Ignatius, David : "After Five Decades, a Spy Tells Her Tale. " ... (Washington Post, 28 Dec. 1998)
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This is the story of Jeannie Rousseau (de Clarens) who was a member of Georges Lamarque's Resistance operation (with the code name "Amniarix"). She became "one of the most effective if unheralded spies of World War II. Her precise reports on the German's secret military plans, particularly the development of the V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets, helped persuade Prime Minister Winston Churchill to bomb the test site at Peenemunde.... "Her exploits later landed her in three concentration camps [Ravensbruck, Torgau, and Konigsberg] which she survived without ever disclosing the great secret she had stolen from the Germans" (See R. James Woolsey, Doyle Larson, and Linda Zall, "Honoring Two World War II Heroes: Prestigious Intelligence Rewards," Studies in Intelligence 38, no. 5 (1995), 27-36, for remarks at 27 October 1993 ceremony at CIA Headquarters honoring R.V. Jones and Jeannie de Clarens).
Honoring Two World War II Heroes At a ceremony at CIA Headquarters on 27 October 1993, renowed British physicist Reginald Victor Jones became the first recipient of the R.V. Jones Intelligence Award. Jones received the medal engraved with his likeness from DCI Woolsey. Jones headed scientific intelligence for the Air Staff during World War II and subsequently for the British Intelligence Service. His many accomplishments include the development of methods to foil the Germans' radar and their radio-beam targeting of bomb sites in Britain.
Also honored at the ceremony was Jeannie de Clarens, codename AMNIARIX,
interpreter who dodged Gestapo agents while gathering crucial
information on the
Germans' emerging rocket weapons programs from behind enemy lines.
(Voir les notes de Marie Madeleine Fourcade dans "l'Arches de
Madame de Clarens's courage in collecting this intelligence and forwarding it under difficult circumstances led--through R.V. Jones's analysis and persuasive abilities in London--to the British raid on Peenemunde and to delays and disruptions in the V-1 and V-2 programs, saving many thousands of lives in the West.
Madame de Clarens, who was captured twice and spent time in three concentration camps, was awarded the Agency Seal Medallion by the DCI. He said that both Jones and Madame de Clarens are two remarkable individuals symbolizing the best of the intelligence profession. The Washington Post After Five Decades, A Spy Tells Her Tale; Britain Gained Warning of Nazi (Rockets By David Ignatius December 28, 1998; Page A01)
Like so many things that matter, it began with an accident. The
was riding a night train from Paris, heading south toward Vichy, when
into an old friend. There were no seats on the train, so they stood in
corridor, talking quietly under the dim light of a flickering blue
conversation was understated, careful, dangerous.
It was 1941: France had been overrun by the Nazis, Britain had been battered by the Blitz, and the Third Reich looked invulnerable. Jeannie Rousseau , 21, had already been caught once by the Nazis and thrown into a prison on spying charges -- and then released because they lacked proof. Georges Lamarque remembered her from the University of Paris, where she had finished first in her class and had shown a special gift for languages, especially German. He was a mathematician by profession -- and now, a spy by circumstance.
The chance meeting on the night train would lead Jeannie (pronounced Johnny) Rousseau to join Lamarque's operation and become one of the most effective -- if unheralded -- spies of World War II. Her precise reports on the German's secret military plans, particularly the development of the V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets, helped persuade Prime Minister Winston Churchill to bomb the test site at Peenemunde and blunted the impact of a terror weapon the Nazis had hoped would change the course of the war.Her exploits later landed her in three concentration camps, which she survived without ever disclosing the great secret she had stolen from the Germans.
The young woman who dared to become a spy is now sitting in the garden of her summer home near La Rochelle, on the Atlantic coast. She is 79, widowed, dressed in a somber blue shirt and trousers, with close-cropped silver hair swept back from her tanned face. She is still a beauty -- the sort of woman who, as a younger male friend remarked, makes you wish you were 25 years older. Her eyes still sparkle with the intelligence that made her German sources so eager to boast of their scientific prowess, yet she is a reluctant raconteur.
She has never shared many of the details of her story with a journalist before. "After the war, the curtain came down on my memories," she said. Like many genuine heroes, she seems to regard her accomplishments almost as an embarrassment. "What I did was so little," she protested. "Others did so much more. I was one small stone." At first she balked at describing these long-ago events. She stood stiff-legged in front of the fireplace of her 250-year-old cottage, listening to a reporter's questions and wishing she had never agreed to see him. So many people wanted to claim credit for what they did during the war, or wished they had done, she said. Let them have the applause.
Yet even as she demurred, she was remembering. During the war, she said, she had been blessed with a photographic memory. It was part of what made her such a good spy. But now all the images were fading, and soon they would be gone entirely. She might as well talk about it, before she forgot. Papa's Volunteer She knew just where to begin.
"It started with my father," she said. Jean Rousseau was a distinguished French civil servant who had fought in World War I ("not a hero, but solid") and later traveled widely in the Near East for the foreign ministry. Jeannie was his only child, and as she remembers it, he didn't speak to her until she was 12 or 13, when he concluded that she had something worthwhile to say. After retiring from the civil service, he became mayor of Paris's 17th Arrondisement, a fashionable district near the Arc de Triomphe where the family had an apartment on the Rue Jauffroy.
When the Germans invaded in June 1940, Monsieur Rousseau decided ("in his naive and very French way") to move the family and the arrondisement's archives to the coastal village of Dinard in Brittany, near St. Malo -- where he apparently thought the Germans would never reach. But the Nazi troops soon arrived by the thousands, preparing for a possible invasion of Britain. The mayor of Dinard, who lived next door to the Rousseaus, was desperate for someone who could speak German and provide a liaison with the army command. Rousseau volunteered his daughter. ("She doesn't want anything but to serve," her father told the mayor.)
The next morning, she put on her sternest blue suit and white shirt and went to meet the senior German officers. They delighted in her company, offering her gifts and walks on the beach -- all of which she refused.
"The Germans still wanted to be liked then," she recalled. "They were happy to talk to someone who could speak to them." And talk they did -- about names and numbers and plans, all the things that older men imprudently let themselves discuss with a pretty young girl who speaks such good German. (She paused to reflect: "At the time, I spoke so fluently I could pass for German if I wanted, but it has disappeared. I can't speak a word now. Isn't that strange?")
One day in September 1940, a man from the nearby town of St. Brieuc came to visit. He asked if she would be willing to pass along information she heard in her meetings with the German officers. Her answer, then as later, was automatic. "I said, `What's the point of knowing all that, if not to pass it on?' "
Soon the British were receiving so much intelligence about German operations in the Dinard area that Nazi spies in London reported that there must be a well-placed agent there. Jeannie was arrested by the Gestapo in January 1941 and held at the Rennes prison. A German army tribunal examined her case, but the officers from Dinard insisted that their charming translator couldn't be a spy, and she was released.
Her only punishment was an order to leave the coast. Her father demanded to know what she had done. "Nothing, Papa," she answered. "I wasn't going to tell him more than I told the Gestapo, and, of course, he believed me." She says this with her eyebrows arched and a thin smile on her lips, and you can see that even at 79, Jeannie retains the puckish quality she had in 1940, when she was Daddy's clever girl, up to mischief that no one suspected. Into the Lion's Den Jeannie went immediately to Paris. She had learned an essential lesson about espionage, which is that it pays to listen.
Now she looked for a new job that would give her access to truly sensitive information, a job "that would take me into the lion's den, which was where I wanted to go." Soon enough, she said, "I found an amusing piece of work." The French industrialists syndicate, a sort of national chamber of commerce, needed a translator at its offices on the Rue St. Augustin. Jeannie took the job and soon became the organization's top staff person -- which meant she met regularly with the German military commander's staff, based at the Hotel Majestic. She would visit the Germans almost every day to discuss commercial issues -- complaints that the Nazis had commandeered inventories, offers to sell strategic goods such as steel and rubber to the Germans. She was accumulating a vast amount of basic intelligence, but it was going to waste. ("I was storing my nuts, but I had no way to pass them on.")
The opportunity came in that chance encounter with Lamarque on the night train. In a picture from that time, Jeannie looks even younger than her age -- small and lithe, more a smart girl than a sophisticated woman -- but there is a crafty look in her eyes, a hint of daring. Lamarque was older than she, 28 or 29, a sturdy, thick-set man -- not handsome, but with intense, searching eyes and a brilliant mind. He recognized her immediately from the faculty of science and politics, where she had finished first in her class in 1939. What was she doing now, he wanted to know. She told him of her job and how it brought her into regular contact with the Germans.
Lamarque said he was building "a little outfit" that was gathering intelligence. "Would you like to work for me?" Lamarque asked. She instantly answered yes. Hurriedly, she told him there were certain offices and departments at the Hotel Majestic that were out of bounds because the Germans were working on special weapons and projects. She thought she could manage to get into those restricted areas. And so it began. Lamarque made her part of his small network, known as the Druids, and gave her the code name "Amniarix."
The information was there for the plucking. "It was very simple," she said. "I used my memory. I knew all the details about the plants and commodities in Germany. We were building up knowledge of what they had, what they did; we could keep an eye on what they were doing -- `we' being me. And I couldn't be dangerous, could I?" As luck had it, she soon met several German officers who had been her friends at Dinard -- the people who couldn't imagine that she would ever do anything wrong. They were now working on secret projects, and they, in turn, introduced her to their friends.
By 1943 Jeannie was overhearing the most sensitive possible information -- tales of special weapons that were being designed in eastern Germany. She suspected that she had stumbled upon one of the great secrets of the war. "I understood that it was very serious. That was also Georges's opinion. He said, `Pursue it, go into it! Don't allow that piece of thread to be cut.' " But how did she get them to talk? Why did these senior officers, responsible for developing a weapon that could change the course of the war, betray the secret to a 23-year-old girl?
She insists she never played any "Mata Hari games" -- she never traded sex for information. Instead, it was a matter of her cunning and their gullibility.
The German officers were a close-knit group, she said, and they would gather often in the evenings at a house on the Avenue Hoche. ("I pass it now and then, and I wonder, which house? I can't remember.") They would drink and talk, often in the company of their beautiful French friend who spoke such good German -- whom they all wanted to sleep with, and probably liked all the more because she always refused. They would talk freely among themselves about their work, and though they generally wouldn't talk to Jeannie directly, they didn't mind her being there. "I had become part of the equipment, a piece of furniture," she recalls. "I was such a little one, sitting with them, and I could not but hear what was said. And what they did not say, I prompted." How does one "prompt" occupying forces to reveal military secrets? She explained: "I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane. I kept saying: `What you are telling me cannot be true!' I must have said that 100 times. " `I'll show you,' one of the Germans said. `How,' I asked, and he answered: `It's here on a piece of paper!' " So the German officer displayed a document explaining how to enter the test site at Peenemunde, the specific passes that were needed and what color each one was. Jeannie, with her photographic memory, recorded each word in her mind. Her friends were so trusting, and so eager to impress, that they even showed her drawings of the rockets.
After these sessions with her German "friends," Jeannie would make her way to Lamarque's safe house at 26 Rue Fabert, on the Left Bank near Les Invalides. She would sit down at the kitchen table and write out what she had heard, word for word. "I would absorb it, like a sponge. I wasn't asked to paraphrase, or to understand." When the Germans referred to "Raketten," for example, she had no idea what they were talking about. Such long-range rockets had never before been built.
By September 1943 Jeannie had gathered enough information about the V-2 rockets to send a detailed report to England. Lamarque sent along a foreword that said, in effect: "This material looks preposterous. But I have total faith in my source."The text of her report appears in the book" (The Wizard War," by Reginald V. Jones, the chief of Britain's scientific intelligence efforts during the war).
It's worth excerpting because it is one of the great intelligence documents of World War II: "It appears that the final stage has been reached in developing a stratospheric bomb of an entirely new type. This bomb is reported to be 10 cubic meters in volume and filled with explosive. It would be launched almost vertically to reach the stratosphere as quickly as possible . . . initial velocity being maintained by successive explosions. . . . The trials are understood to have given immediate excellent results as regards accuracy and it was to the success of these trials that Hitler was referringwhen he spoke of `new weapons that will change the face of the war when the Germans use them. . . .' "[A German officer] estimates that 50-100 of these bombs would suffice to destroy London. The batteries will be sited so that they can methodically destroy most of Britain's large cities during the winter."
Jeannie wondered whether senior officials in England would ever receive her information, or understand its importance. As she wrote in the introduction to Jones's book: "Those who worked underground in constant fear -- fear of the unspeakable -- were prompted by the inner obligation to participate in the struggle; almost powerless, they sensed they could listen and observe. . . . It is not easy to depict the lonesomeness, the chilling fear, the unending waiting, the frustration of not knowing whetherthe dangerously obtained information would be passed on -- or passed on in time -- recognized as vital in the maze of the `couriers.' " But she needn't have worried. Jones immediately recognized the implications of what the anonymous agent had discovered, and Jeannie's information was on Churchill's desk within days of its arrival. It helped persuade the British to bomb Peenemunde and to prepare in other ways to meet the threat of the German missiles.
A Human Tape Recorder Jeannie's intelligence reports continued into 1944, adding new details about the work at Peenemunde. She was traveling deep into Germany now with her French industrialists, reporting back precisely what she saw and heard. Sometimes, as with the technical details of the rockets that Werner von Braun and the other German scientists were building, Jeannie didn't understand the scientific concepts, but she was a faithful human tape recorder.
The British were so struck by Jeannie's reporting that they decided in the spring of 1944 to bring her to London for debriefing. An air rescue was impossible because there wasn't a full moon for the pilots to navigate by, so a sea pickup was planned shortly before D-Day, from the coastal town of Treguier in Brittany. But the French agent who was supposed to lead them through the minefields to the coast was captured and the operation was blown. Jeannie arrived at the rendezvous first and found the house surrounded by German troops. She bravely tried to warn the other French agents that they were walking into a trap, but four were captured, including Jeannie.
The Germans first took her back to the same prison at Rennes where she had briefly been detained in 1940. This time, her papers identified her as "Madeleine Chaufeur." Amazingly, no one realized that this was the same woman who had been arrested four years before and released. Jeannie shouted her innocence to anyone who would listen, saying she had simply accompanied the other men. She was carrying two dozen pairs of French nylon stockings, which she had planned to give as gifts to her British handlers after she reached London.
Now, she quickly invented a story about selling them on the black market in Brittany. ("Fortunately, it was a bad interrogation. If they had been better, it would have been worse for me.") She was transferred briefly to a larger prison outside Paris,then sent on to the Nazis' main concentration camp for women at Ravensbruck. Tale of Survival This is the part of the story that Jeannie truly doesn't want to tell.
It's now 11:30 at night, and she has been talking and drinking wine and vodka for many hours. In the kitchen is a large color picture of her late husband, Henri de Clarens, reeling in a huge hammerhead shark he hooked off the coast. If you study the photograph, you see on his burly forearm the number that was tattooed on him at Auschwitz. Jeannie said that they met after the war at a tuberculosis sanitarium -- two concentration-camp survivors trying to forget what had happened.
Did she ever tell her children about her experiences during the war? Just once, she said. They made a date, like a doctor's appointment, and gathered the two children. It went badly. Was it too hard for the children to hear? No, she said, it wasn't that. "It was too hard for us to tell." The French are not like the Americans, she says. They don't celebrate their suffering and their victimhood. That was especially true after the war, when there were so many Frenchmen with reason to feel ashamed. "People wanted to forget," she said. "People didn't want to know." Even the heroes, it seems, wanted to forget.
But she has started telling the story now and it's impossible to stop. Her tale of the camps is different from what came before. She tells it slowly, haltingly, stopping sometimes for 10 or 15 seconds -- as if specific memories are too painful, obstacles in the road she can't get past, cuts of a knife only she can feel.
This one isn't a spy story. It's a survival story. "Once you were caught," she said, "you didn't think about what you were fighting for any more. You thought only of surviving. You were beaten. You were desperate. You were incapable of thinking of the future. You thought of one thing -- yourself, and of surviving." But even here, she is being too modest.
A Spirited Prisoner Jeannie arrived at Ravensbruck on Aug. 15, 1944. Her papers, identifying her as Madeleine Chaufeur and describing the evidence that she was part of an espionage ring, had been sent separately. Jeannie pulled a sly trick. When the Gestapo officers demanded her name, she told them truthfully that she was Jeannie Rousseau . Somehow, the Nazis never cleared up the confusion -- never matched the prisoner with her alias and never realized the woman they were holding was a spy.
The concentration camp was a desperate place. Some of the women had been there for a year or more, and some were barely alive. Jeannie resolved that it was the duty of the new arrivals to give them hope. "We knew that D-Day had happened. Before, hope had been something unreal.
Now it was true. The Allies had landed. They were behind us. They were coming." Jeannie had two special French friends from the Resistance who arrived with her -- a countess named Germaine de Renty and a communist named Marinette Curateau. The three made a pact that they wouldn't do work to support the Nazi war machine. If they were sent to a work camp, they would organize a protest. Jeannie and 500 other French women were soon sent to the work camp at Torgau and ordered to make ammunition. True to her word, Jeannie refused. She went to the chief of the camp, a fat-faced German man, and made a speech in her best German. The women were prisoners of war and the Gestapo had no right under the Geneva convention to force them to make ammunition. The other women followed her example and said they, too, would refuse to make ammunition. It was a mad gesture of defiance, but perhaps because of its sheer folly it succeeded in raising the other prisoners' spirits. ("We were so childish, but there you are.")
After her protest Jeannie was sent back to Ravensbruck for questioning. "I would have died that time," she said, but the Germans could not find the papers for Jeannie Rousseau -- because there were none. ("They asked me why I had been sent to Ravensbruck, and I said, `I don't know!' ")
The Gestapo had concluded by now that whomever she was, she was a troublemaker. So, papers or no, they sent Jeannie and her two friends to the punishment camp at Konigsberg in the east. That, she said slowly, her face straining against the memories, "was a very bad place." Bitter Working Conditions The women worked outdoors in the freezing snow, hauling rocks and gravel to build an airstrip. They would stumble back to the camp after dark, bitterly cold, for a hot meal of soup. The soup was kept in great vats policed by the head guard -- a fat beast of a woman the French called "La Vachere," or the cowgirl. She would taunt the hungry prisoners by kicking the vat of soup until it spilled into the snow and then watching them scavenge in the slush for bits of food.
Even in this punishment camp, Jeannie kept fighting. She decided the prisoners' chances of survival would be greater if people outside knew they were alive. She organized a census within the camp, gathering the names of more than 400 women and writing them on tiny slips of paper that were passed through the barbed wire to French POWs being held at a nearby camp.
Somehow, the Frenchmen managed to get the list to the Red Cross in Switzerland. Jeannie's health was deteriorating. In that bitterly cold winter of 1944-45, the German guards hosed down Jeannie and other women prisoners each morning, then forced them to stand naked outside as the water froze to ice before allowing them to go back inside.
She knew that if she stayed in Konigsberg, she would not survive. Jeannie came up with a bizarre escape plan. Some of women at Konigsberg had contracted typhoid; a truck was leaving soon to carry them to the gas chambers at Ravensbruck. Jeannie and her two French friends hid in the truck. They traveled nearly two days without food. When the truck reached the gates of Ravensbruck, it paused a few minutes before heading for the gas chambers. Jeannie and her friends waited until the guards weren't looking and then crept away.
Their problem now was to smuggle themselves back into Ravensbruck (she laughs -- "Can you imagine that?") and try to disappear within the camp. Once inside the gates they scrambled toward Barracks 22, where the French prisoners were held. They needed help desperately. Without a prison number they had no access to food or shelter. Their French compatriots agreed to take them in, but for one night only. After that Jeannie and her friends went to the Polish barracks, where they were fed and sheltered for several days -- until an informer reported their presence to the Gestapo.
Now it truly looked as if her luck had run out. The three were taken to Ravensbruck's inner prison, where they were interrogated cruelly. ("The three of us told 10 different stories. I myself told two or three.") They were held, on half rations, and made to clean the stinking latrines and do other "terrible work." By this time Jeannie was very sick with tuberculosis and was kept alive only with the help of a courageous Czech doctor.
As her life was slipping away, the International Red Cross arrived one day at Ravensbruck. A Swiss official read out a list of prisoners who were to be released. It seemed to be a moment of deliverance, for the list included some of the names Jeannie had earlier smuggled out. She listened from her cell as they called out her own name and ran to the door to answer the call. But the guards blocked her way; there would be no humanitarian release for her.
The Red Cross delegation left the camp. Jeannie knew she could not survive many more weeks. Her last hope seemed to have come and gone. But there are second chances, even in that world of night and fog. Some days later the Swedish Red Cross visited the camp. There was another list of prisoners and Jeannie suspected that her name would be on it. Despite the withering effects of the camps and her disease, she summoned the will to scream at the Nazi guard who was holding her. "I decided I must intimidate her," she recalled. "I knew it was my only chance. So I said to her, `You will be in terrible trouble after the war ends. They know I'm here. They will come after you and find you, and punish you.' " The ferocity of these words from a half-dead stick doll of a woman frightened the guard. Afraid for herself, she allowed Jeannie and her two friends to leave with the Swedes.
Jeannie remembers the next hours as a distant dream: out of the inner prison, past the dogs and barbed wire to Swedish buses that carried them to the Danish border; a train to Copenhagen with Danish officers protecting them from the Gestapo; and finally a ship to Sweden. When Jeannie at last reached safety, she collapsed. She reckons that by that time, she weighed little more than 70 pounds.
When she regained consciousness she asked the Swedish doctor to cable her parents that she was still alive. The doctor cautioned, "Don't get their hopes up." After a risky operation on her lungs, she began a long period of recuperation. It was during that time, at a sanitarium in the French mountains, that she met her husband, who had survived Buchenwald and Auschwitz.
Jeannie tried to get on with life after the war. She put her language skills to use as an interpreter for the United Nations and other international organizations.
She dodged most reporters and historians, but she accepted a special medal from then-CIA director James Woolsey in 1993. Woolsey had heard of her exploits from Reginald Jones and believed she embodied what "human intelligence" -- real spying -- was all about.
The CIA citation lauded her "for brilliant and effective espionage, and for courage that is truly awe-inspiring." The Hero's Reflex It's nearly 2 a.m. when she finishes the tale and she is exhausted by the effort of remembering. But the next morning, she looks radiant. There's a serenity on her face that wasn't there the night before. More than five decades have passed. The war is over, and the years of willing herself to forget are over, too.
Why did she do it? That's the question that persists at the end of Jeannie's remarkable narrative. Where did her courage come from? What made her a hero when so many others were cowards? When Lamarque put that question to her on the train, why did she immediately say yes? Why did she risk her life when she could have lived comfortably in Paris? Jeannie scoffs. What kind of a question is that? "I just did it, that's all," she says. "It wasn't a choice. It was what you did. At the time, we all thought we would die. I don't understand the question. How could I not do it?" And that's her answer: Heroism isn't a matter of choice, but of reflex. It's a property of the central nervous system, not the higher brain. If Jeannie Rousseau had needed to think about what to do, she might have joined the millions who did nothing.
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