Codename Suzette: An Extraordinary Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi Paris
Codename Suzette is one of the untold stories of the Holocaust, an account of extraordinary courage in the face of evil.
‘During the German occupation of France, Suzanne Spaak displayed almost super-human courage… Anne Nelson has written an extraordinary book that finally does justice to Spaak’s story of heroism and sacrifice.’
–Andrew Nagorski, author of The Nazi Hunters
Suzanne Spaak was born into an affluent Belgian Catholic family, and married into the country’s leading political dynasty. Her brother-in-law was the Foreign Minister and her husband Claude was a playwright and patron of the painter Rene Magritte. In occupied Paris she moved among the cultural elite. Her neighbour was Colette, France’s most famous living writer, and Jean Cocteau was part of her circle of intimates. But Suzanne was living a double life. Her friendship with a Polish Jewish refugee led her to her life’s purpose. When France fell and the Nazis occupied Paris, she joined the Resistance. She used her fortune and social status to enlist allies among wealthy Parisians and church groups.
Under the eyes of the Gestapo, Suzanne and women from the Jewish and Christian resistance groups ‘kidnapped’ hundreds of Jewish children to save them from the gas chambers.
Codename Suzette is a masterpiece of research and narrative, bringing to life a truly remarkable woman, and painting a vivid and unforgettable picture of wartime Paris.
‘A riveting book about a truly heroic woman in a Paris of resignation and shame. A must read!’
–Diane von Furstenberg, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman I Wanted to Be
“I witnessed so many deaths, and not just firing squads – humans can be so horrible.” Abbe Franz Stock, German prison chaplain at Fresnes, Resistance sympathiser.
Codename Suzette is an incredible account of resistance and salvation. It’s narrative style merged with clear facts marks this as an accessible and precise resource for those wishing to know more about the Holocaust from the perspective of those operating within France. However, the style also renders this as a particularly difficult read, in the way that horrific truths so often are. On several occasions I had to put this aside, overcome by the weight of all that happened within Europe during WWII and the burden compassionate citizens bore when betrayed by their neighbours and acquaintances. I am not a new reader to this subject having read extensively over the last 20 years on many aspects of WWII, but this book was striking in its power to move me.
I am grateful to Anne Nelson for producing this book and giving Suzanne Spaak the attention she deserves. The research undertaken to write this book was phenomenal and by all appearances, an adherence to accuracy has taken precedence within the narrative. It’s a testimony to Anne Nelson’s skill as a writer that you can pick Codename Suzette up and read it in the same manner as you would a novel, although its contents will shred you all the more as you continually remind yourself that everything you are reading is fact, not fiction.
“Suzanne Spaak was capable of seeing and serving the ‘alien other’ because, in her clear gaze, no fellow human was alien, or other. ‘Something must be done’.”
Suzanne Spaak was murdered on August 12, 1944, in the prison courtyard of Fresnes. It is unclear by whom and under what order as she had been pardoned and was due for release at the end of the war. Available evidence suggests that all of the children rescued by Suzanne’s network survived the occupation. In 1985, Suzanne was designated Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel, conferred to non-Jews who risked their safety or their freedom to save Jewish lives from the Holocaust, with no expectation of personal gain.
Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of Codename Suzette for review.
Anne Nelson is an award-winning author and playwright. She is the author of Codename Suzette; Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler; Murder Under Two Flags: The US, Puerto Rico, and the Cerro Maravilla Cover-up; and The Guys: A Play. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Harper’s, BBC, CBC, NPR, and PBS. Nelson is a graduate of Yale University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She teaches at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs in New York City.