Suzanne Hiltermann, alias Touty, was born on 17 January 1919 in Amsterdam. At the age of 20, she left the Netherlands in order to undertake studies in France on ethnology. As the German Nazis occupied Paris, she joined the French Resistance network called Dutch Paris.
The archives of the Ministry of Defense register the numerous lives of allied pilots who were saved by her network (Dutch-Paris) during the Second World War. Being part of the members of the network who were denounced to the Nazi Police, she was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the prisons of Romainville and Fresnes.
After severe questioning, including the use of torture, she was deported to Ravensbrück's concentration camp. She was detained there for more than 12 months. The white buses of Count Bernadotte released her and brought her to Sweden. A special plane of the US Air Force then retrieved her from Goteborg to Paris.
The following year, she married Pierre Souloumiac. Captain of the Merchant Marine, Pierre actively participated in the defence of England throughout the Second World War. He was one of the few survivors of the "Cruel Sea".
In 1954, with her friend Germaine Tillion, she supported the independence of Algeria. Living in Hong Kong between 1961 and 1964, she had an influence on China's recognition by General de Gaulle (1962-1964). At the same time, she founded the Hong Kong French school, which became Asia's largest French high school. In 1968, she actively participated to the movement of students. She enrolled at the Faculty of Jussieu to continue her Chinese studies.
In 1981, she retired to Désaignes Ardèche. She had multiple mail exchanges, especially with the United States (Ned O'Gorman, Jimmy Carter, Nien Cheng, Nan Orchevsky ...) and various other parts of the world (Karl-Heinz Gertner, François Cheng, Jacques Monod ...), from her home at Les Baux du Peyron.
On October 2, 2001 at 15:00, she decided to put an end to her life and died. Her ashes were scattered on the mountains of the Ardèche she had loved so much.
To acknowledge her acts of resistance against nazism and her services to allies, Touty Hiltermann was awarded by President Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, the Medal of Freedom.
World War II
Born in a family of Magistrates and industrialists, Suzanne Hiltermann left her native country in 1939 to undertake studies in philosophy and ethnology in Paris.
Shortly after the German invasion, she entered into resistance. She helped Dutch youth who wanted to leave France and flee religious and racial persecution. With Micheline Goeschel, Leo Mincovschi, she joined the network Dutch-Paris founded by Herman Laatsman. The network was directed by Captain Johan Hendrik Weidner.
Captain Weidner is known for having played an exceptional role in the Second World War. His exploits have been distinguished by several nations. He personally helped save hundreds of Jews doomed to almost certain death. Israel has awarded him the title of Righteous among the Nations and planted a tree in his name at Yad Vashem.
Saving Allied pilots
In response to the strategic priorities set by London, Dutch-Paris network specializes most of its activities in the escape of fallen pilots in France and Europe. From 1943 until February 1944, significant resources are deployed to route pilots through the occupied areas from the north of the Netherlands to the south of Spain. The air forces are the strategic vector upon which the outcome of the war depends.
Churchill summarised the equation by the formula: “Never in the field of human conflict was owed so much by so many to so few"
As air missions increase, more planes are shot down. Pilots who survive the destruction of their plane touch land in various parts of occupied Europe. In the Netherlands, Belgium and France, Resistance networks escort them to Dutch-Paris. Most are Americans. Close monitoring is organized so that the precious fighters can return to their bases. Dutch-Paris, through London, is coordinated with Washington.
The first worry is to dress the pilots, so that they are not recognised. As they are often quite tall compared to French standard, it is not an easy task. Resistance works well. Nearly everything is available on the black market. Located in Paris, the centre of all operations, it is the duty of Touty to:
- receive the pilots,
- hide them,
- feed them,
- learn some basics of French,
- obtain false papers,
- lead them Gare d’Austerlitz where local guides will escort them back to Spain and England.
Michel Duchanel, police officer at Drancy, produces the false documents (identity cards and ration) for pilots wearing logos from different municipalities of France. Stamps from a single place would appear suspect. Smugglers are recruited to cross the Spanish border through the Pyrenean Mountains. Routes and relays are set up by the organisation.
In January 1944, Touty faces of high influx of allied pilots, mainly US. The challenge is always to disguise them as ordinary French, making identity photographs and false documents; and to avoid that they speak too loudly in American language. Those of the first wave are: Second Lieutenant Jack O. Norton, the second mate Karl D. Miller, Sergeant James E. Tracy, the second mate Chauncey Hicks, the second mate Charles O. Downe, Ernest O. Grubb, Jan Triobansky.
Three more from Brussels come join at 11 rue Jasmin: Loral Martin, Harry D. Kratz and Herman Morgan. Then come in addition ten US and two English pilots. Early 1944, the network does not know where to shelter all of these people. With the help of a priest, most of them are hidden in the cellars of the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Eight other newcomers are housed near Montfermeil.
Touty and Marie France accompany several groups of pilots to the Gare d'Austerlitz so that can be transported to Toulouse. Suzy Kraay is in charge of taking care of them aboard the train. She is absent at the last meeting. Touty and Marie France have no alternative than to escort personally the last group of pilots to Toulouse. There, Mr. Moen (key figure in the network whose real name is Edward Chait) awaits for them and supports as usual their transfer to Spain, according to the established procedure.
The escape has been described in detail in its report to the Department of Defence by one member of the Odyssey, Victor Ferrari, survivor of an American bomber dropped in the Netherlands near the town of Zwolle. More than 120 pilots in total, according to statistics from the US Department of Defence were saved thanks to Dutch Paris.
Leo Marc Mincovschi works as an interpreter at the German Embassy. He informs Touty, on her return from Toulouse, that Suzy Kraay has been arrested by French police on February 10 and that the network is blown. Both rush to the apartment of Touty, on Laos Street, to destroy papers, clothes and other incriminating objects. Touty then contacts Hermann Laatsman and Captain Weidner. Both think that there is no reason for alarm: "It's simply a black market history. There is nothing to fear. »
February 26 begins the dragnet of the Gestapo that will lead to the arrest of all members of the network Dutch-Paris, except Captain Weidner who manages to flee. Touty is arrested on February 27, 1944. She is interned in Fresnes and Romainville. After several brutal interrogatories by the Gestapo, she is deported to Ravensbrück by the convoy of 18 April 1944.
As would later say the founder of Arte TV, Michel Anthonioz, reporting remarks from his mother, Genevieve de Gaulle, one of the friends of Touty at Ravensbrück "She never spoke of the camp, but he was present at every instant of her life." In the cattle wagon that transports the prisoners across Germany, Jacqueline Pery remembers Touty was one of the few prisoners who had a clear idea of what to expect. Spending most of her youth close to the German border, speaking German language fluently, having read Mein Kampf even before the war had started, having heard and understood the meaning of the speech of Chancellor Hitler, having maintained close connections with anti-Nazi German people after 1940 and having escorted many time persecuted Jews to the Swiss border, she was informed of the hellish universe in which they were about to enter.
At the camp, she remains in the block occupied by the French. Life and work are very hard (see in the detailed testimony of her friend Jacqueline Pery de la Rochebrochard). When her future sister in law, Simone Souloumiac who shares the same benchtop, shows her despair (Simone is only 17), Touty whispers to her: "Hold on! We need to see the end of the movie.”
President of the Swedish Red Cross, Count Folke Bernadotte is approached by Himmler to discuss a "peace of the brave" with the Allies. During his second interview with Himmler, the Count requires the freedom of some women detained at Ravensbrück. Himmler finally gives his consent.
The camp commander Suhren finally accepts, not without major difficulties. The orders of Himmler appear to contradict those of total extermination given by the Führer. The Bernadotte operation is conducted by a Swedish doctor, Dr Arnoldson. Seventeen white buses are line up outside the camp entrance on April 23, 1945. The Commander of the Camp commander agrees to free three hundred Belgians, Dutch and French women. They are driven to Goteborg, crossing Denmark still under Nazi domination.
Touty returns to France aboard a special aircraft of the US Air Force. A few months later she marries the brother of Simone Souloumiac. Pierre Souloumiac is a survivor of Crual Sea. Captain of the Merchant navy, he has specialized throughout the war in the rapid transport - excluding convoy – of war material between England and the United States.
In 1951, Pierre Souloumiac ceases to navigate and enters the Ministry of Merchant Marine where he works on drafting of the Code on the transport of dangerous goods. The couple settles in an old farmhouse in the hamlet of Balizy, 23 kilometres south of Paris.
Touty often receives her old friends from the camp, including. They have long discussions about the war of Algeria. During one of their conversations, they invent the new concept of "clochardisation" to describe the terrible marginalization that affects a large part of the human species. They are in sympathy with the Algerian who fights for their freedom. Their past lead them to denounce torture and to favour independence. Close to General de Gaulle, Germaine Tillion is one of the few interlocutors that will convince him of the need for the independence of Algeria. This is achieved by the signature of the Accords d’Evian between the French government and the Algerian rebels.
Her husband Pierre dies on 3 February 1956. Touty then passes through a difficult period. She publishes tales for children. She becomes the correspondent in France of the Haagse Post, a Dutch weekly owned by her brother, GBJ Hiltermann. Elected at the City Council of Longjumeau, she promotes the hamlet of Balizy, building on its rich past as a former Commandery of Knights Templars. She also develops the Festival of Freedom on the square where the Templars’ Chapel used to stand.
The Discovery of China
In 1959, she meets Albrecht Van Aerssen, a Dutch diplomat. They marry in The Hague on April 1, 1960. Albrecht is the son of Baron François Cornelis van Aerssen van Beijeren Voshol who, Minister Plenipotentiary in China advised his country, despite the opposition of the United States to recognize China after the revolution of 1947. Taking advantage of the support of his father and of his wife, Baron Albrecht Van Aerssen is sent shortly after his marriage to Hong Kong by the Dutch Crown, where he becomes Consul General.
The recognition of China by France
In 1963 Touty receives the visit of Bernard Anthonioz, Counsellor of André Malraux. Many talks relate in particular to the recognition of China by France. Touty strongly supports the interest of France to take such decision. Unlike many other people of her generation, she does not consider the communists as enemies. Many of her friends in the resistance belonged to the Communist movement. She believes in sustainable alliance of great nations beyond changes and political evolutions. She repeats the arguments her father in law, Baron François Cornelis Van Aerssen, had issued 16 years earlier to convince the Dutch Crown.
Her friend Bernard is conquered. Discussions go very far. They consider the historical dimensions of such recognition, to contain and resolve the Vietnam war. The composition of the first team who will represent France in Beijing is evoked. Touty recommends the quality of Jean-Pierre Angrémy, then vice-consul in Hong Kong. He will later be admitted to the French Academy because of the importance of his work on China. The personality of the first ambassador of France in Beijing is also considered (Lucien Paye).
The same year, she meets and becomes friend with Nien Cheng, an exceptional Chinese woman. As a sign of gratitude for their first discussions on China, the arts and the meaning of life, Nien Cheng offers to Touty four paintings by great masters of Chinese painting, including a Shi Bai Qi.
Back in Europe, Touty learns the abuse her friend and her daughter are subjected by the Red Guards. Cheng's daughter, Meiping is a bright and promising actress. Brutalized an entire day by the Red Guards, while it has not yet twenty, she returns in the evening to the apartment she shares with her mother in Shanghai. When pressed by Nien Cheng, she admits the brutal treatments that were inflicted to her, as "dirty daughter of a mother serving bourgeois’ imperialism." At that time, her mother represents in China the Shell Company. The guards wanted Meiping to condemn her mother. Nien is in tears. Meiping replies: "But, Mom, they can hit as hard as they want, the truth will remain and they will be unable to change anything."
Soon after, in early 1967 Touty learns that Nien has been arrested and deported. She then writes a letter to President MaO to beg him to free her friend. In vain. Nien underwent several years of captivity in harsh re-education camp. Nien renews relations with Touty soon after leaving the camp. In 1980, the United States and Canada where she emigrated, Nien writes long letters to Touty about the memories of this torment. From the mountains of the Ardèche, where it is housed, Touty relives in these sad episodes some of the agony she suffered in Ravensbrück’s concentration camp. To write is release. She suggests to her Chinese friend to write a book. Nien is persuaded. She ask her to read some of her chapters as she writes. The book is published in 1987 under the title Life and Death in Shanghai. It experienced considerable international success.
To educate the children in the small French colony, Touty founded a school in 1963. At the beginning, the school occupied every morning three rooms in the premises of the French Alliance in Hang Seng Bank Building on Des Voeux Road. It worked with some volunteer teachers, most of whom came from the consulate of France which offices were located a few floors below . The Commandant Houël, the Attaché militaire, handled mathematics. The Reverend-Père Chagny taught literature. Jean-Pierre Angremy was the first history teacher.
With the support of “correspondence courses” of CNTE from Vanves, little by little, the school started to grow 1 200 students are today studying at the Lycée Victor Segalen Hong Kong which became Asia's largest French high school.
In February 1964, Touty and her children left the British enclave aboard Laos, a ship chartered by the Messageries Marîtimes. The same year, Touty divorced Baron Van Aerssen. Following the opening of universities which was provoked by the events of May 1968, she took Chinese studies at Jussieu.
Van Waveren family led her to discover Ardèche. Touty moved in 1981 to the Peyron Baux Desaignes, a beautiful domain in the mountains near Chambon-sur-Lignon, where she spent the last twenty years of his life.
- The municipal council of Montreuil-Juigné in Maine-et-Loire gave her the honor of baptizing a street with her name in the Hameau de l’Espérance.
- In his book, Présence française à Hong Kong, du XIXe siècle à aujourd'hui, François Drémeaux acknowledge the prominent role played by Suzanne Hiltermann in the foundation of the Lycée Français de Hong Kong.
- ↑ Flee the Captor
- ↑ See the book by Karl-Heinz Gertstner entitled sachlich, kritisch, optimistich (published editions ost 1999) pp. 146 ff where the author describes his relationship with the French resistance and Suzanne Hiltermann.
- ↑ http://larochebrochard.free.fr/perydalincourt.htm
- ↑ Biography in French Wikipedia
- ↑ Germaine Tillion, Germaine Tillion, The Algeria in 1957, editions de minuit.
- ↑ S. Souloumiac, "Le Chemin Perdu", in Rachel Green farmland and other tales and new support for the book 1983
- ↑ The newspaper article Monde http://www.lemonde.fr/disparitions/article/2009/11/16/nien-cheng-victime-de-la-revolution-culturelle-chinoise_1267792_3382.html
- ↑ François Dremeaux, Hong Kong, French Attendance, Bonham Books, 2013, p. 212