News Around the Republic of Mexico | February 2007
|The Last Time I Saw Paris|
There were numerous refugees in Mexico City following the Spanish Civil War, and pre & post WWII. For the most part they were the intelligentsia fleeing war torn Europe, and ended up teaching at Mexico City College, the National University and the American High School. They represented an extraordinary wealth of experience which made, for me, an educational opportunity unmatched elsewhere at the time. (I attended MCC 1955-1959.)
Mme Germainé Dauchat taught French at Mexico City College during the 1940s and 50s. She was an extraordinary woman with an extraordinary story of survival under the Nazis during the Paris Occupation. I have transcribed her story "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from two 1947 issues of the Mexico City College "El Conquistador."
- Joseph M. Quinn
MCC's Mme. Dauchat Relates War Experiences
From "El Conquistador de Mexico City College" September 3 & October 29, 1947
Editor's note (1947): Recently some friends of Mme. Germaine Dauchat, French instructor at MCC, suggested that we interview her on her war experiences. Our reporter, after listening to her thrilling and fascinating story, said he felt that our readers would be deprived of an exciting odyssey if we were to print her story in the conventional interview form. Thus, with Mme. Dauchat's permission, we are printing the article in the first person, essentially as she told it to our reporter.
The Last Time I Saw Paris
When the war broke out in 1939 I was teaching Latin and German in a boys' high school in Pontoise, a small town on the Seine 60 kilometers northwest of Paris. Pontoise was a railroad center and had a military barracks, and thus German planes were bombing the area quite frequently.
Many Parisian parents sent their children to this small city, feeling they would be out of danger away from the metropolitan area, but it turned out that it was more dangerous for them in Pontoise than if they had remained in Paris. Fortunately there was a large cave near the school and this served as a convenient shelter during air raids.
Eventually we had more teachers in the school than students. The minister of the interior, Paul Reynaud (later premier), had issued a decree forbidding teachers to abandon their posts. Nevertheless parents withdrew their children one by one. I commuted every day from Paris until it was no longer possible to travel to Pontoise. How well I remember that last day!
It was June 11, 1940 and the Germans were only a few miles from Paris. My train was stopping every few minutes. The bridge over the Seine was barricaded and I found it necessary to get off the train and climb over the barricade. There was a terrible bombing going on, and the Germans were using incendiary bombs. I could see houses blowing up as though they were made of playing cards.
It was impossible for me to get to the school so I went to an air raid shelter. After the raid was finished I had to find a way to get back to Paris. It was impossible to get back by train, so I hitchhiked to Paris.
Knowing I would be punished for abandoning my post, I went immediately to the Academie de Paris to report my inability to reach my school. Just then an inspector said a decree had been issued closing all schools. I suggested that I might go to another part of France, and the inspector agreed with me. "By all means, get out of Paris," he warned.