a plane on a train
Today is the 7th of July 1942, and the 1172 hostages from the Royallieu camp are on their 2nd day of travel.
Everyone hoped for a short travel, it isn't the case. The provisions are nearly gone, they were only given a small loaf of bread and 3 camemberts. The water is long gone, everyone is thirsty, looking inside the luggages for every bit of liquid, even cologne would do.
It is hot, very hot, every smell around them becomes unbearable. Everyone becomes unbearable to everyone, keeping your cool becomes harder and harder. Only the organised turns to get closer to the windows and get some fresh air calm the anger.
Raphael Manello is tired too, thirsty and hungry, yet somehow he manages to keep his calm. He sent a letter from the train, like most hostages did, hopefully his brother will receive it, but Raphael doesn't want to hope for it too much.
He listens to the men listing the cities they can see from the windows, Francfort sur le main, lena, Gera,... Raphael has never been so close to Berlin.
2 years earlier, on the 27th of March 1940, Raphael was arrested by the french police as a communist. Yet on the 10th of June, everyone needed to be evacuated. The reason was simple, the german army was coming.
So he got on a bus, packed with as many prisoners as possible, and the travel began. First they arrived at the Orleans prison, it was full, so they had to go souther. At the Groue camp, the same thing happened, the idea of being rejected twice by a prison made Raphael laugh.
Back in the present, some hostages wish they got rejected again, that wherever they arrive is full, that they have to come back home. Maybe they would get an apology for the harsch transport and lack of provisions, a compensation for the smell even. Raphael doesn't want to hope too much.
He may be right, the opposite happens, as in most german cities, as the train slows down near the stations yet doesn’t fully stops, the german citizen soldiers look at the wagons with hatred. Sometimes, they even throw rocks at them. So much for an apology.
The train passes Chemnitz, it stops in front of a military train. The sight is almost eerie, the train carries hundreds of wounded german soldiers, and a destroyed Soviet Union plane. Raphael wonders why they would carry a Soviet Unionn plane. What's to study? A plane is a plane, it has wings, end of study. The wounded and the hostages stare at each other for a while, it is awkward.
Back in 1940, Raphael spent 4 nights at the Groue camp. Everyone was sleeping on the grass, under the threat of german planes. The german army was still getting closer, there were bombings all around them. No one could sleep properly, everyone had that odd contradictory need to get in the prison. On the 15th of June, the guards decided to travel more South, by foot as there were no more buses. So they walked.
The prisoners were not alone on the roads, it felt like the entire french population was on the run too. Packed cars, chariots filled with furnitures, radios, clothes, toys,... Where were they all going? Neither the civilians nor the prisoners knew where they were heading, there was no plan, no strategy, only panic.
Sometimes french soldiers escorted them for a few kilometers. You would wonder if the french army should do something else than escorting prisoners who were mostly arrested for carrying communist tracts. Apparently it was more important than winning a war.
The guards started being violent. If you walked too slowly, they would threaten to shoot you, same if you escaped. It would be easy to escape, but the guards shot 13 people to dissuade everyone. The travel was becoming harder and harder, the roads were filled with more and more civilians, some bridges were destroyed, the prisoners had to turn back and take new roads a few times. That was the exodus, a mess, a global confusion on a country level.
They stopped once more, this time the german soldiers were already there, they arrived earlier, somehow. It hit Raphael like a child's boot on a puddle. This was not France anymore, this had just become Germany. France had lost the war. However South, this was already Germany.
The guards simply ran away and left all the prisoners, unguarded, alone. Many wondered what should be done. Should they stay and wait for the guards to come back? Or should they keep on going, unguarded, and join the other prisoners, the one with the guards?
Raphael decided to come back home. He didn't consider he was running away, he thought his jail time was done, that the end of the war would change everything, including his imprisonment.
A year later, the police knocked at his door, asking him to go back to prison, for running away. He went back to prison and did his time. And he got arrested again, as a hostage this time. There are no rules in France Germany.
Now Raphael is inside a train, heading east. He hears they are leaving Germany, they may be in Poland now. It doesn't matter, France, Poland, this is all one country now. This is Hitler's Germany, all of it, there is no escape from it anymore.
Thank you for listening to this episode of 31000/45000, the story of 2 trains of french members of the resistance. My name is Matthieu Landour Engel, and I have contacted the CNC,which is the equivalent of the french Bfi, in order to get fundings, yet my project has been refused.
This episode is about Raphael Manello and the second day inside the 45000 train to eastern Europe.
I made many assumptions regarding Raphael Manello, I gave him various thoughts which I cannot prove. Those are thoughts I gave him, according to what happened to him, and I will admit, the narrative drive, inspiration I have for this project.
It is worth noting that at this point, the prisoners, or hostages, don’t know where they are going. They expected to be going to a labor camp in Germany and participate to the war effort. They also prepared for sabotaging the war effort as much as they could.
The travel conditions were truly dreadful, the people in the train started losing their temper, and they were really lucky to mostly know one another, those train travel often lead to a lot of violence, which didn’t happen much in this specific case. If you wish to know more on the subject, and speak french, there is a great yet terrible radio episode on france culture about the latter. I will put a link.
I wanted to give you a few more informations about the french exodus. So a quarter of the french population, 8 to 10 million people, fled the german army’s advance in 1940, it was one of the biggest movement of population. As they didn’t know where the german army was going, the population mostly moved south, yet most were confused about where to go, what to bring with them, which led to blocked roads with carts and cars, and at some points, the german army moved quicker than the population, and the population ended up arriving in places where the german army already was. Some cities like Paris or Lille, were emptied of their populations, water supplies, electricity, health services, stopped, sometimes, the mayors fled as well, leaving the cities ungoverned. It was pretty chaotic.
In Raphael Manellos’ case, the guards fled, leaving the prisoners unguarded, and they actually were expected to stay and were later arrested for running away a place where no one was guarding them. Many people died during this exodus, there is an estimate of 100000 people, and the german army didn’t hesitate shooting and bombing the roads and the civilians on the roads. Many families were separated during this chaos too, there was an estimate of 90000 children who got lost, which is terrible.
Not everyone came back home either, as the country was quickly divided in 2 zones the North and west coast and the south zone, which wasn’t occupied by the german army. Many decided to stay in the southern zone, as it felt safer, cities like Marseille, Lyon or Clermont ferrand had a huge rise of citizen at that time.
The title of this episode, a train to nowhere, refers to a sentence by Charlotte Delbo, which I will talk further in later episodes.
I have been trying to find Raphael Manello’s relatives, unfortunately, my research was unsuccessful. If by any chance, you know of someone related to Raphael Manello, please let me know, I would be very pleased to get in touch and make sure the text I wrote doesn’t contain any errors.
My sources for this episode are the book Red Triangles in Auschwitz by Claudine Cardon Hamet, the website memoire Vive and deportes-politiques-auschwitz.fr, as well as an episode about the 2nd of July 1944 train from Compiegne, by Dominique Prusak, directed by Laurent Paulre.
I would like also to recommend the movie Bon voyage, directed by Jean Paul Rappeneau, starring Isabelle Adjani and Gerard Depardieu, which I personally really enjoyed.
I would also recommend the tv series A french village, created by Emmanuel Dauce, Frederic krivine and Philippe Triboit, which I personally didn’t enjoy as much, yet I thought was historically incredibly interesting.
Thank you very much for your attention, next episode will be about Jean Fletcher, and it will be about the arrival of the 45000.
documentaire radio sur les wagons de la mort