A Tragedy of Betrayal and Revenge

A single photograph reveals the division, distrust and betrayal that tore France apart both during and after the war. It is of a local football team in a village (possibly Maintenon) in the Eure-et-Loir region, in which four of the players are related. They are Francis Fermine, fourth from the left, with his arms folded, in the back row. His two cousins, Omer and Noé Sadorge are at each end of the row and his brother-in-law, Pierre Sadorge is in the front with his arm round the captain.

Sans titre

Comment meurt un réseau by ‘Colonel Rémy’, Liberation.b.663, p.112-113.

Fermine denounced all three to the Gestapo as members of the F.T.P (Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, the ‘Resistance’) and they were among thirty-one men executed by firing squad at Mont-Valérien on 30 March 1944. Fermine was also arrested but was treated more favourably by the Nazis and was released. Omer, 30, and Noé, 32, were both farmers, and each of them left two children. Pierre, 38, a wine merchant, left three children.

The photograph and the story are in the book Comment meurt un réseau by ‘Colonel Rémy’ (Monte Carlo, Raoul Solar, 1947, Liberation.b.663). The book goes on to recount that in July 1946 Fermine was discovered by friends of the widow of his cousin Noé. Angry when confronted, he attempted to strike Noé’s widow with a club. A 20-year old man with them, Roger Polvé, who was carrying a gun, shot and killed Fermine. Rémy stated that Polvé was now in prison. But reports in Le Monde (14/12/1949) and l’Écho Républicain and a book L’honneur perdu de Juliette Rassenier by Gérard Leray (Lèves, ELLA Éditions, 2013, C216.c.4244) tell a different story.

Fermine himself was a senior member of the F.T.P and had recruited his three relatives. But while he was rounded up at the same time as his comrades, he was released while they were executed. Some of the interrogation under torture had been carried out by a French police inspector, Louis Denuzières who was working with the Gestapo and with the Vichy police. In the winter of 1944/1945 suspicions about Fermine and why he had been spared began to grow. While he was in prison his wife Jacqueline had been allowed to take him food and cigarettes. She herself had been seen in a restaurant in Chartres having lunch with Denuzières and on another occasion she was seen offering him ‘un litre d’apéritif’. Some wondered whether she had become his mistress in order to save her husband’s life. The Sadorge family wanted Fermine to appear before a tribunal (‘la justice d’épuration’) while Noé’s widow Thérèse tried to collect evidence against Fermine from members of the resistance who had escaped and from people close to those who had been executed. Fermine’s parents, on the other hand, accused Albert Gautier who had been head of the resistance group and had been executed, of having given the Nazis the names of his comrades.

After the war Fermine joined the French army and achieved the rank of lieutenant. In September 1945 he gave evidence at the court of justice in Orléans against Denuzières. He narrated his arrest and interrogation under torture and that he had admitted to his part in the F.T.P but had not given Denuzières the names of his comrades. Denuzières in his evidence stated that Fermine was not a traitor. The prosecutor declared that there was nothing of which Fermine could be accused while the judge asked Fermine to be understanding about the actions of those who had lost loved ones. Denuzières and another inspector Pierre LaBaube were found guilty and were executed. But the Sadorge family, together with another member of the Resistance who had only escaped execution by the Nazis because he had been so ill, had seen a report by LeBaube which stated that Fermine, primarily an anti-Communist, had betrayed his comrades. His arrest was promised but never happened. They felt that he was being protected by people in high places.

Sans titre1

Comment meurt un réseau by ‘Colonel Rémy’, Liberation.b.663, p.112-113.

In July 1946 Fermine took a fortnight’s leave before a posting abroad. While he and his wife were bicycling along a country road they were abducted, assaulted, tied up and blindfolded and taken to a deserted farmhouse.  They were placed before an impromptu tribunal consisting of Thérèse Sadorge, Noé’s widow, Roger Sadorge, and the brothers Roger and Robert Polvé and Charles Martin. Thérèse had even telephoned her father-in-law to warn him of what was about to happen. He had been mayor of his village after the Liberation and understood the gravity of what they planned to do and urged them to take the couple to the authorities. But he then reluctantly agreed to let them first carry out their own interrogation. There were others present at the interrogation, parents and relatives from the community who had lost a son or husband in the executions at Mont Valérien. During the long interrogation Fermine was hit and threatened with death but either continued to deny the accusations or refused to reply. At two in the morning the prisoners were moved to a farm that belonged to Thérèse’s family. Bound and blindfolded Fermine and his wife were locked in a cellar. He tried to escape and came up the stairs armed with a club that he had found (a ‘nerf de boeuf’, the same term used by Rémy). He confronted his captors and Roger Polvé shot him in the chest with a revolver lent to him by Thérèse. The shot was probably fatal but he was still breathing and Polvé shot him twice more, ‘une balle pour Noé, une balle pour Omer’. They considered killing Jacqueline but Thérèse decided that she wanted her to experience widowhood as she had had to. The next day gendarmes went to the farm and found Fermine’s bloodied corpse with his wife lying next to him, still tied up and blindfolded. Thérèse took responsibility for the shooting but was not believed and eventually Polvé admitted that it was him.

Fermine was buried in the local cemetery next to his brother-in-law Pierre Sadorge. His inquisitors were all held in prison while they were being questioned even though a delegation of resistance veterans demanded that they be released. They were only in prison for a few months but during that time Thérèse twice tried to commit suicide. Polvé was in prison for a year. When they were tried at the Assizes in Versailles in December 1949, in spite of the prosecution stating that while the first bullet was murder, the second was assassination, they all received suspended sentences. Jacqueline, Fermine’s widow and her children were granted three million Francs in a civil suit (equivalent to €100,000 today). René Sadorge, the father of the two executed brothers, produced the first million; an appeal amongst resistance veterans produced the second, Thérèse would have had to produce the third. Thérèse’s relationship with her in-laws deteriorated. Azèle, her mother-in-law, heartbroken by the death of her sons felt that the heroic myth of their death had been replaced by a sordid tale of vengeance, not helped by the subsequent amorous relationship between the avenging widow and Roger Polvé.

It is sobering to realise how economical with the truth Rémy has been in his account. His book was published in late 1947 or 1948 before the trial in Versailles but he would have known what really happened. Did he wish to show veterans of the Resistance in the best possible light? Just as the murderers were treated lightly with suspended sentences at a time when France desperately needed to heal her wounds, Rémy may have wanted to do the same. But for families like the Sadorges and the Fermines, it would be more than a generation before the past could be forgotten – Thérèse only died in 1992.

Colonel Rémy was the pseudonym of Gilbert Renault, one of the most famous secret agents in occupied France in the Second World War. Early on Rémy joined de Gaulle in London and ‘Colonel Passy’ (André Dewavrin), head of the Free French intelligence bureau (see his Souvenirs, published in 1947, Liberation.c.2488-90), gave him the task of creating an information network in France which he did very successfully. After the war, Rémy spoke up for the rehabilitation of Marshal Pétain but was repudiated by de Gaulle and later left France and settled in Portugal. He was a prolific author and his Mémoires d’un agent secret de la France libre was published by Raoul Solar in Monte Carlo, in four volumes between 1945 and 1947 (Liberation.b.1; Liberation.b.33; Liberation.b.663; Liberation.b.301). The book Comment meurt un réseau is volume 3, published in 1947 (though the catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale records it as having been published in 1948). Rémy went on to publish over 60 more books before his death in 1984.

Charles Chadwyck-Healey

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s