As soon as 1933, she opposed Nazism
She was very lucid on the reality of Nazism and in 1934 created a centre for German refugees (Jews and political opponents) to help them with money, work and lodgings. She did the same for Spanish refugees from the civil war. This was when she met Henri Frenay with whom she would later share all resistance activities.
Henri Frenay and the Resistant movement COMBAT
When the Germans entered Paris in May 1940, she decided to leave Paris to defend “the ideal of freedom”. She sold everything and took her daughter Mireille with her across France, wherever her resistant path took her.
In June 1940, she was hired as superintendent at the Fulmen manufacture in Vierzon. She took advantage of her position and used it to help escaped prisoners cross the demarcation line.
In autumn 1940, she could not accept defeat, and was convinced it was now time to act strongly, and crossed over to the free zone to join her friend Henri Frenay, who had escaped from Germany. It turned out that Henri, who was twelve years younger than Berty, became the love of her life… His determination, coupled with her passion, created the sparks that birthed Combat, the most important movement of the Resistance, founded in 1942.
Lyon, arrested by the French collaborative Vichy Police, she goes on hunger strike
In May 1941 she moved to Lyon Villeurbanne, where she was sent by the Vichy Ministry of Work and Industrial Production to take care of women’s unemployment in the Lyon area. Berty opened workshops for unemployed women.
All the while, she continued her fight against Nazi Germans, and established precious links between the two zones for the movement. The offices in Villeurbanne rapidly became those of the movement, where Berty also created a Combat clandestine social service to assist its imprisoned members and their families.
The comings and goings in the offices caught the attention of the Vichy Police, who arrested Berty a first time in January 1942. Although released after three days, she was made to resign from her Ministry job.
She was arrested a second time, at home, in April 1942 by the Vichy Police, and was jailed at Vals-les-Bains in the Ardèche. She was not allowed a lawyer, nor a trial. She demanded to be judged, but in face of the refusal from the authorities, she went on hunger strike for two weeks. She finally succeeded and was transferred to Saint-Joseph’s prison in Lyon. She was judged after spending six months in prison, and condemned by the Vichy Government to internment camp.
She simulated madness and escaped
The invasion by the Germans of the South Zone on 11 November 1942 threatened even more the future of political prisoners. Berty thus decided to simulate madness to facilitate her chances of escaping. She was transferred to the psychiatric hospital of the Vinatier in Bron on 28 November. She managed to escape on 23 December 1942 through a commando action of Combat, thanks to the help of her daughter Mireille and that of her doctor in le Vinatier (who had rapidly understood she wasn’t mad!).
Arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, she didn’t talk
She was now hunted by all the French and German Police. She refused to escape to England, went into hiding, all the while continuing the fight and her clandestine activities. In early February 1943, she joined Henri Frenay in Cluny, North of Lyon.
On 28 May 1943 in Mâcon, she went to a clandestine meeting. Her last one… it was a set up, and she was arrested by the Gestapo who was waiting for her. She was jailed and tortured during two days in the prison of Fort Montluc in Lyon. She didn’t talk. Meanwhile, Pierre de Bénouville made her daughter Mireille cross over to safety in Switzerland – he knew she would be arrested to be tortured in front of her mother… Berty was transferred to Fresnes prison, near Paris, on 31 May at 0h15, in a dreadful state… she knew this time she would not escape… Placed by mistake in the quarter for common law criminals, she escaped the surveillance reserved for “politics”, and was able to hang herself during the night “with a scarf hooked to the light” (according to the succinct terms of the archive paper discovered by my mother in 2004 after many years of research).
On 31 May 1943, the Germans advised the Préfecture of Macon and the Dutch embassy in London of Berty’s death with no indication on its causes. In May 1945, her body was found in the vegetable garden of the prison of Fresnes.
Berty is one of the few buried in the crypt of the Mont Valérien Memorial in Suresnes, west of Paris, a place where many resistants were executed.
Berty, a pioneer of women’s rights died too early to see that out of the 1038 combatants made “Companion of the Liberation” by the General de Gaulle, he had only nominated six women! However, Berty is one of those six women…
A slight resemblance...
The Paris-London Eurostar, specially decorated for the 70th anniversary of the call to resistance of the 18th June of General de Gaulle, which was celebrated in London, showed the portraits of (from left to right) : Félix Eboué, Charles de Gaulle, Berty Albrecht, Jean Moulin, Général Leclerc
"Vivre au lieu d'Exister" by Mireille Albrecht, my mother's book on Berty.
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself” was Berty’s leitmotiv that shaped my mother’s youth…(and, to be honest, shaped mine as well...) Tough, but it also shaped her character… In the book, from her earliest memories up to age nineteen (when Berty died), Mireille recounts her daily life with her mother, from the house in London with nurse and servants, to their wanderings as Resistants across France. I have been trying to get the French publisher to find an English publisher, or to get the rights for the English in order to make the existing English version available (However, the translation needs editing as I don’t recognize my mum’s easy style).
Truly, it is a moving story, often funny, and very entertaining. As proof, my (French) husband who “never found the time” to read this book (meaning he didn’t want to read it!) found himself stuck with nothing left to read. Having no choice, he picked up the book with a big sigh and started forcing himself …After twenty pages, he looked up and said: “Mmmm, it’s not bad actually…” and after fifty pages “ this is really good, why didn’t I read it before!” (I didn’t answer). And at the end of the book, he declared that “this book should be a bestseller!”
Should you have entries with English publishers, please contact me :)