Escape Through the Pyrenees:

Lisa Fittko, Author, David Koblick, Translator Northwestern University Press $35 (221p) ISBN 978-0-8101-0975-9
Fleeing Nazi Germany, anti-Fascist activists Fittko, a Jew, and her Protestant husband, Hans, found themselves in France when the war broke out. Although Germany had stripped them of their citizenship, the French treated them as enemy aliens and in 1940 husband and wife were confined in separate French concentration camps for a couple of months. As the Germans advanced, the prisoners escaped and reunited in unoccupied southern France, where, awaiting passports and transit visas, they helped to smuggle other emigres over the Pyrenees to Spain. The most famous refugee saved from the Nazis by the Fittkos was the philosopher Walter Benjamin, who during the arduous crossing was ailing from heart disease. Although he was unfailingly courteous, Benjamin insisted on lugging along a large, conspicuous briefcase that he said contained his new manuscript. Once over the border, the Spanish authorities informed Benjamin he would be returned to France, and he took his own life; the manuscript vanished. Fittko's clipped and compressed writing style, combined with much minutiae on French bureaucratic red tape and the refugees' chase after ever-elusive transit visas, diminish the book's emotional impact. Yet this stands as a worthy account of French wartime cowardice and xenophobia and of the brave souls who defied officialdom. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/29/1991
Release date: 05/01/1991
Paperback - 221 pages - 978-0-8101-1803-4
Paperback - 221 pages - 978-0-8101-0989-6
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