Today is my turn to celebrate the publication of Hide & Seek by Robin Scott-Elliot, a phenomenal work of historical fiction that draws on the real life courage and struggles of those who risked it all to act against the Nazi occupation of France; and even more so when our protagonist Amèlie is Jewish.
I’m honoured to be hosting Robin’s own reflections on the real life inspirations behind Amélie.
One balmy Saturday afternoon, the Dreyfus family are having a happy pause from the world outside their apartment in Occupied Paris and a game of Hide & Seek.
Whilst hiding amongst her mother’s furs the apartment is raided by Nazi soldiers and her parents and older brother taken away. As the citizens of Paris look the other way Amélie strips her clothes of the yellow stars and swears to do all that she can to survive and resist, until she finds her family again.
Her fight will take her into certain danger, through the streets of Paris, across land and water and back again, to stand against tyranny, for she has nothing left to lose.
‘Do nothing to attract attention-become a ghost on the streets’Advice to Amélie on her first act of resistance.
Ok, basically you will need tissues for this, it’s tense, heart breaking and soaring across the novel as you hope, hurt, burn for Amélie’s struggles, loneliness and courage.
Capturing the claustrophobic, paranoid fear of occupied Paris where one can never truly trust another yet must place lives in their hands, Robin gets us into the thick of the situation with the shocking opening chapter as Amélie’s childhood abruptly ends in her mother’s wardrobe. Things will never be the same again, however carefully the prices are glued back together, and we go on a journey with her as she rebuilds herself through action and defiance, honouring the lost and stolen by her refusal to give in.
Sadly, when it comes to the acts of resistance against fascism, and indeed much of social history we are formally taught so little of the everyday who and why and far more of the big name whos, what and a little how; all of which is important, but sometimes misses the opportunity for true empathy.
‘Every day I expect them to come for me, every day I expect you not to come home. Stay in the shadows, my little bird, stay in the shadows.’Cécile to ‘Vette’
Indeed Hide and Seek reflects the saying that we should say their names so that they live on. The efforts of real people in the SOE like Noor Inayat Khan, Virginia Hall, Krystina Skarbek, Odette Sansom and Sonia Olschanezky, and the ‘everyday’ men, women and teenagers including those of Jewish heritage like Marianne Cohn are remembered within the book in different ways from referring to real life escapes, code names, captures and even aiding children’s escapes.
Robin has endeavoured to honour those few, those who resisted because they wanted to do their part, who refused to cower in the face of tyranny, who had a life expectancy of six weeks because to do nothing would be unthinkable for them, and they took the risks where countless others couldn’t or wouldn’t or as in Amélie’s case she resisted because there is nothing left to have taken from them and many paid the ultimate price. These stories are woven into Amèlie, Cécile, and real people heroines such as Vera Atkins are referred to or feature throughout too.
I hope that books like Hide & Seek humanise those struggles and sacrifices far more than just numbers, acronyms, facts and names in a textbook.
I am lucky to be able to share with you Robin’s thoughts on the inspirations behind Amelie and her story.
The making of Amelie Dreyfus by Robin Scott-Elliot.
From the first glimmer of an idea through to seeing Holly Ovenden’s beautiful cover, this has felt like the book I’ve always wanted to write.
It goes right back to childhood, growing up in Belgium and Holland. The war was only 35 years gone – I used to wonder if the farmer’s wife next door might have been a young resister, or the old man shuffling along the street to the corner café. And what of those in the uniforms of France, Belgium or the Netherlands who worked on the Nato base alongside my dad. I knew some of them were in the Resistance.
I read the Diary of Anne Frank and we went to see the house in Amsterdam where she hid. It stayed with me. Even more so a visit to Dachau, the concentration camp where Noor Inayat Khan and three other female agents were executed, four among over 40,000 killed there.
In Belgium one of the few English-language programmes we watched on our old black and white TV was Secret Army, a story of the Resistance. I was fascinated by these people. How could they be so brave? Remember Resistance fighters did not have to resist. Like most, they could have chosen just to survive; that in itself was enough of a struggle for the many. But it was the few who stuck in my head for years and years.
Amelie Dreyfus, a Parisian teenager, is the result. She is one of the few – fewer than one tenth of the French resisted, although that number was estimated to be far higher among the Jewish population.
The inspiration for Amelie also comes from real Amelies. Agents like Noor Inayat Khan or Sonya Butt, just 19 when she parachuted into France, or Sonia Olschanezky, another 19-year-old, a German Jew, who led a resistance group and was executed by the Nazis.
When I began to research France’s experience under occupation, I came across a photograph. It’s one of two pictures that make up Amelie. It’s of Simone Segouin, a teenage Resistance fighter in the liberation of Paris. She stands between two armed men. She’s shorter than them, wearing a pair of shorts and a polka-dot blouse. She looks like a schoolgirl except she’s holding a machine gun.
The other came up on my Twitter feed. I follow @AuschwitzMuseum, who keep alive the memory of more than a million who died there. In front of me was the face of Eva Redischova. In contrast to Simone’s picture this is the sort of studio shot parents have always had of their children. One to sit on the mantlepiece, send to grandparents. Eva was Czech, born in Prague in 1931. She was also Jewish. She was murdered in a gas chamber at Auschwitz when she was 13.
Please stop and seek out the other stops of this blog tour. And take the time to ponder this incredible, powerful and thought provoking book.
Hide And Seek by Robin Scott-Elliot is published by Everything With Words
Thank you to Everything With Words and Fritha for my copy 💜