1942 : A young Ariègeoise helps lead a family of Jews into Spain

Jeanne Rogalle en 2000After the fall of France the country was divided into the zone occupied by the German army which included Paris and the Atlantic coast, and the unoccupied zone ruled from Vichy. From March 1942 to January 1943 Jews in this area were sent to live in the hotels and lodge in the houses of Aulus-les-Bains. At the time, although Aulus was a thriving spa town, there were only 3 telephones and 3 cars in the whole village and the railway stopped at St Girons.

On August 26 1942 the French authorities arrested the Austrian, German and Polish Jews who were then deported to the concentration camps.

On November 11 the German army invaded Vichy France. Several days later detachments arrived in Aulus and took over the Hotel Majestic.

Jeanne Rogalle and her parents in 1942Jeanne Rogalle's family, who lived in the village, knew the mountains above Aulus very well as they grazed their sheep near the Spanish border. Her father became a "passeur" helping people escape into Spain. In early December he was asked to take a large group and Jeanne, then 21, volunteered to help him lead them to safety.

On January 9 1943, some time after the events described below, the French authorities in a second sweep arrested all the Jews left in Aulus and most of them were sent on to the concentration camps.

After my father, Jean Pierre Agouau, had led 2 Dutch Jews to the Spanish border we set out a few days later on December 5 at 3 am with a group of nine – five men, three women and a boy of 12. The group gathered in the shadows by a nearby barn. We could take little with us; a back pack, some food, warm clothes and most importantly good footwear. My father told everyone to keep as quiet as possible, not to use walking sticks to test the way but to follow in each others footsteps.

I led the way and my father brought up the rear. Then in the upper village a dog barked but no one stirred and we could make our way up through the shadows, staying out of range of the streetlights. By the Croix du Ruisseau I crossed myself and muttered a prayer for a safe journey.

Once we were over the bridge there was less chance of meeting anyone. The stars were out but it wasn’t too cold. Leaving Artigou, it was a steep climb but then we came to the path by the side of the waterfall – the Cascade d’Ars – where the path was covered with patches of ice glinting in the starlight and the only way up was to trust your feet to the dark patches where you hoped there was still grass. Later at frozen streams we had to take the party over one by one. All the time we were climbing. A gust of wind brought some drops of rain and worry to my father but the cloud passed.

There by the Lac de Cabanas, to our surprise was another group, a family of four. The mother, father, grandmother and 8 month old baby boy, Belgian Jews, had been staying with the Cabaillés. They had left on the stroke of midnight guided by the man Jean Baptiste Rogalle Matièlot, who later became my husband.

We all stopped there for a short while to rest and eat, but the new day had broken and we couldn’t stay for long. The pace was slow. Everyone was tired. The women kept sitting down and begging for a few minutes rest. "We must keep going" said my father, "we can’t go back, the Germans are there. Up here we daren’t rest in case the weather turns bad."

Arriving at the top of the Troun d’Ars he continued to encourage them, showing them the pass which seemed to be so close, while knowing how long was the path that remained.

We stopped again to gather our strength just before the tumbled boulders near the Guillou pass. Then we had to go from rock to rock while giving a helping hand to those who were exhausted. Jean Baptiste looked after the mother and grandmother of the baby while the father carried him on his chest in a duvet strapped to his neck by a band of cloth. He too was exhausted; so I carried the baby while leading the way to the frontier.

On the col a rock bears the letters F.E. (France-Espagne) and in its shelter on the cropped grass I laid the baby wrapped in its duvet. A few moments later one of the group arrived and I could go back and help my father and Jean Baptiste bring everyone to the top. The sun lit up the rocks but we couldn’t wait there, so we climbed down the Spanish side towards the Lake of Romédo. Just above there we stopped for something to eat.

We took out the little that was left: bread, cheese and a few lumps of rationed sugar, while the baby sucked on some milk from a thermos carried by his mother. This little meal and the rest revived everyone. A woman took out a compact and powdered her nose. " I see everything is better" chuckled my father. One of the men asked me how old I was and thanked me for all that I had done for them. It was nearly 3 pm and time to leave. My father showed them the path which leads down to the lake and the track made by the Spanish herds which goes down the valley to Tabescan.

One of the women gave my father a letter that she had quickly written saying that someone would come and pick it up from our house that night. We parted ways; it was 4 o’clock and we climbed up to the Guillou pass. From the col we looked back and our last sight of the group was of them walking around the Lake de Romédo in single file following the well-marked track. "They’ve got a good start" remarked my father.

We left the pass almost running, leaping from one rock to another. By the time we reached the foot of the waterfall it was almost dark so we had to slow down. At Gouettes de Pey we walked down towards the footbridge. My mother had left the shutters open so we could soon see the light of the lamp in our kitchen. We arrived and sat down for dinner when the man who had asked us to take the group came for news. My father gave him the letter. Seated by the fire he read it without translating. "It was a hard journey, wasn’t it?" My father told of the 12 hours it took to reach the frontier and then we talked of what was happening, the war and its horrors, of the fate of the Jews, of my brother a prisoner of war in Germany…

Trusting us, he stayed for some time. Several days later he came back to tell us that the group had arrived safely at Tabescan and to ask my father to take another.

To our regret, since the end of the war we have not heard any news from those whom we helped cross into Spain. Even today, I sometimes wonder what happened to the baby I carried to a new life.

In the 70s some strangers came to the house asking for us, but we were in the fields. "They will be back this evening" the neighbours said but in the evening no one came.

– Extract from the bulletin of the Association des Amis d'Aulus et de la vallée du Garbet, no. 17 & 18, published in 2000. Translated by T.Nash

A Happy Ending...

After this article appeared on this site, several individuals carried out research in France and Spain and were able to discover the names of all the members of this family. The baby that Jeanne Rogalle helped carry was found: Claude Henle lives in Montreal; his whole family made it to Canada from Spain. He has 4 children and many grandchildren.
- On July 10 2004 Jeanne Rogalle was awarded the medal of the Legion of Honour in Aulus-les-Bains in the presence of Mr Henle and his wife as well as numerous elected officials.
- On October 30 2005 she was presented with the medal of the Righteous Among Nations.

Jeanne Rogalle died at the age of 93 in August 2015 at her home in Aulus-les-bains.

Many thanks to these photographers

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