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  • Writer's pictureJanetJoanouWeiner

Nazis in St. Hippolyte du Fort

I'm immersed in research for my next historical novel in the Huguenot Resistance series. The third book will take place during World War II, in my home, the Château de Planque, and town, St. Hippolyte du Fort. Alot went on here during that period and I'm looking forward to weaving the historical events into a story.

Every year the town memorializes the local World War II martyrs

On February 28, 1944, SS Nazis arrived in our region, sweeping the area for young French men hiding from obligatory work service in Germany. Charles De Gaulle, broadcasting from London, strongly encouraged the men not to leave the country and to evade working for France's wartime enemy. Local resistance fighters provided those in hiding with identity and food cards and helped them find safe places to stay. Often, local families took them in.

When the Nazis searched through a hamlet above St. Hippolyte du Fort, they discovered a family with several young men—their own son, plus four others. The soldiers rounded them all up and brought them down the mountain to the Château de Planque, which they used as their headquarters.

After interrogations, the Nazis hung Roger Broussoux, age 20, under the viaduct bridge just out the Château's front door, using the punishment reserved for terrorists. This plaque is now under the bridge's arch in his memory:

"In memory of Roger Broussoux, age 20, whom the Germans cowardly hanged here on February 28, 1944, under this arch of the viaduct."

The SS forced the mother of the family who'd sheltered Roger Broussoux to watch the hanging from the windows of the Château's grand salon. Determined to use Broussoux as an example, the Nazis allowed no one to take down his body. Sadly, it remained in place until the following day, when they left.

The rest of the men rounded up in the hamlet, including the father, son, and three others, were taken to Nîmes and hung with other prisoners.

The viaduct bridge in front of the Château de Planque today

About ten years ago, I spoke with an older woman, who was twenty-six in 1944. I'm grateful she shared her experiences of that February day with me, especially as she's now passed on. Unaware of the Nazis' arrival, she was on her way to a boulangerie on the far side of our bridge and came upon the hanging body. Even after all these years, she became visibly shaken talking about it and assured me she never visited that boulangerie again. In fact, it no longer exists and I wonder if that's somehow related to the events of that day.

Her father was one of the town's doctors, and often she accompanied him on his rounds. On February 29, against her mother's and grandmother's wishes, she went out to find him. Needless to say, her father was not happy to see her when she joined him in the town center, rounded up by the Nazis with other villagers.

The German soldiers were trying to ascertain who was non-local and hiding from the obligatory work service. The mayor, keeping his cool, greeted each person as if he'd known them always. No further casualties among the civilians occurred that day.

Today, a plaque in the town square states:

Thanks to the sangfroid of the mayor, Monsieur Montpeyssen, the population being held hostage suffered no losses.

As this plaque also indicates, the local resistance fighters, called Maquis, arrived in St. Hippolyte on February 29, unaware Nazis were in residence. The resulting gunfight wounded and killed several Maquisards, named on a second plaque under the bridge in front of the Château. For those with local ties, there are streets in the village named in their honor.

"Here, killed by the Germans, the 29 February 1944, Robert Rosse of the Maquis Bir-Hakeim"

I remember the first time I read the next plaque, over a small door on a narrow street near our town hall. "Antoinette Munoz, martyr of the Resistance." A local, actually a young teenager. My heart sank.

I stood there a long time trying to understand how that could have happened. During my recent research for book 3, I found her story.

Annette Munoz died at age thirteen when Maquisards came to St. Hippolyte to pick up some shoes in July 1944. When they learned three Germans were having lunch at a local restaurant, the Maquisards prepared to take them as prisoners. A gunfight broke out, leaving two Germans and two Maquisards lightly wounded. Tragically, the young Antoinette was nearby and received a bullet in the back. She succumbed to her wounds several months later.

Another deadly clash occurred here, on 25 August 1944. As a convoy of Nazis approached St. Hippolyte, the local Maquisards removed and rearranged directional signs on the routes around the village. The soldiers drove in circles, unable to find the entrance into town.

Fellow Maquisards from the village up the road came to help and found themselves unexpectedly face-to-face with the German troops and lost their lives in the clash.

Poignantly, this is the exact day of the liberation of Paris and, therefore, St. Hippolyte du Fort.

A third Maquisard, the twenty-year-old, Henri Roque (called "Paintbrush") was killed the same day in a nearby vineyard as he searched for fleeing Nazis.

Here is their monument, just up the road from my home:

Front: Here died heroically, the 25 August 1944, in combat for the liberation of the territory: Jean-Jacque Salazet, called "Hardi" and Emile Villaret, called "Milette," glorious soldiers of the Maquis "Aigoul-Cévennes."

Also in memory, their companion in arms, Henri Roque, called "Pinceau."

Side: To the memory of all the victims of the barbarian fascists, to all the heroic soldiers and the martyrs of the resistances, and their comrades, the Maquisards.

Monument erected by the Resistance and the Maquis with the participation of the FFI (French Interior Forces).

It's hard to imagine the reality of these events. Yes, we've seen multiple movies or read books depicting the era, but most of us have not actually lived through a time with enemy forces infiltrating our town.

I am grateful for the freedom we enjoy today, and for those who fought to secure it. May we never take it for granted.

When my husband and I met with the former owners of our home to complete the purchase, the town notary brought up the "sad story" of the Nazis using the Château as headquarters and the execution out front. The previous owner slapped her hand on the table and said, rather loudly, "NON! I don't accept that it's a sad place! My father was in the Resistance and so I say no more of that!"

Stunned at her declaration, I added, also rather loudly, "OUI! Yes, I agree! No more of that!"

She recognized her authority as the owner and as the daughter of a Resistance fighter, that her family—and ours—no longer had to be under the shadow of the sad story.

Indeed, now on historical tour info for our town, the "sad story" is followed by the fact that today a Christian organization inhabits the Château, turning it into a place of joy.

Yes! Amen!

La vie est belle...

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