Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Madame Pierrette la belle Resistant

Madame Pierrette Rossi or Villars, her nom de Guerre, is  97 years old and was a Resistant in Lyon during the war. Just a month before Lyon was liberated she was denounced and deported on the last convoy to Ravensbruck.  She had coffee with me on a sunny afternoon in Paris, a block from her apartment on Blvd de Montparnasse. With her helper, a lovely woman from the Ukraine, we spent several hours and Madame explained more about her exploits during the war.
"I was on the last convoy, just my luck," she said. Her father ran a printing press, her mother had died when she was seven months old, while her grandmother helped raise her and her sister 'laissez-faire' giving her an independence. Pierrette has a certain resilience, fiestiness and little time for fools but a warmth that shines through. She's also a bit deaf, and speaks loudly for which she apologizes. She's also trés belle, a beautiful woman and if that photo reveals anything of the past, she was also a trés belle young woman.  A Catholic. In 1939 when the war started  Pierrette said it wasn't a conscious decision but her grandmother knew a contact in the Resistance. She never 'chose' this but she needed to breathe, to fight against 'les Nazi's'.  She distributed tracts (anti-German Nazi notices and essays and news). One time she hid arms in the Academic Center, a burocratic office where she worked. Other times she rode a bike to give and take info to the Maquis, the underground paramilitary groups of men and women who hid in the countryside. Pierrette spoke of the fires they made to light the makeshift countryside runway for the British Lysander planes who dropped parachutes with money, arms and men. In Lyon the Resistance was made of people from all different social classes; shopkeepers, teachers and communists, anarchists and foreign-born Jews.
Pierrette was arrested on July 11, interrogated many times, then deported to Ravensbruck in August 1944. She was interned for a month before the Russians liberated the camp. It took her until May 1945 to return to France. Because of disease and lice in the Turgau Displaced Persons camp established by the Allies, her head had been shaved. Her hair had grown into spikes and she looked like 'a hedgehog'. Finally almost a year later she made it back to Lyon. One time on a tram,  the passengers gave her dirty looks, snickering regarding her as a 'Tondu" the women who slept with the Germans and had their heads shaved at Liberation.  Pierrette couldn't take it, stood and said in a loud voice for all 'I'm not what you think, I was in the Resistance and deported'.
Passengers apologized - one can imagine the shame and sheepishness in those who'd sat out the Occupation.
 What an honor to spend time with Pierrette as she shared her experiences, her spirit and her smile.

  .Cara - Tuesday


  1. What an inspiration, Cara. Brilliant, tough, resilient, and French to the core. Just like you!

  2. Madame Rossi looks marvellous for 97. i hope she has many more sunny afternoons, each one a victory over the Nazis.

  3. There are so few of these precious European resisters left. Their stories are so inspiring. Thank you, Cara, for telling us about Madame Rossi.

  4. What a fascinating lady. I just finished reading an ARC of Carolyn Hart's new-and-improved "Escape From Paris." The story is a fictional account of "characters" just like this, and I could not put it down. How wonderful to hear a non-fictional account from such a brave and strong lady. Thank you so much for sharing! I will promote this post in my weekly newsletter. Please let me know if you would like a copy. Thank you,

  5. Here a lady of Paris, and Lyon. To help France at a hard time, and seems to have in her heart a huge power of love. Anne J.