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Codename Suzette An extraordinary story of resistance and rescue in Nazi Paris

Many a great story comes about by chance. Codename Suzette is exactly that. Stumbled upon while researching Red Orchestra, a retouched photograph of a woman known as Suzanne Spaak, was unearthed. Supposedly listed as a Soviet spy during World War Two, a known friend of Leopoldo Trepper, a man who was definitely a Russian spy, little was known about her.

Anne Nelson made the decision to discover more about this mysterious woman and her wartime exploits, and in doing so uncovered one of a myriad of incredibly courageous stories, one of the many of which sadly, have faded into the past.

Suzanne Spaak was born into a wealthy Belgian Catholic family, her father’s favourite and an intelligent woman. Falling in love with Claude at the age of 14 years, he was 15; they became secretly engaged, marrying in 1925.

Considered a golden couple, she with the wealth, he and his family both wealthy and politically influential, they eventually moved to Paris: on one level to try and revive a flagging marriage and for Claude, a playwright and poet to be more easily accessible to theatre groups and his older brother Charles, who had already begun to make a name for himself in theatre.

Alone and lonely Suzanne befriended Jewish refugees fleeing before the wrath of Russia, which once Germany invaded Paris, saw her become one of the leaders of an extremely comprehensive and effective resistance group.

Her life was to change dramatically once the infamous Gas chambers of Auschwitz began to ‘process’ Jewish children aged between 3-17 years.

She was instrumental in recruiting a group of people from all religious persuasions to ‘kidnap’ Jewish children from the orphanages, hide them with willing families and then somehow, in a desperate economy, raise the funds required to help feed them.

Over time her network spread far and wide, enlisting the help, of many who put their own families and lives in jeopardy, and by using her contacts ,her social standing and realising this was her purpose in life, she and many others ultimately saved the lives of 1000 Jewish children.

Not only does the story of Suzette paint a picture of bravery and courage, but as research often does, also uncovers a Paris under Gestapo rule, the underhanded dealings often done by neighbours and people who were trusted members of the community. Society was a dangerous place to be as to trust, to talk to the wrong person, to dare take on a member of the German occupation forces would result in death.

Over the years munch white wash has been painted in relation to the reality of life in occupied countries, in Codename Suzette the white wash has been removed to show Paris as more of the reality; a very dangerous place to live.

Riveting and engaging, the story of Suzanne Spaak, her family and the people who gave so very much to help others, offers a new and better understanding of what being a Jew during the horrific years of World War Two was like and the bravery of so very many who helped them.

Author Anne Nelson
Publisher Allen and Unwin
ISBN 9781925266207
Distributor Allen and Unwin
Released November 2017