Byline: SUE SUMMERS
KLAUS BARBIE, the in famous Butcher of Lyons, was one of the most feared and sadistic Nazi criminals of World War II. But he met his match in a young French woman called Lucie Aubrac.
On June 21, 1943, Barbie and his Gestapo thugs arrested Lucie's husband, Raymond, a leading figure in the French Resistance in the occupied city of Lyons. For ten days Raymond was interrogated and tortured by Barbie, but refused to betray his companions.
Though Lucie was also a member of the Resistance - and pregnant with her second child - she decided to do something few people would have dared: she strode into Barbie's headquarters and confronted the Gestapo chief.
Using her pregnancy as a ruse, she claimed to be Raymond's fian-cee, and pleaded for him to be released so that they could be married before her parents discovered her condition. Barbie ordered her to leave, but a few days later she tried again. This time he pushed her out of his office and slammed the door in her face.
Three months later, she led the Resistance group which ambushed a German lorry carrying Raymond and another 13 prisoners through Lyons. After a fierce battle, all 14 Frenchmen were freed. It was the first sign to the city's people that the Germans could be defied. It was also the first time that a man arrested and tortured by Barbie had regained his freedom.
Today Lucie Aubrac is 85 and an immaculately coiffured and smart great-grandmother. She still exudes the energy and independence of mind which made her a Resistance heroine. She lives in Paris, still with Raymond, 83, who owes his life to her.
HER STORY has taken France by storm, resurfacing just when the trial of Maurice Papon, a former Vichy police chief in Bordeaux accused of deporting 1,500 Jews to Auschwitz, is forcing the country to confront its collaborationist past.
A film of her life, called Lucie Aubrac, with French stars Carole Bouquet as Lucie and Daniel Auteuil as Raymond, has made her a heroine again - this time among the young. It will have a gala screening on November 13 at the London Film Festival before opening here next year.
Yesterday was the 54th anniversary of Raymond's escape from Barbie. The Aubracs celebrated, as always, by going out for dinner.
'Yes, Raymond owes me his life, but I owe him mine too, because what would my life be without him?' Lucie says. 'I had a two-year-old boy and I was expecting another baby. It was unthinkable that I should lose him.
'It wasn't certain that I could get him out of prison. But I did and so the young today see me as a winner, almost like someone who gets an Olympic gold medal. In a way, they are right. It was a match I played every day against the Nazis and Vichy and it was I who won.' Lucie and Raymond met and fell in love in the winter of 1938-39. He was an engineer and he was Jewish.
His real surname, Samuel, was discarded after the war in favour of Aubrac - his name in the Resistance.
They married in December 1939, shortly after the outbreak of war, and were offered visas for America, but they felt they could not abandon their families or their country.
It was Lucie who first joined the Resistance but soon Raymond, too, was involved.
Was Resistance work not doubly dangerous as a Jew? 'The place you had most security as a Jew was in the Resistance,' Lucie retorts. 'It was the only place where there was no anti-Semitism and you were surrounded by your brothers.
'For the Nazis, as for the Vichy government, the Jews were cowards, traitors and people who loved money. They never imagined that a Jew could be a resistant. If they'd known, Raymond would have been sent to Auschwitz like his parents.
'This stupid Nazi ideology is one of the things that guided me in my Resistance work. I had a Jewish husband and I couldn't accept that this man could possibly be part of an inferior race. …