La Grande Misère / Great Misery
In June 1942 Maisie Renault and her sister Isabelle were arrested in Paris by the Gestapo for their activities in support of the French Résistance cell directed by their brother Gilbert Renault, known by the code-name “Colonel Rémy.” Over the next two years they were held at La Santé prison in Paris, at Fresnes Prison, south of the city, at Fort de Romainville on the outskirts, and at the Royallieu-Compiègne internment camp in northeast France.
In August 1944 they were deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in northern Germany, opened in 1939 and housing mainly women and children. By 1944 nearly all Jewish inmates had been transported to Auschwitz, and the camp contained mostly Polish and Russian “political” prisoners, as well as Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and German criminals. The Renault sisters were among several hundred French prisoners. The camp included a crematorium and a gas chamber, and was operated by the SS for profit, with some inmates leased out to industries as slave labor, and others used as subjects for medical experiments. By the war’s end it held more than 30,000 prisoners.
La grand misère [Great Misery] is Maisie Renault’s story of her nine months in this man-made hell, where brutality, starvation, sickness, filth, and degradation took a daily toll on women whose principal offense was having opposed the Nazi regime. Maisie’s story, however, is one of loyalty, devotion, faith, endurance, and the loving and self-sacrificing support that her circle of women gave each other, allowing some of them to survive the horribly cruel and inhumane conditions. Published in French in 1948, this is the first English translation of this survivor’s account of life inside an SS concentration camp and the indomitable spirit that bound these women together and allowed them to emerge hurt, sick, battered, but unbroken and unafraid to testify about what they saw.
With an introduction by the translator, Jeanne Armstrong.
Maisie Renault and Jeanne Armstrong , translator. La Grande Misère / Great Misery. Lincoln, NE: Zea Books, 2013.