HOW WE MET

RAYMOND AND LUCIE AUBRAC
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The Independent Culture
Raymond Aubrac, 82, joined the French Resistance in 1939 and from 1941 was head of the Secret Army. After the war, he was responsible for the removal of mines in France, worked as an engineer, as a government adviser in Morocco and in various functions for the United Nations.

Lucie Aubrac, 84, was born in Paris. She spent her professional life as a teacher. As a Resistance fighter, she rescued her husband from prison a number of times, on one occasion by confronting Klaus Barbie himself. The couple have three children. Both are now retired; they live in Paris

RAYMOND AUBRAC: We met in Strasbourg in the winter of 1938-39. I was 23 and had just got back from a year studying at MIT in Boston. I was doing my national service, serving as a young officer. Lucie was in her first year of teaching at the local girls' high school.

My first impression of her was rather favourable and I guess that you could say that it was love at first sight. We had dinner together and then went dancing. Almost immediately, we started seeing each other often. We got together not only to make love, but also to have dinner, to go out, to see friends and to have discussions. We had lots of interests in common in terms of culture, politics and sport. I think that there were probably a number of differences between us then, but as they have disappeared over time, I can no longer remember what they were.

In November 1939, we decided to get married, and we actually got married on 14 December 1939 in Dijon, where my parents lived. During the war, if you weren't married, it was very difficult to get permission to meet. I think that at the time, the main reason that we did decide to tie the knot was to overcome this problem.

It was Lucie who was the first to start working for the Resistance. When I found out, I thought that it was a little ridiculous for the first few days. I didn't consider what she was doing to be "resistance". She was organising little demonstrations, distributing leaflets and writing slogans on walls at a time when the Germans were all-powerful. I had had the opportunity to see the Germans from close quarters because I had already been a war prisoner for a few months. That was in Sarrebourg in the east of France. It was the first time that Lucie helped me escape. I managed to get sent to the military hospital and she slipped me some civilian clothes. I simply jumped over the hospital fence, met up with Lucie in the street and we left for Paris together.

However, my attitude towards Lucie's work in the Resistance changed very quickly and I joined forces with her. In a way, it was a sort of game for us, and eventually, it was one we decided to continue playing. We had obtained visas to go to the United States. Lucie had a scholarship and my teachers at MIT had sent me offers of work. We should have left around the end of 1940, but then one day, we came to the conclusion that the little game that we had begun would be over in a short time. So we decided to put off our trip to the States and in actual fact, we only ended up going there together 35 years later.

The Resistance brought out qualities in Lucie that she had never had a chance to show before. She displayed a great amount of imagination, intelligence, courage, presence of mind and a certain influence over her comrades. She was very dynamic, committed, active and swift and she has stayed exactly the same right up to the present day.

She also still has a real nerve. For example, just a few years ago, she was attacked in a supermarket. She was loading her shopping into the car when a youth very bluntly asked her to hand over her handbag. Instead of doing so, she took hold of her trolley and thrust it towards him. It knocked him over. She then cried out, got in her car, drove away and the guy was arrested.

One of the occasions when she displayed her nerve most clearly was when she helped me to escape from Montluc prison during the war. She was pregnant at the time and pretended that we were not married. She managed to persuade a German officer to let us be wed, which meant I had to be taken to the German headquarters to sign the marriage contract. At first, they didn't tell me what was going on so when I saw her there, I was extremely surprised and anxious. But, when I understood that she had not been taken captive, I realised that she was in the process of mounting an escape operation. From that moment, I once again had a great amount of hope. After my escape, when she told me the details of what she had done, that she had been to see Klaus Barbie himself, I listened with a great amount of interest, admiration and gratitude. Of course, I also had a few restrospective worries about her because of the risks involved.

The main difference between Lucie and me is that she has always been an extrovert and I am rather introverted. But after all these years, we still get on very well. When she wrote her book about her experiences during the war, I was very happy to read that she had the impression that she had experienced an incredible love. I think that I could probably say the same thing.

LUCIE AUBRAC: We met in Strasbourg in December 1938. I was a teacher there and Raymond was doing his national service. He was called Raymond Samuel at that time - Aubrac was one of his aliases in the Resistance, which he kept - and he had a specific attraction for me. He had just come back from the United States, where he had spent a year at MIT in Boston and I had a scholarship to go to the States. We had friends in common from the Latin Quarter in Paris, and at that time there were very few French people who went to study in the States. So my friends said: "You must see Raymond Samuel. He'll explain everything."

The explanations about the States did not last long. Our discussions very swiftly became of a romantic nature. For me, it was love at first sight. Straight away, we started to see each other a number of times of week. We used to go dancing or for dinner. There were lots of extraordinary concerts in Strasbourg, and for the first time I had an escort, a man who was interested in me and who was cultivated.

We also got on very well on an intellectual level. He impressed me with everything that he knew about the States. He has a very sharp mind and even today, he is very curious. If he passes by a table and sees a letter, he will read it. If he sees a newspaper which someone has left on a bench, he will open it up to see what it is. He is also full of new ideas. He's always thinking about things. In the summer, he goes off fishing on his own and comes back and says, "I've thought about..." and for two hours, he'll explain his latest idea. He understands everything.

I was supposed to leave for the States in September 1939, but the war broke out and I decided not to go. However, that created an uncomfortable situation because it was difficult to see a soldier if you weren't married. I could not get permission to go and see him at the front. So we decided to get married. He began to have a few scruples and said to me: "You know, if you marry me, you marry a Jew and we don't know exactly how things are going to turn out." But that just made me even more keen.

I was the first to start working for the Resistance. With a journalist and philosopher friend, I started to make little pamphlets in October 1940 to explain what Nazism and Vichy were about. At the beginning, Raymond just smiled and thought that it was all not very serious. But, within a month, he was at the heart of things and he had a very important role in the Liberation Movement. From the end of 1941, he was head of the Secret Army. Raymond had a bit of a macho side to him and was always worried that something might happen to me, but he always let me do what I liked.

When Raymond was arrested by Klaus Barbie, I was expecting my second child and on my identity card, I had a false name and was a "Mademoiselle". I told the Germans: "I want to marry him before he dies so that my child won't be illegitimate." They brought him to the Gestapo headquarters to check that he was in agreement, and then we signed the marriage contract. I had been to Switzerland to buy some silencers and with my group of Resistance fighters, we had three cars. When Raymond was being taken back to the prison, we drove alongside the truck and killed the driver and the guy next to him. The truck came to a halt and the soldiers who were in the back got out and we went "Bang, bang". Raymond jumped out of the truck too quickly and was wounded, but we put him in another car and drove him off to his hiding place. People still talk about me now because it was the only time that the Gestapo was attacked in the street.

I was a heroine, but what is quite extraordinary is that Raymond has never shown any pettiness. He has never said, "There's not only her, you know." I recently received an official decoration, which he does not have. In many couples, the man would be jealous, but Raymond is not at all like that.

His children have an enormous respect for him because they have never seen him do the slightest nasty thing. All of his life, he has been at the service of others, whether it was via his work in the Resistance, in the third world, in Morocco or in Vietnam. He has that extraordinary quality and on top of this he is also very generous.

In everyday life, there are things I criticise him for. He has his moments of impatience. However, there is a big difference between loving somebody at the age of 30 and respecting somebody when you reach the age of 80. How many old couples have lost the respect that they had for each other? I am lucky enough to say that I am with somebody whose qualities I recognise. !

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