The Execution of Simone Michel-Lévy,
Hélène Lignier and Noémie Suchet

 

 

  Simone Michel-Lévy

Photo: © 2002 - Chancellerie de l’Ordre de la Libération


On 5 April 1945, the following execution order was received at KL Flossenbürg from SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks, the chief of Amtsgruppe D (Department D) of the SS-Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA) – the office responsible for running the concentration camps.

05.04.1945 – Nr. 30 – SRRFM – 1914 – 157 – KPY SBI –

Exekution der weiblichen Franzosischen Häftlingen Suchet,
Lignier und Michel-Bery vom RSHA genehmigt.
Sofort vor angetretenen SDO durchführen.
Glücks.

English translation:

The execution of the French female prisoners Suchet,
Lignier and Michel-Bery approved by RSHA.
Immediately carry out the execution in front of
the preventive detention prisoners of this camp.
Glücks.

Who are these three French women prisoners, Suchet, Lignier and Michel-Bery (sic)? In reality the last name should be Michel-Lévy, Simone Michel-Lévy, while the two others are Hélène Lignier and Noémie Suchet.

Simone Michel-Lévy is one of the great heroes of the French resistance. She was born on 19 January 1906 in the village of Chaussin in the French Jura mountains. She was of working class origin; her father was a local plasterer. After elementary education she moved with her parents to Chauny in the region of l’Aisne where she in 1922, at the age of sixteen and a half, started to work in the administration of the French Post, Telephone and Telegraph service, the PTT.

In 1939, she had advanced to the post of controller-editor in the Switching Department of the PTT’s Research and Control Centre in rue Bertrand in Paris. From the very beginning of the German invasion and occupation of France she was opposed to the French capitulation and from December 1940 she became a member of the French resistance movement. Under the command of Ernest Provost, she participated together with Maurice Horvais in the creation of the PTT resistance group, Action PTT, which in July 1943 became Etat-major PTT – Staff Headquarters PTT.

The main purpose of Action PTT was to develop a resistance network throughout France that would profit from the legal and professional structure of the PTT to support and hide cells for intelligence gathering and communication. Simone Michel-Lévy’s first tasks within this network was to develop a system of letter boxes for clandestine communications. A task she accomplished with great energy and dedication.

As the person responsible for the area radio communication she was frequently traveling to set up illegal radio stations, especially in the south-west of France, in Brittany and in Normandy. She was known under a number of aliases like Emma, Francoise, Madame Royale, and Madame Bertrand. In Caen, where she in January 1942 equipped the local cell of Action PTT with two radio operators and their illegal radio station, she was known as Madame Flaubert.

In the autumn of 1942, Action PTT made contact with the well-known resistance group CND (Confrérie Notre-Dame – The Brotherhood of Notre-Dame) under the command of the famous colonel Rémy, Gilbert Renault. They also formed a link with OCM (L’Organisation Civile et Militaire – The Civil and Military Organization) of colonel Alfred Touny. For CND Simone Michel-Lévy organized a clandestine postal centre at Gare de Lyon in Paris. The centre would arrange for the transport of illegal mail using existing railway postal cars and sealed postal sacks. A similar centre was established at Gare Montparnasse for postal transmission to the western parts of the country.

Her specialty was indeed clandestine communications. Under the aliases Francoise and Madame Royale she developed an excellent system of moving post throughout France using a variety of methods including transport by sea and by air. The strength of a resistance movement is largely dependent on its intelligence sources and its clandestine methods of communication. Seen in this light Simone Michel-Lévy’s work was of crucial importance. She was tireless and dedicated, never refusing to fulfil the most dangerous and demanding tasks. Even after nights without sleep and long voyages she would be at her place of working each morning, her face drawn and tired, but always with a smile.

However, in the end disaster struck. A traitor worked at the core of the CND network. The chief radio operator of CND, Robert Bacque – code name TILDEN, delivered Simone Michel-Lévy and a number of the other members of CND to the Gestapo. In total more than 90 people were arrested due to his treason and as a result CND was completely annihilated. In the evening of 5 November 1943, Emma – her code name within CND, was called by Tilden to an urgent meeting in a cafe named François Coppée in Boulevard du Montparnasse. The cafe was situated close to her place of work and she left her personal belongings on her table clearly intending the meeting to be short. However, she would never return; the meeting was a trap. She was immediately arrested and brought to 101 Avenue Henri Martin, where Georges Delfanne alias Masuy, a French torturer and collaborator, kept house. She was horribly tortured by Delfanne but she did not break and was eventually delivered to the Gestapo in Rue des Saussaies.

She was first kept in the prison at Fresnes before being sent to the camp Royallieu in Compiègne. On 28 January 1944 she left the station at Compiègne in the train 27000 which transported prisoners to Germany. She arrived in the women concentration camp Ravensbrück on 3 February 1944. In April 1944 she was sent to the camp Holleischen (Holysov) in Czechoslovakia, one of Flossenbürg’s sub-camps – Außenlager, to work in an armament factory that produced anti-aircraft ammunition. At Ravensbrück she was registered as prisoner No.: 27481 and at Flossenbürg as No.: 50422.

She was working in workshop 131A of the factory where her work consisted of pressing gunpowder into shells in an enormous press. Here she continued her actions of resistance by sabotaging the work as much as she could. Together with two other French women prisoners, Hélène Lignier and Noémie Suchet, they delayed the production chain, disorganised the work and sometimes succeeded in considerably slowing down the production of anti-aircraft shell. They also sometimes ran the press empty, something which would slowly damage the press and eventually result in the press blowing up and being severely damaged, which happened on 12 September 1944. The three women were immediately accused of sabotage and the process, which ended in their execution at KL Flossenbürg, was started.

From the official history it is not quite clear exactly what happened to the three women and when. It is reported that on 10 April 1945 they left Holleischen for KL Flossenbürg where they were hanged on 13 April 1945. However, the collection of radio messages from KL Flossenbürg contains the following message transmitted in the evening on 15 April 1945.

15.04.1945 – Nr. 130 – ERZGB – Kr – 1811 – 111 – QDA UTP –

Die Kommandantur KL Flossenbürg meldet
den Vollzug des dortiges Funktelegram
5.4.45, 1914 Uhr.
Kögel.

English translation:

The command of KL Flossenbürg reports the
execution of the order in your radio telegram of
5.4.45 at 19:14.
Kögel.

Further details about these messages are given here:

Message Nr. 130 refers to a radio message sent from Oranienburg on 5 April 1945 at 19:14. This message is message Nr. 30 with the execution order for Simone Michel-Lévy, Hélène Lignier and Noémie Suchet. Because the message is sent relatively late in the day and with the priority code Kr (urgent) it strongly indicates that the execution took place some time this day, 15 April 1945. But as we have seen the date officially recorded as the execution date for Michel-Lévy, Lignier and Suchet is 13 April 1945. If the execution did take place on 13 April the completion report being sent first two day later is very unusual. The camp commander, SS-Obersturmbannführer Max Kögel, sent several seemingly less important messages on both the 13th and 14th April that shows that it cannot have been the indispensability of the camp commander or lack of time that would have delayed the completion report. That for some reason it was forgotten to report in time can of course not be excluded and this is probably the most likely explanation for this discrepancy. During my visit to KL Flossenbürg on 22 July 2007 to participate in the inauguration of the new museum I had the opportunity to consult the prison register which was on display. I looked up Simone Michel-Lévy and indeed the entry for her death is recorded as 13 April 1945.

The execution order, message Nr. 30, gives the name of Michel-Lévy as Michel-Bery; in the plaintext her name has even been repeated twice to guard against transmission errors. It was initially suspected that she had tried to hide the Jewish sounding name Lévy, even if there seems to be no Jewish blood in the Michel-Lévy family. However, a recent communication from Mr. Jean Michel-Lévy, who has tried to establish her family history, makes clear that on the list of prisoners being transported to Ravensbrück and on the documents for her later transfer to Holleischen her name is correctly spelt as Michel-Lévy. Therefore, the most like explanation for the use of Michel-Bery in this text is that it is the result of a clerical error.

Simone Michel-Lévy received several medals and distinctions posthumously:

We are grateful to Mr. Jean Michel-Lévy for supplying us with information about Hélène Lignier and Noémie Suchet.
Hélène Lignier, born Millot, in Dijon (Côte d’Or) on 2 September 1916, was the mother of four children.
Her camp registration numbers were: No.: 27465 at Ravensbrück and No.: 50422 at Flossenbürg.
Noémie Suchet, born Delobelle, in Burbure (Pas de Calais) on 21 August 1920, was the mother of a three year old boy.
Her camp registration numbers were: No.: 25122 at Ravensbrück and No.: 50279 at Flossenbürg.

References:

The information about Simone Michel-Lévy has been translated from the French Web page of L’Ordre de la Libération and the page with the text written by Jean Michel-Lévy; see the Web links below. Further information are from private communication with Mr. Jean Michel-Lévy.

 


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All rights to the material described on these pages belong to
Geoff Sullivan & Frode Weierud, © April 2005


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