Rating: **** (4/5)
Published: Crown, August 2015
Genre: Nonfiction, WWII
“Never had so many psychopaths and sadists been based on one street in Paris.” Upon the Nazi occupation of Paris, the most elite and ruthless of them moved into mansions on the posh Avenue Foch, mere feet away from the residence of the Jackson Family. Sumner Jackson, an American doctor with a Swiss wife maintained his practice at the American Hospital, his presence seeming to go unnoticed by the Germans. It was not until he and his wife Toquette became active members of The Resistance, (hiding downed RAF airmen, secreting messages) that they get into trouble. After years of occupation, the Jacksons, including their teenage son Philip, were arrested in 1944, and that’s when the story really got interesting.
It’s not that the book wasn’t compelling prior to their arrest, but I didn’t think it did justice to their individual characters until they had to endure the horrors of captivity. They were treated especially harshly as American political prisoners and faced atrocious conditions in the camps (disease, starvation, exposure, etc). Despite their bravery and selflessness in The Resistance, it would be their incarceration that would be a true test of their resilience.
***SPOILER ALERT*** It was amazing that Toquette survived imprisonment at Ravensbruck: “Of the 550 women deported with her from France on August 15, 1944, she was one of just seventeen who had survived.” And Philip’s survival itself is no less than miraculous. As Allies were sinking ships full of concentration camp survivors, having been misinformed that the vessels were full of fleeing Nazis, Philip narrowly escaped being drown or shot. “…the Bay of Lubeck… one of the great maritime disasters in history.” Sadly, this is where Sumner met his end. Though he had an opportunity to be liberated by the Red Cross, he chose to stay with his patients. Toquette’s own words about her husband were heartbreaking: “…I never ceased to be in love with Sumner, for whom I had moreover a great admiration and respect. He had such big qualities.”
Overall, this was a great portrayal of the terror in Paris during the Nazi occupation and the courage of those individuals who chose to resist evil.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.