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Cahors, France — Once the museum became a reality, war veterans from across the Lot Valley helped to fill it, donating yellow Stars of David imprinted with the word “Juif,” Jew; photographs; newspaper clippings; long-hidden weapons; typed recollections; children’s drawings; cabinets filled with wartime propaganda; a pair of striped concentration camp “pajamas”; food tins used by the deportees; and hand-written accounts of warfare, such as this:
09h30 Orders to place an ambush on the RN 20 (north of Cahors) at 14h00. Objective: attack a nazi convoy. … 10h30 The fighters clean their weapons, recharge ammunition clips, check grenades.
More stories, more photos, more war ephemera arrive all the time, exhibits chilling in their ability to summon up those years. Men and women in their 80s and 90s want to help the world remember what they cannot forget. Since it opened, the museum has welcomed some 178,000 visitors, most of them French and British.
“All of the local schools come to be educated about the Resistance,” says Butler, who calls herself “just a C of E [Church of England] kind of girl” who got involved here “totally by chance, really. My grandfather was at [the Battle of] Dunkirk, and he suffered mentally afterward. I saw an advert for the museum and volunteered.”
As a tour guide and translator, she has learned stories both heartbreaking and heart-lifting. Once the Vichy government’s collaboration with its German occupiers became known, a large number of Jews fled south from Paris. The population in Cahors ballooned to 50,000. Situated on the important Paris-to-Toulouse train line, the city became a veritable garrison for the Germans. But here and in the surrounding countryside, where the Lot River winds like a ribbon of rickrack, many Jews found villagers willing to risk their lives to hide them and save them.
A favorite story of Butler’s concerns Adeline Cubaynes, who was 80 when she learned, through the Resistance network, of Rosa Forst, a Jewish refugee from Paris, and Forst’s 2-month-old daughter, Paulette. Madame Cubaynes opened her home to them.
Four years ago, that child, now the 66-year-old Paulette Terwilliger, attended a street-naming ceremony in the village of Pradines, just outside Cahors, that paid tribute to her savior, and there she met Madame Cubaynes’s granddaughters, Hélène Etcheverry, Andrée Soulié and Micheline Maleta.
Butler gave an account of that day, during which one speaker reminded those assembled of “our duty to memory against intolerance,” ending with the vow, “Never again.”
Contact Mary Jane Fine at firstname.lastname@example.org