A brilliant example of this is the story of Anne-Marie Vion, Resistant, who died in Ravensbruck on February 3rd, 1945, at the age of 23. It is most interesting to read the speeches delivered on May 23rd, 1945, in Clery-sur-Somme, her home village at her memorial. Speeches given by the priest, a young member of the J.A.C.F., and that of the the Mayor, are three speeches which are still as emotional 15 years later as they were the very first day.
Yes, of course, all the words used before were employed again with the same patriotism as to the “GESTAPO” and the “Camps of Death,” but among those words one could hear that it would have been more suitable for the circumstances to speak of the “Little well of love” only, the name given to Anne-Marie Vion by her companion martyrs.
“And what could be drunk from that well? The most delicious thing in the world. Some pity.”
Pity, not to be mistaken for the sensitiveness of the weak, who are frightened by the feeling of suffering. The pity here is the pity to suffer for all others and to offer ones own forces for them. That kind of pity Anne-Marie claimed with a cry that even the enemy had to listen to.
Sometime in February 1942 in one of the prisons, a German doctor came to try and give help. He asked Anne-Marie why such a young girl as she could be found in a Gestapo prison.
“But what was your fault to be declared guilty?”
“I made French soldier-prisoners escape from a camp in Peronne.”
“How did you do that?”
“I made them escape in my little boat during the nights.”
“But what gave you the courage to do so?”
“Never sir, could I tolerate to see French soldiers being prisoners in their own country.”
The German doctor then went straight to the child, took her hands and said:
“I congratulate you little French, I admire you.”
To that man the heroism of that young girl was sublime, we insist on the word “sublime” knowing well what we are speaking of.
There is no sense of speaking in a spectacular way when comparing Anne-Marie Vion with Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc). Jeanne d’Arc would never have been the hero she was without first having been a young, loving girl...and so, through the “little well” of Anne-Marie Vion we come back to our French patriotism. Through the features of this young girl we should evoke the features of her father, Leonel Vion, Mayor of Clery-sur-Somme, whose death on September 16th, 1937, was a very heavy loss to all the veterans of the Peronne region and his comrades who had fought together in the 1914-18 war in Clery.
There is no need to speak of Leonel Vion with a grandiloquent voice as he was a simple man of his country, labouring the soil, but he had a firm character and a healthy intelligence. We must agree that his death was also a patriotic action. He knew that he was at his end but did not want to disappoint his friends when they asked him to unveil a memorial to the 363rd Regiment at the end of August 1937. By reading his last dedication one can already imagine that it is his testament...We must teach our youth the obligation of memory, after the loss of our generation they must keep alive our memory...that ideal of peace that we parents thought should continue through the generation after ours... The fact is that their devotion to France, that of the father and that of the daughter can easily be expressed in one word:
Do not be afraid of that word which may guide you very far, very high, high up to God.
Some minutes ago we watched Anne-Marie Vion’s spirit join through “Pity” the “Resistance.” We even dared to compare her with Jeanne d’Arc answering the cry of France for help, to whom mysterious voices had told: “It is a great pity for the kingdom of France...”
There is nothing to be added, only to recognise the truth. Having done her duty, Anne-marie Vion’s soul followed the same way as that of Jeanne d’Arc. Jeanne d’Arc prisoner in Compiegne lived with the hope to be delivered soon. When she realised that it was impossible, she remained devoted to God... It is of no importance whether we feel affected or not, but the fact is that Anne-Marie Vion, prisoner and captive, had the same conduct as Jeanne d’Arc, going through the same hope, at the end, the same sublime surrender.
All this is witnessed by the letters she wrote and was allowed to send to her loving family from her prison.
Take a look at her first letter dated February 2nd, 1942, Bruxelles/St-Gilles Prison. In very nice hand writing in pencil with letters slightly arched showing a pride never to bow. She is sure that soon she would be free. She thanks her older sister to do her best to make her hope come true to return home. She inquires about her younger sisters, her brother Jo, does he enjoy his new friend? She does not forget anyone in the family and asks repeatedly about what they are all doing. Finishing her letter she writes:
“My biggest kisses for you will be when I come home...” The next letter says: “I repeat once more, till soon! (Hope it is my last letter) pray for me!”
But on February 20th, 1942, anxiety starts to worry her.
“Nothing new for me since you came to see me. No interrogation yet for me. I feel as if I have been put at the very bottom of oblivion. I am always alone! The last fortnight seemed very long to me, especially as I have not had a parcel. I shall not protest for the visits, the price for Bruxelles is rather high and still it is only to see each other for a quarter of an hour and not even permission to give a kiss. Well, it is Lent time and if we want to be fulfilled by God, we have to offer him something too. I have been given a little booklet by the priest, ‘Initiation to Jesus Christ,’ on the first page is written, ‘Love of solitude and silence,’ it is well chosen.”
And further on:
“My dear old sister if you don’t want to visit me please write to me. I am allowed to receive a letter every two weeks...I don’t think I shall be able to seek Easter Eggs in St-Gilles.”
On March 20th, 1942, there is almost a revolt, but not at all a despair, rather an anthem to life.
“My dear Yvonne, you can imagine how happy I was receiving on the 13th your letter sent on the 3rd. I am so sorry knowing you so close to me and not to be allowed to come for a visit. I am angry to still remain in this place. Springtime is coming and it is a nice feeling despite the rain. Birds are singing. Winter in a cell is gloomy, but Springtime..... Yes I would like to run around rather than to walk among 4 white walls and be lonely. No need to claim for your ‘Singing Bird,’ I promise you that I shall sing for every day I couldn’t sing here.”
She remembers everyone’s birthday as she does everything else at home.
“Yesterday was the day of our mother’s death, 4 years already! I remember all the lovely days we did spend together...On the 22nd that makes 5 months since my arrival here. Do not worry for me, I am well and morale is high. I believe that I may get out of here the next days, I shall ask you then to send me a suitcase... I am pleased to see that everyone has participated for the parcel, I am so happy with it. Soon there will be Holy week. All my kisses to the whole family.”
3rd April: no longer revolt but already a feeling of a dull future.
“I have not had any news from you for a long time. Each Friday I am waiting for a visit, but nothing. Since Passion - Sunday I pray my Way of the Cross every day. Last night I wanted to pray the whole night for our France and for peace in the world, but I fell asleep at dawn. But I did pray for all of you. Yesterday I received a little parcel from the Belgian Red Cross. I was very pleased with it. I had felt hungry and anxious having received nothing from you for so long. If you can’t come for a visit to me don’t worry, but I should like to know whether I am still allowed to receive anything. I should be pleased to receive some news from you and should like to have the pictures you will find in my hand bag. Last Sunday - Palm Sunday, I joined my prayers and thoughts to yours for the graves of our parents. Days go by, and no liberation.
Send me another long letter to prevent boredom. There is no mirth to sing ‘Alleluia’ alone in a cell, but I do hope that we shall be again all together soon; what a happiness…
You do not write to me very often, if only you could be aware how some news makes me happy…”
1st of May, 1942, morale is high:
“Vive la France my dear old Yvonne, that makes already seven months, it is incredible anyway, and when I saw you last time it was January. Months fly away despite the length of the days. How are you? How are the people in the house? What I miss most is news from all of you…the few letters I received dated of over a month ago each…
It is the first of May and shall not forget that it is the month of Mary (the Virgin). Every day at 3 o’clock in the morning I pray especially for you and for all the prisoners. Would you join me in my prayers at that time? I am already sure that you will accept and will give me your positive answer my dear old sister, as well as all of you will join in a common prayer. At 6 o’clock I usually read my beads for peace. Between 9 and 10 I pray for the souls in purgatory. I am able to read the Mass thanks to the small missal the Chaplain gave me. Last Sunday we attended a Mass, but without Communion. Since Easter I have not had the chance to communicate. Can you realise how much I miss it? I am not angry to be in this place, some time of loneliness makes you think it over…I’ll leave you my dear Yvonne and I ask you please give all my love to the whole family…Please write me a letter any time you can…Love to you my dear old sister, until soon, ‘Vive la France.’”
These were the last lines written by Anne-Marie Vion, but not at all her last news. On the back of a drawing of Christ crowned with thorns which had been coloured in, she wrote:
“Lubeck, 4 April 1944 Anie.”
Also, on the bottom of the drawing she wrote:
“All the will of God
When he wants
What he wants.”
Another witness to Anne-Marie’s martyrdom wrote:
“I met Anne-Marie Vion on the long trip from Trier to Lubeck, she had started her journey in Cologne. That was in January 1944 and we shared the same dormitory, our beds were near to each other. I was immediately attracted by that young girl who wore her black hair down to the shoulders. We soon became best friends until we were separated by her death.
I did hear that my dear friend had undergone many most painful interrogations during her stay in St-Gilles Prison, Bruxelles, leading to privation of food, humiliations, and even burns by parallel radiators. I was told that she had been given treatment and food for those sentenced to death, that means she wore handcuffs day and night, except for one hour a day when allowed to wash and dress…
When a prisoner left Cologne it meant that their death sentence had been commuted to prison in perpetuity. This was her case too, and that common judgement found us together on the way to Lubeck Prison “Zuchthaus” where we were allowed to share the same cell with three other unfortunate companions. Anne-Marie Vion, under the appearance of a young girl, hid a soul of rare nobility and a virtuous self sacrifice which made her a young French girl of high value.
That winter in the Baltics was rather hard and one of our companions suffered from rheumatism. Anne-Marie persuaded her that she was not cold at all and put her own cotton coat under the woman’s dress for warmth. On other occasions, birthdays for example, Anne-Marie managed to produce little surprises such as items of food she had hidden away from the small and infrequent supplies we received on some Saturdays. This of course deprived her of her own food… Anne-Marie, always smiling, always fit, never did she complain…
A high fever stopped her from going to the workshop and she was put in a cell for those with disease where I was allowed to look after her for a little bit. She began to vomit blood more and more which took away her strength, but not her courage. The sanitary office at the prison carried out some radiography which showed the seriousness of her condition so the Germans decided not to give her any more treatment and left her to die in the cell with two other Tuberculosis prisoners.
For me it was a terrible separation from my dear friend, when, some days later we were transported to Ravensbruck and she remained in Cottbus. And yet I was happy for her when we arrived at that camp! Never could she endure such treatment as we had here! Unfortunately she arrived some days later by the next transport. Always smiling, but carried by two of her companions, she had to take part in the terrible roll-call in the morning from half past 4 until 7 o’clock.
She had to be admitted to the hospital but there a final and terrible experience waited for her. Those sick with Tuberculosis were lodged in ‘Bloc 10,’ two to three per bed. They were of all nationalities and had to suffer the yells, cursing and spitting coming from these poor unhappy people from the Eastern countries. At the far corner of the room there was a small space where the ‘crazy’ people were locked in before their destruction, and to bear their cries and laments was a terrible experience.
By chance a French woman doctor was detailed to ‘Bloc 10,’ and she came as often as possible to see Anne-Marie and to look after her. My own skill as a nurse allowed me some short visits to her where I could witness the spiritual blooming of her young life devoted to the sacrifice of her life for her country.Anne-Marie Vion died on the 3rd February, 1945. We went to pay our tribute, secretly before she was taken to the crematorium in Ravensbruck where her body was burnt.”
All God wanted
When he wanted
What he wanted
Monseigneur A. Duhamel.
We thank Monseigneur Duhamel for providing this record of Anne-Marie’s bravery and allowing us to understand what she went through.