an illustration by Marion Lefebvre
Today is a day in August 1943, and the quarantine starts. The women are moved to an isolated barrack, the quarantine block. No more work, no more roll calls for hours. And possibly, once the quarantine ends, the 31000 will be moved to another camp, maybe even brought back to France.
Out of the 230 french women who arrived at the end of January, 37 are reunited. With the Raisko group, the ones still at the Revier, and those with special qualifications (like Marie-Claude Vaillant Couturier or Adelaide Hautval), there might be maybe 57 women still alive. In the course of 6 months, 70% of the 31000 perished.
At 42 years old, Germaine Pican is one of the oldest 31000, with Louise Magadur. The 31000 look up to her, Germaine doesn't want that, the only people she wishes to be looked up to are her 2 daughters.
Back in 1941, Germaine was a teacher near Rouen, Normandy. She was married to Andre, a teacher too, they had 2 daughters, Simone and Claudine.
Andre was arrested as a communist. Released by mistake, he hid and started a resistance network in the area. Germaine was left taking care of the girls, working and keeping alive and well the network Andre created. It was a lot of work, and sometimes Germaine wished Andre would be more present, but she knew that if he was, the police would arrest him quickly.
Germaine was arrested too, on the 20th of June 1941, after a train was derailed by a group led by Andre. Andre was still on the run, at least the fight was still on, she thought. She certainly didn't plan on becoming bait, as she was released in december for no apparent reason. But the police didn't plan either on Germaine outsmarting them and disappearing. She could even meet with her children again, and her husband Andre. Yet from now on, both her and Andre had to stay invisible, they had to leave their children to friends, it was too dangerous for them.
For a while, their meetings and operations worked, soon the police unfortunately found them again. Instead of arresting them, they waited, took notes, until they had thorough dossiers on dozens and dozens of women and men.
And then the arrests started, almost all at once, leaving very few any time to run away.
The first to be arrested was Marie-Claude Vaillant Couturier, then followed Dallidet, the Politzer, Cadras, Solomon, Charrua, Claudine Guerin, Madeleine Dissoubray, Danielle Casanova, Charlotte Delbo,... The arrests even led to more, as sometimes the police found addresses, names in every flat. They didn't need to torture the men or women to get more informations, yet they did, just in case. It was one of the biggest successes against the french resistance, leading to the arrest of 113 women and men.
Andre was shot without trial on the 23rd of May 1942, Germaine was allowed to say goodbye, so were Mai Politzer with her husband, Helene Solomon, Charlotte, and many more. It was a dark chapter of their lives, a dark stain on France's history.
Back to the present, hope is back with the quarantine. Now they must regain their strength, find a way for all the remaining 31000 to survive, together.
There are many ways to resist, survive is one of them.
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.
This episode was about Germaine Pican, the quarantine and the Pican investigation. The Pican investigation was a massive blow to the resistance, and a win for the french police tracking the members of the communist resistance, who were named terrorists at the time.
The french police put in place a special brigade, anti communist, and their mission was at first to find Andre Pican, Germaine’s husband, who was a key figure of the communist resistance. On the 21st of January 1942, the police found him yet decided to follow him rather than arrest him. For weeks, they followed Andre meeting with other people, and more and more police officers followed those people, and so on. This is how Danielle Casanova was discovered and followed, as she was bringing coal to the Politzer couple. On the 14th of february 1942, Andre Pican was planning on leaving Paris, decision was made to arrest everyone who was being followed. This is how Germaine and Andre Pican, Danielle Casanova, Georges and Mai Politzer, Lucien Dorland and Lucienne Langlois, Marie-Claude Vaillant Couturier and Jacques Decour, were arrested. Georges Dudach was being followed as well, leading to the arrest of the Jacques and Helene Salomon, Charlotte Dudach Delbo, Jean-Claude Bauer, Yvonne Blech, and so on. All those people were arrested with multiple documents, material, money, leading to many more arrests all over the country. The operation destroyed partly the communist resistance organisation, a lot needed to be rebuilt afterwards.
On the 21st of March, as Andre Pican was being transferred to the german authorities, he tried to escape by jumping on the Seine river, by swimming. That didn’t work unfortunately.
Most of the prisoners were tortured, women and men, to give more informations. The men were shot on the 23rd of May 1942, without a trial, and the women were deported.
Germaine Pican survived, and she found her children, alive, although she lost her youngest soon after.
I made the assumption that Germaine missed her children, I may be wrong, but I suppose she did.
I have been trying to find Germaine Pican’s relatives, unfortunately, my research was unsuccessful. If by any chance, you know of someone related to her 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 story mostly come from the book Red triangles in Auschwitz, by Claudine Cardon Hamet, le convoi du 24 janvier by Charlotte Delbo, the website deportes-politiques-auschwitz.fr, memoire vive, the foundation for the memory of deportation website , the Maitron website, and the fantastic website auschwitz.org
Thank you very much for listening, the next episode will be about the 45000 quarantine.
an illustration by Marion Lefebvre