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My Grandmother

If you were intrigued enough to click on the tab, you might have been asking yourself: « What on earth does her grandmother have to do with this website ?... » 

Read on, see what you think…

Non conformist, feminist, heroïne of the Resistance, Companion of the Liberation,

My grandmother was Berty Albrecht (1893-1943) an extraordinary woman in many ways:  non conformist, activist, heroin of the French Resistance, she had a truly  exceptional character and a radiant personality which deeply impacted all those who knew her:

“She was a beautiful sword, with unforgettable flames in her eyes”  Général Pierre de Bénouville

Funnily enough, they all remembered her as being tall, when in fact she only measured 1m50 (4.9 ft). And of course, they could all remember the deep and intense look in her eyes – my mother (her daughter Mireille) used to tell me that when her eyes crossed yours, you were literally transfixed! My mother was also a remarkable woman, even though it was a challenge to be the “daughter of…” (I can’t say it was very easy where I’m concerned either, having two great women to look up to…)

Berty's path

Marseille, nurse for the Red Cross during WW1, 1914- 1918 

Berty was born in Marseilles in the South of France on 15 February 1893 into a protestant bourgeois family of Swiss origin. I will let you imagine the kind of upbringing this meant…

Berty was trained as a nurse, and at 21, totally horrified by the atrocities of WW1, she worked with the Red Cross and devoted herself body and soul to relieving the suffering of the wounded. She was engaged to Frederic Albrecht, which wasn’t simple as he was German…but Frederic was a conscientious objector, and ended up renouncing his German citizenship, to become Dutch.  They married in 1918, lived in Rotterdam where they had two children, Frederic and Mireille, and then moved to London where Frederic worked as a City stockbroker.  

London, wife of a banker, she found her life futile

Berty lead a more than comfortable life in London: servants, nurse for the children, cook, she freely spent her husband’s money who opened accounts for her in all the best establishments. She had an automobile, and made a point to drive it herself which was considered very “unlady like”. She was also a member of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, rather unusual for a woman (does my taste for Burgundy wines come from there?...) But, she was not satisfied with this kind of life which she considered futile. She needed to feel useful, to serve her fellow humans, and thus started looking into the problems of the working class, and more particularly those of women and the famous “suffragettes”. 

Paris, an engaged feminist, she created the magazine “Le problème sexuel” (the sexual problem)

 As a City banker her husband Frederic was beginning to feel embarrassed by his wife’s non- conformist activities, and wanted her to go back to fulfilling her role as a proper City banker’s wife.  This was impossible for her. And as it was also impossible for him to let her continue jeopardizing his career (though he doted on her), out of affection and mutual respect, they decided to separate, and Berty moved to Paris in 1932 with the two children. There, she dedicated herself to Human Rights and became friends with Victor Basch, president of the League for Human Rights. Although attracted to communist ideals, she was much too independent to join the Party. She became more and more committed to defending women’s rights, such as the rights to contraception and abortion. In 1933, she created a feminist magazine, totally revolutionary for the times “The sexual problem” which she managed to self-publish for two years (and thanks to her husband’s financial contribution).

Berty Albrecht

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