They Came Out of the Sea!
by Monique Frankston
Twenty-Ninth Division Association members (and Norman friends) Alain & Nathalie Dupain sent us this touching story about the liberation of one Norman town and the consequences posed for one of its young members. This account fosters renewed understanding of what was at stake in 1944. Thanks so much, Alain and Nathalie!
This article appeared in “The Press Democrat” of Santa Rosa CA on Sunday, May 22, 1994. Note that appeared next to a picture: “Monique’s mother and father were captured by Germans in October 1942 and died in Auschwitz.”
The feelings I recall from D-Day and the months that preceded it are a mixture of joy, fear and sadness.
Being Jewish, and not having declared ourselves as such, my parents and I went into hiding in a village named Torigni-sur-Vire in Normandy in northern France. We kept a low profile so as not to arouse suspicion and, since there was no school that I could attend in Torigni, I had to ride my bicycle an hour to another village to attend a boarding school. I came home on Sundays.
As I came riding home one Sunday in October of 1942, a farmer hailed me from his open window, “Monique, don’t go home. They took your parents, and they’re looking for you,” and closed the window behind him.
I was 13 at the time and a very young 13 at that. Panicked and not knowing what to do, I rode my bicycle back to school. I found out later my parents had been denounced. I never saw them again. They died in Auschwitz.
The school’s director sent me to live with her cousins in Villedieu-les-Poeles, another town in Normandy. Their last name was Lemarchands, and they had two sons a little older than me. It is through their good graces that I survived.
My name then was Monique Kraus, not a very French name. So they made me false papers changing my name to Cros, saying I was a relative and listing me as being from Evreux, where the town hall had been destroyed and records could not be checked.
Mr. Lemarchands was a builder. His house had an extra room, so the Germans requisitioned one of the rooms and a German officer occupied the one next to mine. It was a dangerous time, and I lived in constant fear. Had I been found out everyone would have been deported. But there is more. Mr. Lemarchands was a nondescript individual, but he was the head of the French underground for the area. Every night at 8 o’clock we would go down to the cellar and listen to the BBC on a clandestine short-wave radio.
The program always started with dot-dot-dot-dash, the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, V for victory, followed by the announcer with the messages for the day, messages like, “The eagle flies by night. We repeat. The eagle flies by night.” Each was only meant to be understood by the intended receiver.
On Thursday, June 1, 1944, we gathered around the radio, which crackled as usual when the first of the messages came through.
“L’heure du combat viendra.” (The hour of combat will come.) It was a message of warning, a message of hope: the invasion was to take place soon.
The following day the second message came, “Les sirenes ont les cheveux decolores.” (Mermaids have dyed hair.) The landing would be Sunday.
Mr. Lemarchands sent word throughout the area that “the cousins will arrive Sunday morning.” Everyone understood and there was joy and excitement everywhere.”
But it was premature. A following message, “The children are bored on Sunday.” canceled the expected arrival and exhilaration gave way to disappointment.
On Monday, the fifth message, “The dice are on the table,” revived our enthusiasm. That was the final message. It would be the following day, Tuesday, June 6, 1944.
That night, bombers by the hundreds flew overhead to drop bombs on their targets, and on the morning of the 6th rumors abounded. They’ve landed on the beaches at Granville, some said Cherbourg, some said LeHavre.
There was no way of checking because the electricity was out and all means of communication had been cut. But we knew the Allies had landed, and we were overjoyed and expected to be liberated within a couple of days. After all, we were only 40 or 50 miles away. Little did we know it would take nearly two months to cover the distance.
In the morning, a reconnaissance plane circled overhead for a long time and Mr. Lemarchands awaited paratroopers with weapons and ammunition as well as orders.
At noon the schools were closed and the children were sent home. The town had 3,000 residents and the German military presence was just a few hundred men. All municipal functions had been performed for the last four years by French men who were now frightened because they were tagged as collaborators.
New regulations prevented travel of any kind, and we were restricted to walking or bicycling from place to place. All vehicles had been confiscated by the Germans, even cars without wheels or batteries.
But food was plentiful. Milk, cheese and meat were abundant. So, like all good French people, no matter what the circumstances, we prepared a sumptuous meal to celebrate our soon-to-be liberation.
Then the sky filled with the noise of scores of American planes, followed by whistling sounds and then one, two, three, four, five, six bombs exploded in town. The dust settled over a dozen houses that had been hit, but no one was hurt.
For the next few days the town was bombed over and over again. There was a German fuel and ammunitions depot at the railroad station and it was targeted for destruction.
Unfortunately, the American planes flew at high altitudes making it difficult to find the target, so they hit many, many homes and killed a few people but completely missed the depot.
One day, when going to get milk, I was startled to see crowds of townspeople, men, women and children, with carriages, all fleeing to safety in the countryside.
“We are all going to be killed,” an old lady sighed.
But generally there was no bitterness, no resentment that bombs had destroyed our homes, because the Allies had come out of the sea to liberate us.
Mr. Lemarchands enlisted the aid of a few people to dig a shelter in the solid-rock hill behind our house. We were not leaving. We were going to stay to welcome our liberators.
So we waited. We buried the Limoges dishes and the Baccarat and we waited. For days, for weeks, we waited. The sounds of war could be heard coming closer and the planes kept dropping bombs on the elusive target.
Soon there were only 40 of us who had not fled to safety, and several times a day, and often at night, we huddled together in the shelter.
A few bombs dropped on our house, tearing out the interior walls and all the doors and windows, and we waited.
The butcher slaughtered a pig and the 40 of us sat around and feasted on roast-suckling pig with chalottes, greens and vintage wine and we waited.
In the next town, 11 members of Mr. Lemarchands’ FFI group were caught and shot, and we waited, mourning our dead and praying for the Allies to break through to us.
By mid-July, we saw German tanks rolling the other way. They were retreating. We took heart and waited. Toward the end, two German soldiers, no more than 15 years old, in oversized, scraggly uniforms, came to our door to ask for food and water. They were lost. We had no pity. We chased them away.
Then, on Sunday, August 1, someone we knew came running down the road shouting, “They’re here! They’re here!”
And we all got into our Sunday clothes and rushed to greet them.
And they came, just like out of a Hollywood movie, Americans, Americans, rifles in hands, single-file on both sides of the road, the one we now call Liberation Road.
We kissed them and threw flowers and buried our dead and began the long road to reconstruction.