Some heroes wear blue berets...
A Saving theRabbits of Ravensbrück story...
I couldn't contain my excitement. I was finally on my way to meet up with Stacey Fitzgerald and her documentary film team in Paris for our 10 day whirlwind filming trip in April 2018. This was to be the last filming trip to Europe before post production began of the documentary, Saving the Rabbits of Ravensbrück. Our first day was spent filming B-roll around Paris... not a bad way to spend the day! Paris in April is stunning. The cherry blossoms around Notre Dame were at their peak.
Michèle Agniel was the first Ravensbrück survivor we interviewed. Her radiant smile, ready laugh and generous hospitality is imprinted on my heart forever. Her story, too, is one I continue to ponder and talk about with my girls.
She was only 17 when she was arrested and sent to Ravensbrück. Seventeen. The age of frivolous parties, school work, boys and dreams. In the 1940's it was also the age of sneaking into schools and dispersing illegal papers, hiding, housing and then ferrying Allied airmen to safety outside of Paris. For Michèle, it was the age of Resistance.
She was identified as "the girl with the blue beret," on the streets of Paris. If she was wearing her beret, it was safe for contact and she could aid the airmen out of the city. If she was not wearing it, she sensed she was being watched or followed. Her father helped forge new documents for the airmen and her mother helped clothe them so as to not be identified as allied soldiers.
Michèle offered us delicious coffee in fine china teacups. I photographed her watering a menagerie of plants and tulips on her balcony. Her smile was electric! Before the interview, she pulled out a large 3-ring binder full of newspaper clippings, letters, documents, silk regional maps the airmen would fly with, one with a bullet hole through it. Over the decades since the war, many of the airmen's' families tracked her down, either by post or in person, to thank her and her family for what they did to save and rescue their son, brother, father.
In the 1990's, a woman named Bobbie Ann Mason, whose father-in-law, Barney Rawlings, had mentioned a girl wearing "something blue" had helped him escape Paris after his plane crashed, tracked Michèle down. Bobbie, a writer, couldn't resist investigating more of the story and in the end Barney and Michèle reunited and Bobbie wrote a book inspired by and titled "The Girl in the Blue Beret." Michèle's family helped over 50 airmen escape Paris.
Michèle told us about her time at Ravensbrück and remembered the "Rabbits" and their extraordinary escape. I came home and told my girls about Michèle. And even brought home a blue beret to help us all remember to stand up for what we believe. Even if it has the potential to cost us our lives (something none of us in my house can really comprehend).