Yvette felt peace as she watched the white curtains flow through the open window. A light started to emit between the spaces. It was blinding. But Yvette smiled wholeheartedly, she knew she finally met her end. She was never afraid of death now that she fought long enough and fulfilled her purpose. For the last time, she sighed in content and closed her eyes. She was waiting for her last breath when suddenly, a familiar warmth brushed through her skin. She felt the breeze and inhaled the sweet smell of a vineyard. Yvette slowly opened her eyes and she was no longer in the hospital bed. Instead, she was standing in front of her old home that she hadn’t seen for 81 years.
It was 1938 when Yvette Lundy started working as a teacher in the town of Reims, France. She was the youngest of seven siblings in the family of agricultural workers. And at the age of 22, she was also hired as Mayor’s secretary. But Yvette had another purpose…
Her secretariat job was the key for her to join the French Resistance called “Possum Escape Line.” It was an organization that helped sheltered the escaped Jews families and French fighters from the Nazi invasion. A dream came true when the news came to Yvette that she was finally a member. However, she was assigned to a critical role.
Since she was already working in the town hall, the organization asked her to fake documents for the Jewish and French refugees. Yvette always had the desire to help people so she felt an excitement rushing through her veins. And without hesitation, she took the task. Unfortunately, things were about to get difficult when the battle of France began in 1940.
Yvette continued her task in supplying the fake documents while avoiding any detection from the Nazi authorities. Hundreds of Jewish families, French fighters, and other escaped prisoners from the war sought refuge in the Possum Line. She welcomed them with open arms. Until one day in June 1944, Yvette was walking in the town when she had no idea that the Gestapo (secret police of Nazi) were trailing behind her.
Not a Normal Day
Yvette hummed a tune as she walked to school. She stepped inside the classroom and continued her day teaching. She didn’t know that the Gastapo were already lurking in the shadows waiting for a chance to capture her.
In the middle of her class, Yvette heard roars of footsteps coming to their room. When she turned around, she saw a group of men pointing their guns at her. She glanced at her students who were already shaking in terror and confusion. There was a dreaded silence. Yvette knew that one day, the Nazi will come at her. But not in the middle of her class.
Her first instinct was to keep her students safe, so she immediately dropped her book and raised her both arms in surrender. Yvette will be lying if said she doesn’t feel a single drop of fear. But in that moment, she must hold her composure and remain calm to not cause any panic. The men hastily marched towards her and constrained her. She was pulled out from the classroom in a blink. That day on, the students never saw Yvette again.
Yvette was brought to the Châlons-sur-Marne where she was interrogated by the Gastapo. But she stood strong and didn’t spill any information she had. She knew that many lives will be at stake and she’d rather sacrifice herself. Yvette never displayed any sign of regret. So the Gastapo deported and threw her to the concentration camp in Germany.
The Nazi over-estimated her. Yvette was a strong-willed woman and she never faltered despite getting transferred to different camps. But not until she was moved to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp near Berlin. Her eyes widened in horror when she witnessed the ruthless situation of 130,000 women and children that were also taken as prisoners. Her heart dropped in sympathy, but she wasn’t thinking of terrifying things that might happen to her next.
She was handed a piece of paper, “47, 360” Yvette read. It was her count number as a prisoner. She was then led to a room and forced her to strip in front of the high-ranking Nazi officers. It was a protocol for every newcomer and Yvette felt dehumanized. In the following months, she endured all the starvation, shaved head, rag clothing, and forced labor… until a light started to shine on her.
The Fall of Concentration Camp
A revolution emerged. The Russian army, navy, and other institutions united together and created a force they called “Red Army.” On the 20th of April 1945, they attacked the concentration camp where Yvette was imprisoned. The Nazi general surrendered and thousands of captives were freed including her. As Yvette walked away from her horrifying chamber, everything started to move in slow motion. She pressed her palms on her face. Suddenly, a teardrop rolled on her cheeks as the reality dawned on her—she was free.
After the war
She sat on her chair quietly and stared into space. She wasn’t quite like herself before. She felt like a different person. It seems the effects of the war have started to weigh her down. She was disoriented and refused to speak to anyone about what happened to her during the war.
It took several years before Yvette was able to recover from all the emotional scars the war left her. She would often find herself waking up at night due to the terror haunting her. The terrible effects of the war really took a toll on her but she did not let herself go on like this.
Yvette would remain silent. She would let her days peacefully pass as her memories from the war continued to haunt her. What she went through was no joke.
“It is another world: starving beings with emaciated bodies, hollow eyes, shaven heads, drag themselves along in rags,” Yvette vividly described. It was not until 15 years later before Yvette was able to speak up about her experience during the war.
Sharing her experience
Despite the fact that several years have passed after the war, Yvette could still vividly remember most of the details. She finally decided to speak up, not only for herself but for her family as well.
Yvette started touring schools, telling them the chilling series of events that took place during the war. But she wasn’t doing this to scare the students, rather to educate them and give them context about the horrors of the war through the lens of an actual victim.
In 2012, Yvette would be immortalized in her book Le Fil de l’Araignée (The Spider’s Thread) which she had co-written with Laurence Barbarot-Boisson. The book serves as her memoir. It speaks of the details of her experience as a holocaust survivor and a former French resistance member.
The mayor of Épernay, Franck Leroy, described Yvette as the “Grande Dame” of the town. Although he’s well-aware that Yvette isn’t fond of her special nickname, he believes that it is what she was during her time as a resistance member.
“She also had a particular attitude about the war and particularly Franco-German reconciliation that she considered extremely important,” Mayor Leroy said.
Yvette eventually became one of the inspirations for a famous French drama called Korkoro which was written by Tony Gatlif. The show aired in 2009 and it’s about Pajomos—a Roman holocaust that killed a quarter of Europe’s Roma. Yvette was the inspiration for the character Mademoiselle Lisa Lundi.
When Yvette turned 100, she was awarded the honor of Grand Officier de la Legion d’honneur which is the highest French order of merit for both military and civil merits. Fearless and still full of life at 100, she gave her best advice to the younger generation.
“Always ask: where are we going; with whom; what will we do? Everyone has a duty of responsibility, no matter how young,” Yvette shared.