Suzanne Spaak

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Suzanne Spaak (c. 1905 - 12 August 1944) was a World War II French Resistance operative.

Born into a prosperous Belgian banking family sometime around 1905. She married Brussels-born dramatist Claude Spaak (1904-1990), brother of both Charles Spaak, a screenwriter, and Paul-Henri Spaak, a Belgian statesmen. Living in Paris, with her husband and two children, she enjoyed a life of luxury and prestige as one of the city's leading socialites. Her husband had acquired paintings by their fellow Belgian, René Magritte, and in 1936, Magritte painted her portrait. Her lifestyle changed drastically with the onslaught of World War II and the subsequent occupation of France by Germany.

Angry with the suppression, brutality and racial intolerance of the Nazis, she volunteered to work with the underground National Movement Against Racism (MNCR).[1] Spaak's offer of assistance was greeted with a certain amount of skepticism by members of the French Resistance, who wondered if she would last under difficult and dangerous conditions. Her initial involvement was mundane, i.e. typing, distributing leaflets, and shopping for everyday supplies. She walked all over the city of Paris in an effort to find a hospital willing to take the risk of treating Jews who were in hiding and in dire need of medical attention. Using her influence with the upper class of Parisian society, she knocked on the doors of lawyers, judges, clerics, film stars and authors for support.[citation needed]

With time and growing atrocities by the Nazis, Spaak devoted herself to ridding France and her native Belgium of its suppressors. She joined the Red Orchestra intelligence network, a Soviet-sponsored organization founded by a Polish Jew, Leopold Trepper.[2] This group conducted very effective intelligence gathering in Germany, France, the Netherlands and in neutral Switzerland with members known as the "Lucy Ring". The network became so successful, even infiltrating the German military intelligence service Abwehr,[citation needed] that the Nazis set up the "Red Orchestra Special Detachment" ("Sonderkommando Rote Kapelle") to destroy it.[citation needed]

A mother of two, Spaak worked doggedly to save the lives of Jewish children who were facing deportation to the German death camps. In early 1943, she was part of a group that saved a hundred sixty three Jewish children who were about to be deported from the Union Generale des Israelites de France (UGIF) centers. At enormous risk to herself and her family, she hid some of the children in her own home, helping to provide the children with clothing and ration cards and arranging for them be moved to the safety of homes of people in various parts of France willing to risk hiding them.[citation needed]

In Belgium, in the spring of 1942, the Germans traced and monitored Red Orchestra operative's radio transmitters and made their first arrests of Red Orchestra agents. Captured members were brutally tortured and several broke, divulging network secrets that, over the ensuing eighteen months, allowed for more than six hundred people to be arrested, including Suzanne Spaak in Paris. Sent by the Gestapo to the prison in Fresnes in October 1943, she was kept in horrific conditions and subjected to torture. When the Allied forces broke through at Normandy and began to fight their way to free Paris, the Gestapo prepared to flee but before they did, they began executing certain prisoners.[citation needed]

On 12 August 1944, just thirteen days before the liberation of Paris, Spaak was executed by the Gestapo. On April 21, 1985, Yad Vashem recognized Suzanne Spaak as Righteous Among the Nations.[3]

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