroën was approaching Paris . . . May 27th, 1945 was to be yet another important date in my life, and the glowing sunset could not reflect all the joy that stimulated my entire being....

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pp. 242-246

The first time I met Virginia d’Albert-Lake was in 1989. I was living in New York City at the time, and I was watching the evening news on ABC. I had tuned in late, but just in time to catch the last half of a story about a remarkable American woman who had received the French Legion of Honor, the highest award given

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pp. 247-246

In December 1943 my cousin Michel de Gourlet (201 rue de Grenelle Paris) asked me if I was prepared to see a certain Jean leduque (rutland) that I might be able to help. Jean came to my house one day (1 bis rue Vaneau paris) and explained that he had just...

Maps, Photos, and Appenidxes

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pp. Image 1-264

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Further Reading

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pp. 265-266

Much has been written about France and the French Resistance during World War II. Works that have been particularly useful for this study include Hanna Diamond, Women and the Second World War in France, 1939–1948: Choices and Constraints (Essex, Eng.: Longman, 1999); Sarah...


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pp. 267-270

World War II:The Global, Human, and Ethical Dimension

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pp. 271-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247066
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823225811
Print-ISBN-10: 082322581X

Page Count: 322
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Albert-Lake, Virginia d', 1910-1997.
  • Ravensbrück (Concentration camp).
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Prisoners and prisons, German.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Underground movements -- France.
  • Prisoners of war -- Germany -- Biography.
  • Prisoners of war -- United States -- Biography.
  • France -- History -- German occupation, 1940-1945.
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