Based on a little-known true story, The Innocents Within offers a unique and untold view of wartime France and the Holocaust.
The scene is the high plateau of the Massif Central. The time is the bitter winter of 1944. In Le Lignon, a Protestant village in a Catholic country, and in similar villages nearby, Jews both foreign and French have been given shelter, food, and false papers prepared by the local forger, and have sometimes been led to Switzerland or Spain by local guides. The organizer and sustainer of this massive conspiracy is Le Lignon's Protestant pastor, a man with a wife, four children, and, unfortunately for him, ever-increasing notoriety.
Rumors about Le Lignon have begun to reach the regional SS chief, whose job it is to fill trains with Jews for deportation to the east. This late in the war, it has become increasingly difficult to gather enough Jews to meet his quota. But in Le Lignon alone he may be able to fill an entire train.
Also living in the rectory, as much loved by the pastor as his own children, is a German Jewish girl whose parents disappeared in the first weeks of the war. The pastor and his wife took her in as a child. Now eighteen, she has grown into a beauty.
Into this mix, badly wounded, crashes an American fighter pilot who is scarcely older. He is brought to the rectory. The pastor will know what to do.
Centered on a real village and real people who defied the Nazis, The Innocents Within is about courage and love, religion and danger. Most of all it is a study of innocence against a background of the most monstrous evil ever known. A compelling and moving story to the last word, it shows a major novelist at the peak of his powers.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Robert Daley has written more than twenty books, including such highly acclaimed works as Prince of the City, Year of the Dragon, Portraits of France, and, most recently, Nowhere to Run. He served in the Air Force after college and knew firsthand certain of the planes that figure in this story. Later he worked six years as a New York Times correspondent based in France before resigning from the paper to concentrate on writing novels. He and his French-born wife keep homes in Conn-ecticut and Nice.
Read an Excerpt
In the presbytery the telephone rang ten times, perhaps more, before Favert found his glasses in the dark, got his bathrobe on, and got out of the bedroom to answer it. By then, except for the smallest child, the entire household was awake.
"They're coming," said the voice in Favert's ear. It was someone who worked in the mairie, Favert believedhe did not know whoor perhaps someone in the police. The same voice had called in the night in the past, each time warning of a raid.
The pastor started to ask questions but was too late. The other man had already hung up.
"What is it?" The phone was in Favert's office. His wife in her long woolen nightdress, barefoot, stood in the doorway.
His wife's name was Norma. Behind her crowded all the children, including Rachel in a similar nightdress, and for the first time, perhaps because of the stress of the moment, Favert saw that the girl had somehow grown into a young woman. When did that happen, he asked himself? What had become of the child he had taken in, who was so scared, so desperately anxious to please, so in need of love? Somehow she had become as much a part of his familyhe was sure Norma felt the sameas their real children.
The pastor didn't know how many Jews were hidden in and around Le Lignon. Over a thousand, certainly. A plan existed for emergencies such as tonight's, and Favert picked up the phone again to put it into operation.
But the line, he found, had gone dead.
This meant that the raid must be imminent, and was the worst news of all. The Jews, who were scattered as far as the most outlying farms, would have to be warned almost individually. The police would come from Le Puy, which was to the west. Jews who lived in that direction would have to be warned first, and he would have to do it himself because whoever rode out that way risked running into the police and being arrested. Would it be the French police again or, this time, the Gestapo? How much time did he have? He would be traveling by bicycle, for he had no car.
"I have to go out," said Favert to his wife, and he looked at Rachel. She could not stay here, he decided. Unlike most of the refugees, she spoke French and might get by, but he was unwilling to take the chance with her life. "Get dressed, Rachel," he said. "Dress warmly. I want you to do something for me."
In his own room he threw on his clothes. "Put the kids back to bed," he said to his wife. "If anyone asks about me, I'm visiting parishioners who are in need."
Rachel was waiting in the big room. He took her out into the night and gave her instructions. She was to pedal east, alerting his section heads who lived in that direction, and then stopping at farms as far as the border of the commune. She was young and strong and would be all right, he believed. She should ride as far as St. Agave and wake up l'Abbé Monnier, the priest there. Ask him to open the church. Tell him that other refugees would be riding in behind her. Monnier was not part of the conspiracy to hide Jews, but he had agreed to help on a temporary basis in emergencies such as this.
Favert got bikes out of the shed, and he put Rachel on Norma's, which was in better shape than her own. The night was dark and cold, and he hoped she would be warm enough. She wore several layers of sweaters, for she owned no coat or jacket, and one of Norma's old skirts cut down to fit, and woolen stockings. She had a kerchief on her head, and a long scarf wound several times around her neck and tied in a loose knot, the ends hanging almost to her waist. There was hardly enough light to see her face, but she was rosy-cheeked as always, young and blooming, smiling up at him, and he saw that she was unafraid, saw no risk, and was anxious to be off. To her, this was an adventure. He also saw that she had no gloves, so he made her take his own, and then gave her a push start down the road.
He himself pedaled first to the schoolmaster's house, and together they woke up several of the students who boarded there, and sent them out on other bikes to knock on the doors of section heads, after that stopping at the various pensions, hotels, and private houses inside the village where Jews lived, telling them to be dressed and out on the street as fast as possible. The schoolmaster had a truck and would pick up as many as he could and drive them to the church in St. Agave. They were to take food and a blanket and nothing else. If the schoolmaster did not come for them in timehe would be collecting children firstthey were to run into the woods and hide. The truck could carry thirty or forty refugees at a time standing up, and the schoolmaster had enough carefully hoarded black market gasoline to make four trips, possibly five, if there should be time before the roadblocks went up that would isolate the village.