So many Parisians fled Paris after the German Invasion, why did you decide to stay?
Naomie – My brother and I were raised as Roma (Gypsies). You have to understand that we spent our lives packing up and moving place to place, so for us, Paris was our first true home. I loved Paris and I loved his apartment at 52 rue Laffitte. After the invasion, we felt scared but resolute that we must stay and fight for the freedom of the city and France. Soon, members of my brother’s esoteric scientific community came to live with us, and we began to formulate elaborate plans to resist.
Why did you write to Penelope asking her to come to Paris from America?
Naomie – I wrote to her because I missed her. Before the invasion, I lived with my brother in Paris. Fulcanelli and I were alchemists, and I was learning to be a tailor. The city was vibrant then— so full of life that any dream felt possible. The art, the music, the dance, the fashion, Paris felt like the center of the world. Then, at once, the Germans invaded. At first the whole city was just frozen in shock because we didn’t want to believe it was really happening. I wrote my letter to Penelope during that time because I was so scared. She was like a sister to me and I needed her help. My brother insisted that she bring him the necklace I had given to her for safe-keeping. He believed that magical necklace could rescue us.
Do you believe in the necklace’s magic?
Naomie – Of course. Why wouldn’t I? You see life is filled with so many magical things.
Naomie remarked with a finality that seemed less like a figure of speech and more like the final diagnosis of something permanent.
Can you tell me about Penelope?
Naomie – Penelope is very brave. It is not easy to cross an ocean alone, enter occupied Paris, then become a British spy. You see, it is not just the necklace that contains magic. Penelope is rife with it, only she likes to hold her magic at bay with her quiet smile and decorum. It’s what made her such an effective spy. You see, Penelope is very brave but also subtle and modest.
Do you think it was the right decision to ask her to come to Paris?
Naomie – At the time, I was certain it was the right decision because we could finally be together. I was so young and sure of things. We were in danger, and she possessed the one thing that could save us. I thought she was journeying to France to deliver a necklace and to reunite with me. I was so naive then. My heart was invulnerable to reason. I did not realize that the war was a nearly perfect monster poised to consume us both.
What do you remember about the war?
Naomie – I could live a thousand lives and never forget what happened to me during the war. What do you want to know?
Can you tell me about the day you were abducted by the police?
Naomie – Penelope had not yet arrived and my brother had sent me to pick up our rations. I had been standing in line for nearly an hour. To distract my nerves, I brought along my sewing bag. I was embroidering a flower onto an old scarf, so I wasn’t really aware of my surroundings. Then, in a flash, I was forced into a police car and taken away. No one looked at me or even cried out in my defense. I have never felt so confused and alone.
Where did they take you?
Naomie – At first I was held in the velodrome then I was transferred to Soufriere Prison outside of Paris. It was an old, rat-infested prison. I survived because one of the guards took a liking to me, or that’s what I thought, so I offered to patch his clothes in exchange for bits of food. He started to bring me the clothes of other soldiers. It was sew or die.
Where did you go after Paris?
Naomie – To a German work camp. It was a wretched life.
She murmured something I couldn’t quite hear.
Can you tell me about it?
Naomie – I’d rather not.
Can you tell me how you survived?
Naomie – After a few weeks there, I realized the prison guard I sewed for in Paris had traveled with us to Auschwitz. He got me a job in the kitchen, so, using my alchemy skills, I faked my way as an assistant to the chief baker for the German officers. I had never baked a loaf of bread before.
How did you escape?
Naomie – Eventually I started to become too hungry and sick to work in the kitchen, then one day the prison guard smuggled a disguise to me. He gave me a backpack of food and water and told me to follow him out the gates and to keep walking for days, to never look back. He told me to trust him. I followed him out the gates of the prison, and we never stopped moving for days until we reached Slovakia then made our way to England.
She throws her hands to her face then to the sky, tears streaming down her face. Her gestures seem to speak as much as her words.
How did you move forward in life as a survivor?
Naomie – It turned out the prison guard worked for the British government. He had been paid to help me escape. When I made it across the border into Slovakia, I finally looked back over my shoulder. I promised myself that I would live my life fully to tell the story of all of the prisoners who did not make it out.
Thank you for sharing your story.
Sarah C. Patten grew up just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She earned her BA in English from Cornell University. Her focus in writing at that time was primarily poetry. She earned her MALS in creative writing from Dartmouth where she completed her thesis, a collection of short stories entitled The Laying on of Hands. Over the course of her career, she spent almost fifteen years working as an English teacher, a creative writing instructor, then a school administrator before leaving those positions to pursue writing full-time. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three children, and four dogs. For more information, please visit: www.sarahcpatten.com.