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Escape Through the Pyrenees

Though it reads as a suspense novel, Escape through the Pyrenees is Lisa Fittko's extraordinary memoir of life as an "enemy alien" in France before and after the German invasion of 1940.

Jewish leftists raised in Berlin, Lisa Fittko and her husband, Hans, became active members of the anti-Fascist German resistance. They fled the Gestapo in 1933 to what they thought was the safety of La France genereuse. To the French, however, they and thousands of other German emigres represented a grave political threat. In much the same way that the United States interned Japanese immigrants at the height of the war hysteria, French authorities rounded up the reviled boches and crowded them into filthy and isolated concentration camps.

As Hitler's army swept through France, Fittko and her imprisoned comrades seized their chance to escape. But life outside the camp was as full of danger and deprivation as that within: with the Gestapo bent on finding and punishing the emigre "traitors", and the French obligated by the terms of the armistice to turn them in, every move was a matter of life and death. Survival under these conditions required a new approach to thought and action; those who asked "What will happen to me?" instead of "What can I do?" were increasingly doomed.

Reunited at last near the foot of the Pyrenees in unoccupied southern France, Lisa and Hans were determined to make their way out of the country. While waiting for the proper papers, Lisa agreed to help spirit the philosopher Walter Benjamin across the border into Spain. Soon she and Hans were regularly guiding small groups of refugees to safety along a torturous route through the mountains. Through their efforts, hundreds ofrefugees escaped deportation, torture, and death at the hands of the Nazis.

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About the Author

Lisa Fittko fled to France in 1941, settled in Cuba for a time, and immigrated to the United States in 1948. She is active in the peace movement.David Koblick an American, is retired from the electrical construction Industry and resides with his wife, Berta, in Steyr, Austria. His second vocation is translating in the German and English languages.


"The author takes delight in describing the people she met--the 70-year-old female hobo, for example . . . who read Baudelaire and sang the "Marseillaise" at the top of her voice. . . . It is in portraits like this that Escape Through the Pyrenees, well translated by David Koblick, transcends the documentary forumla and captures the poetry of human character." --New York Times Book Review "Lisa Fittko had no room for self-pity. Their campaigns against terror were pure struggles; [her] accounts, even allowing for the retouching of memory, are pure too." --Smithsonian

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