|Name Suzanne Hiltermann-Souloumiac|
Suzanne Hiltermann-Souloumiac, née Hiltermann, alias Touty, (17 January 1919 - 2 octobre 2001) was a member of the French Resistance. Captured by the Nazi she was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. After the war Suzanne Hiltermann supported the independence of Algeria, moved to China in the 1960s, but after few years returned to France where she participated in the events of May 1968.
- Early life
- World War II
- The Discovery of China
- The recognition of China by France
- Nien Cheng
- French School
- Last years
Suzanne Hiltermann was born in a family of magistrates and industrialists of Amsterdam. At the age of 20, she left her native country for Paris in order to undertake studies in philosophy and ethnology. Shortly after the German invasion of France, she entered in the French Resistance.
World War II
In 1943, Suzanne joined the resistance network Dutch-Paris just founded by the Dutch diplomat Herman Laatsman and directed by Johan Hendrik Weidner in direct coordination with the Allied forces.. In fact the réseau was particularly active in saving Allied pilots shot down in Nazi controlled West Europe, and helping them to return to their bases. The network was active also in helping the Jewish population to escape Nazi persecution.
Through the connections Touty had in the German Embassy, in particular with Karl-Heinz Gerstner, the network Dutch-Paris received services, confidential information and forged papers.
As air missions increased, and more planes were shot down, Suzanne Hiltermann was more and more involved in all the operations needed first for sheltering the pilots and then for moving them out of the Nazi controlled areas. Touty accompanied several groups of pilots to the Gare d'Austerlitz to entrain for Toulouse, from where they would escape to Spain. 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 married the brother of Simone Souloumiac. Pierre Souloumiac, captain of the Merchant Marine, actively participated in the defence of England throughout the Second World War.
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 the Ardèche region where she moved in 1981. She spent the last twenty years of her life in Désaignes where she died on 2 October 2001.