Maguy (Katz) McCullough, Holocaust Survivor, Friend. Part I, Occupied Paris.
This account is heavily indebted to two books: When Paris Went Dark; The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940 to 1944 by Ronald Rosbottom, 2014 paper and Ravensbrüch; Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm, paper 2015. Thanks always to Wikipedia.
I first met Maguy (Katz) McCullough, a Parisian, at my bookstore in Gainesville. She or her husband, Bob McCullough, both well past retirement age, would come into the bookstore every morning for their New York Times. They had met on the way to Japan on a Polish tramp steamer, married, and lived half of the year in Gainesville, half in Maguy’s flat in Paris.
Neither Bob nor Maguy drove, so every Friday, I picked her up and we went grocery shopping at the nearest Publix. As both of us were not in any hurry, we almost always spent time in its parking lot, Maguy telling me her stories, me asking questions. As part of the friendship and in payment for the shopping trips, she would invite me over for scotch. More stories and questions. Stories were repeated – and repeated, which has helped me remember.
After Bob’s death, Maguy gave up coming to Gainesville so I visited her in Paris on three different occasions. She was living in the same flat that she had lived in during the 1930s, when she had a good job working for the French Railways until her arrest in 1944. Again more opportunities for stories to be told. Again good for memory work.
She told me a bit about the Katz family. Her grandfather was from Alsace. Jewish, he was a merchant, and had decided after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) that Paris was a better place for him, his family, and his business than was Alsace under the Prussians. Maguy said very little about her Jewish ancestry. Only that while at the Ravensbrück work camp she wore the Jewish star.
The Wehrmacht invaded France in May 1940 and six weeks later, France surrendered. The country was divided between occupied and unoccupied zones (until November 1942). Both were governed by the Vichy Regime, so named because it was to this small spa town that Maréchal Phillipe Pétain had moved the French government. Paris was in the occupied zone and hence subject to a German army of occupation.
Maguy was not in Paris when the German troops entered the city. At first she was uncertain about what to do. There had been a massive flight of Parisians and no certainty about what the occupation would involve and how long it would last. Eventually she returned to her Paris apartment in the 16th Arrondissement, not far from the Bois de Boulogne.
Shortly, thereafter, Adolf Hitler made his famous tour of the city. He thought Paris to be a model for European cities in the new world of Pax Germania. He hoped also to convince Parisians that life ‘under the German heel’ would be tolerable. And the German occupation force set to work to make it so – except for Jews, communists, and anyone resisting the occupation authorities.
While few Parisians openly welcomed German soldiers or Nazi bigwigs, many in the French army, the Roman Catholic Church, industrialists, and the conservative right viewed the occupation as an opportunity to weaken the French Left. Collaboration took various forms. The presence of many Germans, both military and otherwise, required a “service sector.” French merchants, café owners, waiters, laundresses, and many others served the Germans. Were they collaborating?
Like collaboration, resistance also took different forms. The earliest resisters were mostly from the French Left, and particularly the communists. Maguy always made the point that she was not, and never had been, a communist. Rather she had joined the “Free French” led from London by General Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle, an army man, distrusted the freewheeling nature of the communist resistance; he viewed them as hot-heads. While ideology divided the resistance movement in Paris and elsewhere in France, these distinctions were lost on the SS and the Gestapo.
Early in the occupation, the roundups and arrests did not involve Parisians but rather German and Austrian refugees who had arrived in Paris after 1933 and especially Jews. In 1940, the Germans had expelled 150,000 Jews from Alsace-Lorraine after it was incorporated into greater Germany. And they were mostly hiding out in Paris.
German authorities required Jews, both foreigners and Parisians, to wear the Star of David patch and carry special ID cards. A series of edicts restricted the economic and professional activities of Jews in Paris. By the time of the Grand Rafle in July 1942 – the largest of the roundups – it was obvious that French Jews were also now targeted. But surprisingly, Maguy never was a victim of these measures, and her Jewishness was not the cause of her arrest and deportation.
So far as I know, Maguy did not keep a diary. Diaries from the years of occupation kept by Parisians, famous and otherwise, suggest a city gone “dark.” From these diaries one gets the feeling of life being narrowed, to one’s neighborhood, to one’s apartment, to one room, usually the kitchen as keeping warm became a problem. Paris was dark, and also quiet; few pedestrians, fewer private cars. There was a city-wide, early-evening curfew, which put a crimp on nightlife. Bikes and public transportation were the options; Maguy took to the bike.
As she was not arrested until sometime after June 1944, Maguy had four long years under the Germans. Because telephones could not be trusted, women in the resistance were used as couriers. And she became part of the communications network; this was the golden age of the mimeograph machine and the underground tract. They urged Parisians to be more aggressive in their opposition to the German occupation, rather than waiting it out.
The knock on the door eventually came. Maguy’s name was on a list of her circuit, carelessly left on a colleague’s desk and found by the Parisian police. Her best-laid plans did not work. After her arrest she spent weeks in jail awaiting her trial before a panel of collaborating French judges. She was found guilty and sentenced to death, though the sentence was commuted to a term in prison.
I once asked Maguy if, after the war, she had ever come across the judges who had convicted her. Oh no, she assured me, they were eliminated by the resistance.