My Stripes Were Earned in Hell

A French Resistance Fighter's Memoir of Survival in a Nazi Prison Camp

By (author) Jean-Pierre Renouard

Hardback - £37.00

Publication date:

08 December 2011

Length of book:

136 pages

Publisher

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9781442213999

This remarkable memoir tells the story of Jean-Pierre Renouard, a gentile, in Germany's Nazi prison camps. In this spare, compelling narrative of a year during which he and the world he knew descended into hell, he recounts his battle to survive—physically, emotionally, and morally. In May 1944, just a month before D-Day, Renouard, then a teenaged French underground fighter, was captured by the Gestapo, crammed into a cattle wagon with a hundred others, and sent to Neuengamme in Germany. After two months, he was transferred to the Misburg subcamp. In both camps he suffered, as did all his fellow inmates, from insufficient food and shelter and no medicine while being forced to do long hours of hard labor. Renouard vividly depicts the labor camps' brutal daily life and social hierarchies, his personal struggles, the friendships gained and lost, and, of course, his incredible and primary task of survival. When he was finally transferred to the infamous Bergen-Belsen death camp, a typhus epidemic had already spread, and he helplessly watched his last surviving comrades die. Even after Allied troops liberated the camp on April 15, 1945, he had to wait painful months before he could return to France. Written in a deliberately neutral tone, without hatred or even resentment, Renouard's memoir is a memorial to those murdered and a powerful testimony to the human capacity to commit—and to survive—mass atrocity.
Renouard—gentile, former member of the French Resistance, and recipient of the Medal of Resistance—delivers an evocative first-person account of his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps, and as a survivor in the wake of WWII. With vivid prose and striking details, Renouard renders scenes like a master storyteller: Shell fragments hit tent cloth 'with the sound of popping champagne corks,' and an SS guard whistles one of the author's favorite Bach concertos, unaware of the common ground between them. These fragmented moments are alternately absurd, heartwarming, and horrible. But whether the author is recalling the sensation of drinking a cold beer in a burning house, or the moans of his friend dying from systematic starvation in Bergen-Belsen, Renouard's account strives for objectivity and retains an unsentimental tone, painting a picture of human nature that is capable of generosity and evil. Having survived a place where inmates are considered less than human and their corpses are piled in the lavatories, the author affords both the Germans and their prisoners a humanity that the Nazi camps did not. Renouard claims the book should be read simply as 'an expression of myself, nothing more,' yet by also sharing the stories of those who did not live to record their own histories, this powerful debut memoir becomes far more than just one individual's WWII narrative.