Friday, 1 March 2019

Lest We Forget

Inexplicable Courage

We recently read Alex Kerwhaw's Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family's Heroic Resistance In Nazi-Occupied France.  (New York: Crown Publishers,  2015.)

The tale rightly can be described as incredible.  It concerns the labours of one heroic family, Sumner and Toquette Jackson, and their son, Phillip.  Sumner Jackson was a veteran of WWI, a highly skilled surgeon, who managed (with the help of colleagues) to keep the American Hospital open and functioning throughout the years of the Nazi occupation of Paris.

Both Sumner and his wife, Toquette became active participants in resisting the Nazi's and their hated occupation of Paris.  Even more peculiar was that they lived in a street surrounded by houses occupied by the Gestapo.  Here is the blurb:
The leafy exclusive Avenue Foch was Paris's hotbed of daring spies, murderous secret police, amoral informers, and Vichy collaborators.  So when the couple at number 11--American physician Sumner Jackson and his Swiss-born wife, Toquette--joined the French resistance, they knew the stakes were extraordinarily high.  They would be risking not only their lives but also that of their only child, twelve-year-old Phillip.  There was no more dangerous place in all of occupied Europe than their street: diehard Nazis had commandeered almost every building.  At number 31 was the "mad sadist" Theodor Dannecker, charged with deporting French Jews to concentration camps.  And number 72 housed the Parisian headquarters of the Gestapo, run by the most effective spy hunter in the Third Reich.

As their Nazi neighbours rounded up French Jews and ruthlessly destroyed all opposition to German rule, the Jacksons stepped up their own private war against Hitler.  From his office at the American Hospital, Sumner smuggled fallen Allied crewmen safely out of France.  And Toquette agreed to allow the Geoletter network of the resistance to use the family's home as a drop box for vital information en route to Britain.  Meanwhile, just yards away, the screams of captured resistance members drifted down to the street from the open windows at number 84, where Allied spies were also tortured.  As D-Day neared, the noose began to tighten for the Jacksons as well: when the family's secret was finally discovered, they were forced to undertake a journey into the black heart of the war-torn continent from which there was little chance of return. 
 Standouts include:
The irrepressible courage of the Jacksons, including their son Phillip.

The iniquity of the Nazi occupiers of France and their collaborators.  It begs the age-old question: how could men and women be so evil, so depraved?   
Yet these were ordinary human beings until they began to believe demonic doctrines and principles.  It is a shocking description of humanity's indwelling evil which can emerge so easily, so unexpectedly.  It reminds us so vividly of the indictment of Scripture: "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.  Who can know it?" [Jeremiah 17:9].

One final comment: the Jacksons were not doing what someone else ordered them to do.  They were true volunteers, moved by a higher, deeper rationale.  They were prepared to lay down their lives, and, indeed, Sumner Jackson did--literally.  Wife Toquette and son Phillip came desperately close.  But their actions presuppose belief in a higher good, a higher truth, a higher Being.  For, were this not the case, how else can their actions be explained and justified, let alone understood?

Jean-Pierre Levy provides a brief summary of the times:
We lived in the shadows as soldiers of the night, but our lives were not dark and martial. . . . There were arrests, torture, and death for so many of our friends and comrades, and tragedy awaiting all of us just around the corner.  But we did not live in or with tragedy.  We were exhilarated by the challenge and rightness of our cause.  It was in may ways the worst of times and in just as many ways the best of times, and the best is what we remember today.

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