Suddenly, all the Germans were gone D-DAY: PRELUDE TO TRIUMPH

June 03, 1994|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Sun Staff Writer

Doe-eyed and fond of dances and movies, 20-year-old Simone Deutsch heard the whispers that the tumult on the far-off Normandy coast might be the Allied landing everyone in France had anticipated for months.

At first, Simone was not ready to believe it. Four years of Nazi occupation had hardened her carefree spirit. She could not be certain the landing was real. Nor could she know that it was also to bring her an American husband, John "Sam" Allsup, a lieutenant in the 29th Infantry Division who was slogging his way across the beach at Normandy.

In the French village of Pont-a-Mousson on the Moselle River, not far from Verdun, where one of the great battles of World War I had been fought, civilians like the Deutsch family were still adjusting to life under German occupation in 1944.

It had been four years since German soldiers poured into France, easily seizing the country.

In the quick French capitulation, the country was divided into occupied France, with its capital in Paris, and unoccupied France, with its capital in Vichy.

At first, the invaders had been cordial enough. "They were supposed to be civil," says Mrs. Allsup, who today lives with her husband in Winston-Salem, N.C. "As a town, we were not mistreated by the Germans in the beginning."

Because Pont-a-Mousson was only 100 miles from Germany, many people knew some German; some even had German-sounding names, like the Deutsch family. But most of them preferred to speak French.

Simone tried to keep life as normal as possible by going to gatherings with other young French civilians. Yet it was hard to ignore the German presence and, as the long-awaited assault against the Germans drew closer and French Resistance fighters became more brazen, the frequency of run-ins between soldiers and civilians increased.

"Germans would come into the movies or dances and stop everything," says Mrs. Allsup. "Sometimes they would take young men away. At first, they would be released. Later, they would be sent to Germany to work in the factories. In the end, they were often killed."

Males of fighting age could be forced into the German military. Some did not need to be forced. Thousands served the Nazis willingly.

For those who did not sympathize, the occupation was harsh in (( other ways. Members of the French Resistance were sought out and executed, sometimes with the help of French collaborators. Thousands of French were sent to German concentration camps. German acts of retribution against the Resistance were horrifying. French women were taken for sex with German soldiers.

A week before the Allies made landfall at Normandy, the French underground was abuzz with speculation that the Allies were coming.

Resistance members stayed near their illegal radios awaiting the messages broadcast in code by the BBC alerting them to the imminence of the D-Day landings.

Many French men and women risked their lives daily to help prepare for the Allied landing.

"You have no idea how many people," says Mrs. Allsup, finishing her sentence by quietly tapping a finger on a table.

Her father, a World War I veteran, was a member of the Forces Francaises de l'Interieur, the Free French of the Resistance, and he told his family that the Allies were gearing up to strike.

"Yes, we were positive it would happen," says Mrs. Allsup. "But we didn't know where or when."

Whatever the divisions among the French might have been during the occupation, once the Allies landed it seemed as if the whole of France had been looking forward to their arrival.

Calvados and flowers

Hours after the Normandy landings had begun along the coast, French civilians emerged to greet the liberators with bottles of wine and Calvados, the famed apple brandy. French peasants covered the bodies of dead GIs with flowers.

Radio stations throughout France carried bulletins of fierce fighting in Normandy.

But the news from the German-controlled radio was met with skepticism. Much of France had grown accustomed to German occupation and the French were not easily aroused by rumor.

While Allied and German forces continued to battle on the other side of her homeland, Mrs. Allsup rode the train to her job at a factory in Nancy that made carbon sticks for electric lights. Like nearly everything else produced in France during the war, the factory's output was exported to Germany.

The day was like most others, but for a notable exception.

"On D-Day, the Germans had disappeared, and no one was sure why they had left," she says. "People knew something was going on, but they wanted more information."

At the factory, workers who were in the Resistance confirmed that the invasion had begun.

But even as the long-awaited liberation of France began, there was plenty of grief.

German units soon returned to the town where they had been fixtures since the beginning of the occupation, and their discipline was quickly and dangerously disintegrating.

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