Epic Annette: A Life of Remarkable Resistance and Courage

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I have been living and writing in Paris for a long time. I am of German origin, but I write my books in both languages: German and French. A few years ago, I was invited to the south of France for a panel discussion on National Socialism and its effects on future generations. At the end of our discussion, the floor was given to the audience and one of those who spoke was a slender, elderly woman with snow-white hair and bright blue eyes. I immediately took a liking to her, not only because she revealed to me that, as a young woman, she had fought in the resistance – I did not know that today one could still meet former resistance fighters quite by chance – but also because of her beauty, her liveliness and everything about her. We spent the rest of the evening together and I learned more about her and her life.

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Anne Beaumanoir, known as Annette, was born out of wedlock in Brittany in 1923; his parents later married. Very young, she joined the communist resistance against the German occupation. She was first deployed underground in Rennes, then in Paris, Lyon and Marseille under various pseudonyms. In Paris, she heard of a Jewish family hiding in an attic in the city, in a neighborhood where a raid [raid] was about to take place. Barely 20 years old, Beaumanoir spontaneously sets off in search of these complete strangers in the hope of saving them. And, in fact, she was able to bring two teenagers to safety: she brought them first to her own hiding place, then to her parents in the countryside, where they survived Nazi persecution. An infant was saved the next morning, also thanks to the intervention of Beaumanoir. The two adults who were hiding in the attic could not be convinced to leave: they were deported a few days later and then murdered. Decades later, in 1996, Beaumanoir was honored at Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for saving those children.

After the war, Beaumanoir studied medicine and became a renowned neurophysiologist. She married a doctor in Marseilles and had two children. Then, in 1954, a war began in which Algeria sought to free itself from 130 years of French colonial rule. When Beaumanoir learned that the French army was torturing Algerian prisoners, it was clear to her that she had to join the resistance – this time against the French state. She found it all the more intolerable that the French army was using Gestapo methods of torture against its prisoners because this time, as a Frenchwoman, she saw herself on the side of the oppressors and torturers.

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Beaumanoir joined the Algerian liberation movement, the National Liberation Front (FLN). As a “suitcase carrier”, she transports the money that the FLN collects from Algerians living in France to finance its struggle. Annette organized hiding places and worked as a courier. In 1959, she was captured in the south of France and sentenced to 10 years in prison by a French military tribunal. She made an adventurous escape and left France but had to leave behind her (now three) children and her husband. From 1962, as part of the first independent Algerian government, she worked to rebuild the national health system until she had to flee Algeria in 1965 following a coup.

Cover of Annette's epic book
Epic Annette: The Story of a Heroine by Anne Weber, translated by Tess Lewis, is out now (The Indigo Press, £11.99)

When I met Beaumanoir, she was 94 and still very active. She often went to schools to talk to children about resistance and civil disobedience. She was still as outraged by injustice and racism as she had ever been. At some point, it became clear to me: I wanted to dedicate a book to him. But how could this work? How to make literature from the story of a living person? Because I am a writer and not a biographer, I am not required to be objective, on the contrary. Is not literature, like all art, a form of radical subjectivity? I didn’t want to add any fictitious elements. And why should I: isn’t her life adventurous enough? But I also didn’t want to act like I had a lease on the truth about this woman.

At some point, it occurred to me that there is a literary form in which the heroic deeds – so far not of the heroines – have been told or rather sung: the epic. I decided to bring the life of Beaumanoir into a rhythm that would carry me and later the reader too, not in a rigid meter, but in a variable rhythmic movement, less and less distinct. Beaumanoir is not a recognized woman in her country. She’s not an official heroine. I wanted as many people as possible to learn more about her.

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