[July 2, 2014 Fresnes – Observations of a collaborateur. Part II
Rio was a pseudonym of Ralph Soupault (1904-1962), who became known in the 1920s as the leading cartoonist of the French nationalist reaction. Later on he joined the French fascist party PPF. Soupault was a supporter of the German occupying forces and became notorious for his anti-semitic propaganda. In 1946 he was arrested and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment in Fresnes, a huge institution nearby Paris, which only recently was used by the Gestapo to house members of the French Résistance. Pierre Laval, the former vice-president of the Vichy Regime was executed there in 1945 after a questionable treason trial, which was internationally taken for scandalous. Soupault´s narration is defined by a kind of personal awakening towards the catholic rite and an adherence to his political convictions.
OATH: Now I find myself in one of the lower cabins in the chapel. Just now the priest is talking. He is very popular, because he himself was a prisoner during the war and the occupation
PLEASURES OF THE SOUL: Some of the wardens find pleasure in the “L ‘ Humanité” or in the “Franc-Tireur” (Note: Socialist journals of the Résistance) The reading of the Anti-God in the House of God, is that not a moral joy of a very special kind?
WAITING CELL: According to the regulations the first night after the arrival has to be spent in a shared waiting cell
THESE CHEATED, THESE DETERIORATED : The cleaning shower is also for the home for difficult children. Among them unfortunate young people, who are doomed to spend their lives there up to the age of majority
INTIMACIES: Hours of meal…
MESS OF COMMUNION: It is only an ordinary cell, which has been converted into a chapel, where everyone can receive the bread of God
THE ADVOCATE: A woman, what an event in that institution! Once again the assistants have the privilege to see her. Who is the lucky one, that has chosen such a pretty defense counsel?
VIEW TO THE SEA: My new cell has a view to the sea. Dreary barracks form the horizon…
IMAGES OF THE TIME: A poplar, the second from the left, tends her top like an anxious forehead. At the foot of this tree, Pierre Laval was killed exactly a year ago
THE LIVING DEAD: In some Breton cemeteries, or in monastic ossuaries, one can often recognize heads of the dead, that look out from their orbits and show their eternal smiles … These living dead are less dead than some of the living…
THE COURT OF THE MIRACLES: When the infirmary is sent to the mess on Sunday, a strange pageant is to be seen
A WOMAN’S HAND: The wall belongs to an infant home, where the detained women live together with their babies. Each day a hand moves behind the wooden façade, which prohibits these women to communicate with us
NIGHT SILENCE: Will they finally disappear, these nine everlasting bars?
THE HUMAN CAGE: The detention cell is a rough place. Here people are locked up like wild animals in a cage…
THE PADDED CELL: One of the detention cells is prepared for the frenzied, with black upholstery, to prevent them from banging their heads against the wall
THE ANTEROOM OF DEATH: Silence reigns in this part of the prison. This is the quarter of those, which are sentenced to death
THE MOTIONLESS SHIP: “I’m the passenger on an motionless ship”, such begins a beautiful poem by J.H.. Paquis. This morning, the motionless ship is totally quiet, totally empty… All passengers are locked up in their cabins
THE BEAUTIFUL: What could be more deplorable than an ugly suburb in the rain, disfigured by a prison gate and bars. But behind this gate lies the beautiful, the freedom !
CHAINS: These hands are in chains – they are the hands of someone who is sentenced to death
BAPTISM: The Chapel of death row is an ordinary cell, naked, except for some votive images. A young man of 24 receives the baptism and the communion… All of the other condemned are present, silently and devoutly, holding a candle in their hands…