Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Exceptional individuals

A few days ago, in my article entitled Dark excursion [display], I referred to tragic events on the Vercors plateau in July 1944, culminating in a massacre at Vassieux. I might have pointed out that I went on that excursion for practical reasons: namely, that I've been working on a movie script concerning the martyrs of the Vercors, and that I needed to examine various aspects of the Vassieux environment.

Although my movie project will be essentially a fictional thing, there are constant allusions to real people from that terrible epoch. Consequently, I'm researching various local heroes of the Résistance. Among them, Pierre Dalloz was an architect and mountaineering enthusiast. He's the individual who first imagined that the vast Vercors mountain range might be transformed into a natural fortress and a haven for maquisards. The basic idea of his so-called Plan Montagnards was that armed French fighters stationed in concealed camps on the seemingly invulnerable Vercors plateau could be brought into action after an Allied invasion of Provence (likely to take place shortly after the Normandy landings) with a view to encircling all the Nazis in the south of France. The project of Dalloz was brought to the attention of "Max", which was pseudonym of Jean Moulin, the courageous French prefect who had been placed by Charles de Gaulle at the head of the Résistance movement inside France. And "Max" was in total agreement with the Plan Montagnards.

Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege of meeting up with Guillaume Dalloz, Pierre's only son (about my age)... who authorized me to take photos in the house where the Plan Montagnards was conceived by his father. [It also goes without saying—but I'll say it nevertheless—that information and images in the present blog article are being presented with the explicit assent of Guillaume Dalloz... who even invited me spontaneously to carry out future filming, if need be, at their estate.]

After I told him about my movie project, Guillaume spoke to me at length about two exceptional individuals in his father's entourage.

The writer Jean Prévost, who visited Grenoble regularly because of his ongoing research concerning the great novelist Stendhal, had become one of the closest friends of Pierre Dalloz. When the resistance movements swung into action in the Vercors, Prévost set aside his literary research and became a combatant. On 1 August 1944, as Jean Prévost was strolling down from the Vercors towards the Dalloz estate in Sassenage, he was mortally wounded by a Nazi sniper.

No doubt the closest family friend of Pierre Dalloz was the great aviator and writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry.

On the eve of his mysterious disappearance in the Mediterranean on 31 July 1944, Saint-Exupéry sent his final letter to Pierre Dalloz. Here is my translation of the final paragraph of this moving document:

Here I'm far removed from the swamps of hatred [reference to the Allied headquarters in Algiers], but in spite of the kindness of the squadron, it remains somewhat a place of human misery. There's never anybody with whom I can talk. It's already quite something to have people with whom I can live. But what spiritual solitude!

If I'm shot down, I'll regret absolutely nothing. The future termites' mound horrifies me. And I hate their robot-like virtue. As for me, I was made to be a gardener.

Wow, what a promising gardener: the man who wrote The Little Prince. It's weird to observe that the two great friends of Pierre Dalloz—Saint Exupéry and Prévost—were killed within a span of 24 hours.

Apparently Saint-Exupéry was an admirer of the wife of Pierre Dalloz: the painter Henriette Gröll. Guillaume Dalloz—who has published a book describing his mother's works of art—showed me a painting of a Camargues bull that Saint-Exupéry bought in a market and offered to Henriette Gröll while they were visiting Aigues-Mortes.

Sipping whiskey with Guillaume Dalloz in his magnificent house, and enchanted by trivial anecdotes of this kind, I felt light years away from the horrors of the events of 1944 in the Vercors. In fact, the writers and artists of the generation of Pierre Dalloz had fought, alongside the rural folk of the Vercors, to preserve a splendid lifestyle of traditions, culture and adventure that the Nazis were intent upon destroying. It might be said that the barbarians actually succeeded in devastating this generation, to a large extent, through the elimination of exceptional individuals such as Jean Prévost, Antoine de Saint Exupéry and countless courageous maquisards of the Vercors. But their sacrifice has made this corner of the world a wiser, more profound and sacred place.

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