Theory vs Reality


Her beautiful boy is looking at her. A single tear is slowly making its way down his plump and perfect cheek but apart from that, he is quiet and still. He seems to somehow sense that immobility is what’s required of him. She forces a smile she hopes is reassuring, tries to pass off this wretched situation as normal. Only it is extremely difficult to do while there is a gun pressed against her boy’s soft temple.

“Names. Now.” says the man in that vile uniform she has come to hate.

She has denied all knowledge until this moment, but the man who is holding a gun to her baby’s head smiles… a slow, almost gentle smile. Panic flutters inside her chest, a trapped bird trashing madly in its increasing desperation to escape – she cannot contain it any longer.

“The baker. He delivers messages late at night. I don’t know to whom… he takes that trail at the back of his house, the one leading into the woods… where he goes I don’t know…
Please don’t hurt my boy!”
This last bit escaped her, she couldn’t help it but what does it matter? The man knows she’s terrified, the man knows she’s weak, the man knows she’ll tell him everything he wants her to now.

The man does look almost bored, maybe he does this so often that the enormity of it doesn’t even register anymore, this thought scares her more than anything – the gun hasn’t moved, it’s still there, dangerously close, oh so close to that delicate temple.

“What else?” he says.

And now the dam has broken, a destructive flood gushes out and she couldn’t stop even if she wanted to.

“The butcher, he shelters resistants sometimes in his barn…his daughter cycles all over the county which is quite strange nowadays…and she used to go with the Chardin boy who’s joined the maquis. That man, Monsieur Pierroux who lives behind the church? (She’s babbling now, words rushing out, anything, anything so that cold hard barrel gets away from the sweet temple) he has counterfeit ration tickets, he sells them and…he listens to the radio broadcasts from the Resistance (what else, what else can she tell him so he leaves her and her baby alone?) And Monsieur Thierry, he didn’t deliver even half of his harvest like everyone has to, he kept back some of it for his family… and the rest to sell on the black market… please, please…”

Finally, mercifully, the gun is lowered….she doesn’t move though…not yet, it doesn’t feel safe yet.

The man in uniform releases her boy who immediately runs to her, she scoops him up into her arms and the relief…the knowledge and feeling that he’s safe is so huge that she’s crying and laughing all at once, on the verge of hysteria.

By the time she looks up again, the man in uniform is gone. Where? She doesn’t know. What is going to happen to those people she told him about? The baker, sweet Monsieur Martel whom she has known since childhood…who used to give her a freshly baked petit four on Sundays… the butcher who’s not particularly liked because he has that awful habit of casually laying his fingers on the scales while weighing meat…sweet lord, so he’s not averse to cheating his customers, but he’s certainly made up for that in other ways, hasn’t he?…and his daughter, whose only crime was falling in love with a man who can’t, won’t, accept the invader, whose only crime has been to help him in any way she can.

She heard about what happens in those cells…torture, often going on for days, torture that goes on even when they have squeezed every bit of information out of you, torture simply because they can, torture until your spirit and body are so broken that you don’t even feel the sweet release of death.

She did this. She gave the names of people she knows… to the enemy…condemning those people to horrors she can’t even imagine. She smells her boy’s head, breathes that unique scent in deeply, closes her eyes and relishes the feeling of his precious body against hers.

Yes, she did this terrible thing she’s going to have to live with all her life…and she would do it again if she had to. She realises this, and the knowledge fills her with a mixture of despair, hot burning shame and defiance.


I have always been fascinated by history, and the Second World War is not yet far enough in the past that it doesn’t still have an impact. As most of you already know, I am French and I have had to endure many taunts from various people over the years (especially in the UK) over the fact that so many of the French were “collaborators” during WW2.
Yes, many were collaborators, many did despicable things, but many others were incredibly brave and resisted the invader. It’s never a conversation that I can have casually because there’s so much to say and I feel so strongly about it. I’ve done a hell of a lot of research on the subject over the years, out of interest at first, and later for academic purposes as I wrote one of my dissertations on conflict and identities.
The long and the short of it is: nobody knows how they would react if their country was invaded, nobody knows what they would do to survive, nobody knows how brave or cowardly they would turn out to be. It’s so easy to say what you would do in theory, but in actual reality? You can’t say because you don’t know. The story I wrote is an extreme example of how your loyalties can be divided, but there are so many other ways it could happen.

There are various levels of bravery, collaboration and treason. Would you welcome the invader into your home if it meant more food on the table for your family? Would you resist and risk your life (and your family’s) everyday to try to liberate your country? Or would you just do your best to survive and wait till it’s all over, letting others fight on your behalf? What would you do if a priest showed up at your door with two Jewish children who needed your help? Would you turn them away because the risk to yourself is too great and never mind that your actions are condemning them to death? Or would you organise to have them sent to safety thanks to a subterfuge involving wine barrels because it’s the right thing to do and never mind what happens to you if they are discovered? My brave great-grandfather did this (there’s a couple of other courageous and generous stories of this kind in my family, which I’m insanely proud of) Would I have done the same? I like to think so, but obviously I have no real idea. Talk is cheap and judging is easy, we should all remember this. 

Written by Nathalie, August 2015

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45 thoughts on “Theory vs Reality

  1. This is a great thought provoking post. It is always possible of course that the Gestapo or soldier could, having extracted the information have killed the child so the mother’s betrayal could have been in vain. A minority of Jews co-operated with the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto helping to keep their fellow Jews in order, in return for which they received extra rations and other privileges. When the Warsaw Ghetto was liquidated those who had collaborated went to the concentration camps along with those who had not. Hope is the last thing to die so those who collaborated did, no doubt hope that their collaboration wwould save them and their families from the horror of the camps. Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I was aware of the situation in the ghetto, tragic, terrible situation…Regarding the post, I was trying to show that things are not always clear-cut and that there are many shades of grey out there as things are very rarely black and white. Thank you very much for reading, and for your thoughts 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, difficult choice. I couldn’t imagine. I hate the idea of suffering but I guess you never know what you’re capable of until you’re faced with a difficult situation. Got me thinking!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. French and Resistance are two words forever linked in my mind.

    Fascism and Eugenics were and still are global movements. The allies defeated the Nazis but they did not defeat Fascism and Eugenics. Since 1980 huge numbers of elderly and disabled people have died on the streets of the richest nations in the World. Every silent one of us is a collaborator. And each of us has his own paltry excuse.

    The French Resistance helped the Allies to defeat the Nazis.

    They did it under the occupation of a nation that went mad with greed and arrogance.

    You don’t get much braver than that.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, I will definitely read this and I will be sure to let you know what I thought when I’m done 🙂
        And yes, there are some great stories in my family, along with the usual family stuff, I love digging into it all and when you hit upon treasure, it’s the most amazing feeling!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. First, I love the image that you posted. Second, you are right. None of us can judge what would have or wouldn’t have done in the situations that people during World War II faced. My father is German and he often got negative commentary about it while he lived in the U.S.A. He had to mention that not EVERY German was a Nazi, many tried to escape Nazism (as my grandparents did) and others went with Nazism to protect their families. Everything, as you so well described, is not black and white. Thanks for sharing this 😙😙😙

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Natasha, it’s funny you should mention your father because after I posted this I realised that I should really have included something about the German nation, how they shouldn’t have to live with the sins of their forbearers, and how the situation I described in France during WW2 applies to Germany at the time…people did what they had to do to survive too…yes there were despicable people there but there were also good people who neither approved nor liked what the Nazis were doing …you cannot assume a whole nation acted and thought as a whole…it is a fact the Nazis were as much of a terror to the German people if they didn’t toe the line as they were to the rest of Europe, how can anybody forget that?!
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree with you. In such extreme situations, you do what you can to survive. I liked your story and honestly, if I were in the mother´s position, I doubt that I would do anything differently. Thank YOU for sharing your writing with us xxxxxxx

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Nathalie, I read this and it brought tears to my eyes, very emotional and extremely personal to me. You have made a very valid point, what would you do? I like that you personalized your “what if” by sharing your some of your thoughts and family history. Thank goodness there were individuals like your great-grandfather. Excellent and thought provoking post. Please take good care and have a wonderful week.

    Always warm wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and for your thoughts Pepperanne, I got emotional writing about it myself – I think you’d have to have a very cold heart not to be moved by this particular situation.
      I do hope you have a wonderful week, and thank you so much for your visit, it always pleases me no end 🙂
      Warm wishes as always – Nathalie

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nathalie, bows to you for this insanely true write up! A few years ago, a girl was killed in a bar in front of 300 people, by a high profile guy. What seemed to be an open and shut case, thanks to the power of money, no one was found guilty of the murder. The girl’s best friend also lied in the court to save the murderer.
    Years later when justice came with the help of media, the friend had this to say : they gave me the choice between ten million and a bullet. I didn’t want millions. But I also didn’t want a bullet.
    He became a nationwide villain but that is probably because we have never been in that situation. You hit the bull’s eye here, Nathalie. Reading you is always a delight with the broadening of perspective☺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What an awful story… but it is a perfect example for the point I was making…thank you for sharing it with me, I believe most of us would have done exactly what that particular friend did…thank you for reading, “getting” the point I was making and, last but not least, thank you for your kinds words as well 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. An excellently crafted, thought-provoking piece of writing. People will always make crude generalisations, but, until faced with such situations, no-one can know how they will actually react – any never trust somebody who says they DO know what they’d do!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words and I’m glad you agreed with the point I was making – it is simple common sense to admit to not knowing what you would do in a difficult situation. As I said, words are cheap. Thank you again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, this is a heart-wrencher! Thank you for sending me the link, I think this is great. They say there is nothing a mother would not do for her child, and this story epitomises that phrase.
    Your write-up is very thought provoking as well. Who knows what we would do in that situation? We can’t all be brave heroes like your great-grandfather, as much as we would like to think we would be. Most of us would probably do whatever we need to do in order to survive, just as the so-called “collaborators” did in France. It makes me angry that people can’t see the terrible choices that the French were presented with. They forget that it almost happened here, too. Fantastic, emotive writing as always. You ought to write more fiction, I’d love to read more.


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