On April 23rd, Sandy Ott gave a talk, “Living with the Enemy in Bearn: Collaboration and Resistance,” at the University of San Francisco. Professor Karen Bouwer (French Studies at USF) extended the invitation to her. Jean Lassegues generously sponsored the event. M. Lassegues’s parents came from villages near Pau in Bearn, and he retains a lifelong interest in his heritage. The audience of some fifty people included USF students, as well as many French-speaking members of the public. One very special member of the audience was Mme. Odette M. Le Pendu, who is 93 years-old and as spry as ever. Odette was born in San Francisco to French parents from the Midi. In 1938, the family returned to France to help relatives with their business. At age 18, Odette joined the Resistance—and managed to keep it a secret from her parents for the duration of the Occupation. She served as a radio operator. At the end of Sandy’s talk Odette shared some of her memories of the Occupation with the audience. As a proud Officer of the Legion of Honor, Odette showed the audience the splendid medal she received at the Liberation in recognition of her wartime bravery and service to France.
In her talk Sandy focused on the wartime experiences of a Bearnais town hall secretary from Oloron and the Vichy police commissioner who established close relations with the SS captain responsible for German intelligence and security in that town. The narrative forms one chapter in Sandy’s forthcoming book, Living with the Enemy: Betrayal and Justice in the Western Pyrenees, 1940-1947, under contract with Cambridge University Press.
Readers interested in this period should also check out our War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, also edited by Sandy and which also treats many of these from a variety of perspectives.