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Resistance of the 'first hour'

I first met Ralph Finkler in 1996 and was delighted to catch up with him again on two occasions recently. His story led to my deep interest in the events in the Dordogne during "les années noires", and I cannot thank him enough for the hours that he has spent illuminating me on his involvement in the dangerous game of resisting both the German and Vichy authorities. 

Ralph Finkler

Ralph engaged early in the rejection of the National Revolution. In the immediate aftermath of France's defeat in May 1940 very few people in Southern France were ready to turn away from the new collaborationist regime led by the hero of Verdun, Philippe Pétain. Apathy was the overiding sentiment, along with a determination to  feed one's family.

Ralph was just a boy of seventeen when, together with some good friends, he became involved in urban resistance - in his case grafitti, the distribution of tracts and small home-made "papillons" or stickers. While still at "lycée", he and two good friends were engaged by the "Mouvenment Contre le Racisme", a very early protest group with methods such as the throwing of bricks through the windows of collaborators with warnings attached. Ralph is Jewish, but never really considered himself so until the danger to his family and those around him became evident.

A painting commissioned for Ralph's 80th birthday

Tracts hand produced and distributed by Ralph's group

Soon Ralph engaged in the maquis, firstly with the Armée Sécrete, and then transferring to the communist influenced FTP-MOI. Ralph became a communist (not of the bolshevik variety, but left wing) later in life, but had no such political leanings then. He just wanted to act, and the FTP (Francs-tireurs et Partisans) were involved in sabotage and other direct action from an early date. Ralph's life story is incredible. The sole surviver of the massacre of his unit by the French police while sleeping in an abandoned outbuilding, he refused for many years to sleep indoors.

Ralph is one of a number of key actors whose stories are told throughout the book. His journey moved me, and I expect it to move many others. He recognises that the lines blur between what was right, and what was necessary and by no means paints a wholly heroic picture of Resistance. He is a true inspiration.

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