As the Allies remained locked into Normandy conflict, all over France the French Resistance became more audacious with their sabotage operations. In some areas they started open uprisings. It was a risky strategy against the much better armed German forces.
Henri Rosencher had travelled from Warsaw to study Medicine in Paris before the war broke out. His war began as a member of the French Hesistance. After training with the British in North Africa he became an expert with explosives. He then returned to France to assist the Resistance with their activities in the period following D-Day.
On the morning of the 17th of June, I arrived in the area of Lus-la-Croix-Haute, the “maquis” [zone of resistance] under the command of Commander Terrasson.
They were waiting for me and took me off by car. The job at hand was mining a tunnel through which the Germans were expected to pass by train. The Rail resistance network had provided all the details.
My only role was as advisor on explosives. TNT (Trinitrotoluene – a very powerful explosive) and plastic charges were going to collapse the mountain, sealing off the tunnel at both ends and its air shaft. When I got there, all the ground work was done. I only had to specify how much of the explosive was necessary, and where to put it. I checked the bickfords, primers, detonators, and crayons de mise à feu.
We stationed our three teams and made sure that they could communicate with each other. I settled into the bushes with the team for the tunnel’s entrance. And we waited. Toward three p.m., we could hear the train coming.
At the front came a platform car, with nothing on it, to be sacrificed to any mines that might be on the tracks, then a car with tools for repairs, and then an armored fortress car. Then came the cars over-stuffed with men in verdi-gris uniforms, and another armored car.
The train entered the tunnel and after it had fully disappeared into it, we waited another minute before setting off the charge. Boulders collapsed and cascaded in a thunderous burst; a huge mass completely covered the entrance. Right after that, we heard one, then two huge explosions.
The train has been taken prisoner. The 500 “feldgraus” inside weren’t about to leave, and the railway was blocked for a long, long time.
Henri Rosencher: ‘Salt, Ash, Flame‘ Paris, 2000: Editions du Félin 10, rue La Vaquerie 75011
Unfortunately the Resistance uprising in the Vercors area was to end terribly, with brutal and widespread reprisals by the Nazis. As a Jewish Communist Rosencher was especially vulnerable when eventually captured by the Germans, but survived the war in the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp, and later Dachau. However none of his extended family in Poland survived the war.