Exerpt (3) From Louise Penny: All the Devils are Here

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The pages below are from Louise Penny’s Gamache series book 16. It plays in Paris, France. The exerpt is an exchange between the wife of the main protagonist Chief Inspector Gamache from the Canadian Sureté, herself a retired librarian who worked in top position at Québec’s Bibliothèque et Archives nationales, and the Chief Archivist of the Archives Nationales in Paris.

From the dialogue, identify their topic of conversation and the problematic aspects they mention.

Reine-Marie slowly closed the dossier and looked across the table at the Chief Archivist. “This file is inconclusive. It quotes anonymous sources as saying Stephen Horowitz was possibly a collaborator. That he claimed to have been working with the Resistance, but might have been turning them over to the Gestapo for interrogation in the Lutetia.”

“No, not the Gestapo. Common mistake. Many of the documents even from the time say Gestapo, but it was actually a division called the Abwehr that occupied the Lutetia,” said Madame Lenoir.

“Who were they?”

“Intelligence. As bad as the Gestapo. Their job was to wipe out the Resistance. They’d arrest suspected members, take them to a room in the Lutetia, and torture them until they gave up others. Then kill them and move on. Many, most, died without a word.”

Reine-Marie had to pause and gather herself. “You know a lot about it.”

“My grandmother was one of those killed. And the Lutetia, to its credit, has been very open about that time in its history. Many employees fled when the Nazis took over—”

“So they’d have to hire new people.”

“Oui. Maybe that’s where your Monsieur Horowitz comes in. The fact he was German would work in his favor for the Abwehr, but would’ve raised suspicions among other employees, and understandably so. Some were definitely working with the Resistance, but others were collaborators. And some were just trying to keep their heads down and survive. It was a confusing time.”

“To say the least. It would be easy to tar someone’s reputation, to make a false accusation.”

Madame Lenoir grunted agreement. “Many of the executions after the liberation were reprisals, but not for working with the Nazis. Neighbors took it as an excuse to do away with someone they just didn’t like, or who they felt had cheated them. Or whose property they wanted. Private vendettas. Hundreds were shot or hanged without any trial at all. Though serious effort has been made to go back and sort the real from the manufactured. But it’s hard. Documents were destroyed. The archives themselves were in a shocking state after the war. They’d been ransacked by the Nazis, who burned anything that contradicted their worldview. We lost countless irreplaceable manuscripts. For instance, their insistence on an Aryan race. We had document after document proving there’s no such thing. It was a construct, a myth, created hundreds of years ago and resurrected by the Nazis.”

“They destroyed anything proving it?”

“They tried. Fortunately the people they sent to do it weren’t exactly geniuses. Some evidence survived. Though, let’s be clear, the Germans weren’t the only ones to ransack and rewrite. It served the Allies well to bury, even destroy, much of the evidence. They needed former Nazis in their own programs. How do you think the Americans got to the moon?”

Reine-Marie shook her head. As a librarian and archivist herself, she knew that history wasn’t just written by the victors. First it had to be erased and rewritten. Replacing troublesome truth with self-serving myth. “If Stephen was working for the Resistance,” she said, “wouldn’t he pretend to be a friend of the Abwehr officers? Wouldn’t that be the best way to get the information he needed?”

“Yes. And that became the problem. Identifying those pretending and those who really were helping the Nazis.”

Reine-Marie sorted through the small pile of photos in front of her until she came to the one of Himmler. Repulsive. Toad-like at the table. And behind him? An impossibly young and impish Stephen in a waiter’s uniform. Beaming. Putting her hand to her face, she stared at it. Thinking. She knew Stephen wasn’t a collaborator. The question was, how to prove it. They couldn’t let the smear mar a courageous man’s legacy. And they sure couldn’t let a lie undermine whatever truth Stephen and Alexander Plessner had discovered.

Penny, Louise. All the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) (S.256-257). St. Martin’s Publishing Group. Kindle-Version, pages 254-256

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