Sunday, September 16, 2012

Telephone call from Dachau

Paris, France, April 1945
Mme. Marguerite Antelme sits alone facing the fireplace. The telephone is next to her. It rings.

Her husband Robert and his sister had been deported to Germany the previous year. The telephone call is from Dachau. Good or bad, there is news at last.

For additional information click on 'Comments' below. 


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

Marguerite Antelme & Jacques Morland

Marguerite Antelme lifts the handset and hears the voice of her friend, François (Jacques) Morland. He has been to Dachau concentration camp and identified her husband, Robert. He is alive but may not survive much longer.

After the war Marguerite Antelme (née Donnadieu) became known to the world by her 'nom de plume' Marguerite Duras as a writer, playwright, scriptwriter and film director. Forty years after the telephone call from Germany by François Morland, Marguerite Duras published her written account of this event based on her contemporaneous notes from 1945 in "La Douleur", POL (English title "The War").

By 1985 François (Jacques) Morland had become even better known to the world but by his true name, François Mitterand. Elected as French President in 1981 he was halfway through his first seven-year term of office and was re-elected in 1988. At the end of his second full term of office in May 1995 had become the longest serving French President.

Robert Antelme survives

Below is my translation of how Marguerite Duras explains receiving the telephone call about her husband Robert Antelme. The handwritten notes which were used for the 1985 publication were written on Sunday 22 April 1945.

"I do not know what day it was, it was definitely one day in April, it was not a day in May. At eleven o'clock the telephone rang. It came from Germany, it was François Morland. He did not say 'Hello', it was almost brutal, but clear as ever.

'Listen to me. Robert is alive. Calm down. Yes. He is at Dachau. Listen again with all your strength. Robert is very feeble to a level that you cannot imagine. I must tell you, it is a matter of hours. He can live perhaps three days, but no longer'."

As it turned out the liberation of Dachau arrived just in time for the seriously ill Robert Antelme. He survived and returned to France on 13 May 1945. His sister, Marie-Louise Antleme who was also deported to Germany did not return.

However, not everything about this true life drama turned out 'happily ever after' in the way a romantic novel or Hollywood film may have done. Robert and Marguerite Antelm (Duras) divorced in April 1947. Marguerite Duras went on to marry another of their wartime 'circle', Dionys Mascolo. The marriage lasts 10 years.

Further reading

For further information about Marguerite Duras in English, click on the following link:
Marguerite Duras (Wikipedia)

For further information about François Mitterand in English, click on the following link:
François Mitterand (Wikipedia)

Sunday, 16 September, 2012  
Blogger Cathie said...

This is really interesting Joseph! I wonder on what grounds François Mitterrand was able to visit Dachau and in what conditions. I had never heard of this episode. Was he with the liberators? This will mean some more research for me now! Unless you can tell us more?

Monday, 17 September, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Catherine, I trust this is a reasonably accurate resume:

Robert Antelme and Marguerite Donnadieu married shortly after war was declared (23 September 1939).

François Mitterand first met Robert Antelme in 1941.

Marguerite Antelme used to shelter Resistance members in their apartment.

Robert Antelme was involved in helping Allied airmen who had been shot down to escape.

In 1943 the Antelmes lived at the following address:
5, rue Saint-Benoît, Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Paris.

Also in 1943 Robert and Marguerite Antelme, Marie-Louise Antelme and others joined François Mitterand's resistance group ('Mouvement national des prisonniers de guerre et déportés').

As referred to above, on 1 June 1944 Robert Antelme and Marie-Louise Antelme were arrested and subsequently deported. Robert was initially sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, Marie-Louise to the notorious women's concentration camp Ravensbrück, north of Berlin.

Paris and all France were liberated in 1944. The survivors of the deportations to Germany and the east would have to wait until the Allies reached the camps the following year.

Hence, when the camps were liberated in 1945 François Mitterand and his associates were involved in attempting to trace the whereabouts of the deportees. François Mitterand and one of his close associates for many years, Georges Beauchamp, travelled to Germany for this task. According to Marguerite Duras by this time Mitterand (Jacques Morland) was wearing the uniform of a lieutenant and Beauchamp the uniform of a colonel.

As we can see, François Mitterand knew Robert and Marguerite Antelme personally from their time resistance. So when he came across the emaciated Robert Antleme at Dachau he knew who to ring and presumably the number to ring.

Marguerite nursed Robert back to health. They subsequently divorced amicably but remained friends.

Having been a French student, I have come across some of the works and writings of Margueirte Duras although her style and subject matter is not always to my personal taste. François Mitterand subsequently became President of France between 1981 and 1995. Their wartime experiences may well have influenced the paths they followed in later life. I hope this has thrown just a little light on the two of them.

Monday, 17 September, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

For francophones:

In 2012 the Parisan newspaper 'Le Monde' published booklet about Marguerite Duras as one of its regular supplementary series:

'Le Monde' Hors-série (M 08392, août - octobre 2012):
"Marguerite Duras: La voix et la passion" (121pages);
ISSN 0395-2037
Prix: 7.,90 Euros (France)

The booklet includes a timeline of the life and works of Marguerite Duras, extracts of her writing and a collection of essays and commentaries by those who knew her. Among the contributors are Laure Adler (who wrote a biography of Marguerite Duras in 1988), the late Claude Roy (Communist and resistant during WW2) and Yann Andréa (the last 'companion' of Marguerite Duras).

Saturday, 22 September, 2012  
Blogger Cathie said...


Sunday, 23 September, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Ce n'était rien!
In English I would probably express this as:
"You're welcome!"

Sunday, 23 September, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Also for French speakers

Looking at the 'Institut François Mitterrand' website the Institute has published a series of three interviews between François Mitterrand and Marguerite Duras recorded during Mitterand's Presidency.

Information about this series of interviews (in French) can be found on the following link:
[Click here]

Sunday, 23 September, 2012  

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