Torture

Denise Vernay, “In the Hands of the German Police under the Occupation”, published in Franc Tireur on 23 August 1946.

“Half an hour later, the bathtub… it was a small, ordinary-looking bathroom, except that I was packed in there with four men, four brutes, including French men…

‘Take off your clothes,’ one of them said.

I hesitated a second. But after all, are they men? There I was naked, but my mind was so removed from the scene that I managed not to feel any horror the first time they touched me. I was even cool-headed enough to take my wristwatch off and put it on the shelf above the sink…

I was standing before the unknown. I followed myself to the edge of the bathtub. On their orders, I was inside. It was impossible for me to know ahead of time how my muscles and nerves would react to physical suffering. The only way to find out was to go through the ordeal… I had to experience it to measure it and to measure myself… My mind immediately went blank. I was no longer breathing. It was a brutal fight for life, which, I knew, they would not take away from me right away.

Lying down on the bottom, with my feet up on the edge tied together by a rubber belt, I waited, my mind blank, for the torture that my imagination could not picture. I was aware that I must not speak too quickly and that every answer I gave had to be either a lie or inaccurate. The water flowed over me and rose up in the bottom of the bathtub, where they were holding down my head. I didn’t struggle. I barely even shuddered when I felt the water touch me. It came up to my nose and mouth. I consciously swallowed, following the advice I had received. I drank… Now I knew why it took three of them to hold me down. I was strong and it was hard for them to quell my agitation, which I tried to curtail and stop. For the first time, I perceived that the body cannot always obey one’s will. Don’t struggle? But how?… I choked. I could not take it any longer… enough… enough; I did not scream, but I told them to leave me alone… in vain… Are they doing this job out of duty or pleasure?

Between each plunge they said ‘Talk… What do you know? What is your headquarters’ address? Your accomplices’ names?…’

I insisted that I knew nothing, that I had already told them everything and I made up real fake addresses in my mind.

In between plunging my head under water they poured water from a bottle into my nose and mouth… They stopped the torture and drained the bathtub to remove pieces of the broken bottle so that, they said, I wouldn’t ‘get hurt’! But to keep me from starting up again they handcuffed my hands behind my back… and held my head under water…

I don’t know how many times they did it, but I noticed that the whole thing lasted an hour when I put my watch back on. I hesitated, afraid that such a gesture would show I was still sufficiently conscious…

But I had to talk. At every instant, I had to watch myself, to think of twisting the facts. I only had the strength to camouflage them and make them unrecognisable. I felt [so] close to my parents and comrades that I was afraid they would show through me. That’s when I saw all of you and you supported me by the absolute trust you have always shown me. Not for a minute did the idea of betraying you ever occur to me.

I must confess that after one of their plunges I made a move whose impact I cannot fathom, even today: before handcuffing me I grabbed one of my hairpins and tried to stab my chest with it. The gesture was absurd, and I was perfectly aware that it was impossible to kill myself that way. And yet I was not making believe. That must have been the police officers’ opinion because afterwards they put me under watch to make sure that I did not make a more serious suicide attempt…

Then, it was over… “

Denise Vernay in Franc-Tireur, 23 August 1946