Biography of Robert Wolfgang Edel, by Nicolas Rouzet,
Letters and History teacher at the Don Bosco High School in Marseille.
The author has opted to write in the first person, as if he were Robert Edel.
I was born in the Charlottenburg quarter in Berlin on February 4, 1904 into an intellectual milieu. We lived a few streets away from the family of Charlotte Salomon. My father, Max Léopold Edel, was a highly regarded doctor. I, however, preferred the Law and pushed my studies to the doctorate level. But I never really had time to pursue a juridical career. We left Germany when Hitler was elected.
(From April, 1933 Jews were excluded from the civil service, and in 1935 the Nuremberg laws added the law profession.)
At that time my wife Frieda and I came to Paris. To make our living I got into making office supplies, with Frieda’s aid. We lived at n° 12 passage de Clichy, where it was very calm, while quite lively at the same time, with warm neighbors, almost like a village! We had no children.
Then the war caught up with us. In September of 1939, the French authorities were suspicious of me as a German, and I was interned at Colombes, and then immediately close to Blois in the Villerbon camp. It was not a genuine camp, but rather a few ancient barns scattered around the fields. We did farm work, helping the locals (since almost all the men had been mobilized). We had to put on a brave face. Several French friends wrote letters vouching for me by explaining to the authorities that I was neither a traitor nor a spy. And we were invited to enlist in the Foreign Legion. I accepted without even thinking it over; it was the only way to recover my freedom, oppose Nazism, and prove my loyalty toward the country that had taken me in as a political refugee.
I am not boasting when I say that I was never afraid of being killed in combat, but I did fear being taken prisoner. Then everything happened so quickly and confusedly. We had to fall back…I got separated from my unit in the debacle. We no longer had any command structure. We were mixed up with the civilians on the jammed roads, machine-gunned by dive bombers. I changed my uniform for civilian clothes and borrowed a bicycle. I dreaded being apprehended by the German army, as I knew they had lists of opponents and would not cut me any slack. They would find my name on my papers, and being without papers would be worse…
Thus did I arrive in Marseille in June of 1940, along with hundreds of Germans in transit, most of whom were going from consulate to consulate, lining up in hopes of getting a visa, and among them were many demobilized legionnaires like myself. I did not wish to leave. And since I did not want Frieda to risk joining me, I waited. I lived from hand to mouth, doing small jobs until I realized I had a real talent for making forged documents, gold at my fingertips! At the end of October, 1942, scenting the arrival of the occupation army in the Free Zone (in Marseille on November 11, 1942), I went underground with the name Robert Dorian. My friend, Albert Wiener, got me a job as a typesetter with the Valabrègues printing company at n° 2 rue Moustié, which made things easier for us…
That is where I was arrested by the Gestapo, along with Albert, on June 28, 1944. It was the accountant who turned us in. If not him, it could have been Madame H., our landlady at n° 87 rue de Breteuil, who was imprisoned at the Liberation. We were sent to Gestapo headquarters on the rue Paradis – and what a fine town mansion – and from there to the Baumettes prison. We were transported across France by train through the turmoil that followed the allied landing. We barely missed being freed in a night attack by the Auvergne resistance fighters. Finally, we arrived here, at Drancy, on the 24th of July.
Albert Wiener was not in convoy 77. He survived. It was he who would later tell Frieda about my years in Marseille and the conditions of my arrest.
Written and published by Nicolas Rouzet at Marseille in December 2018, in memory of Robert Wolfgang Edel, who was not to be one of those who came back.