“RECHLIN WAS HORROR. RECHLIN IS MY COMRADES’ GRAVE”
1943. Denise Rousseau is the daughter of a patriotic Alsatian family. Aged 24, after graduating in pharmacy and following her sister Marie Solange’s example, she joined the Résistance in the secret student network “Défense de la France”. She learned to type, met her future husband and, after denunciation, was arrested together with her sister on 3 May 1944. On the following day, her father and younger brother were arrested and deported to Buchenwald. Her father would not return.
Six weeks in Fresnes prison; she is interrogated and only has vague memories of this. When she returns to the prison afterwards, her cell mates do not recognise her.
Both sisters were part of “transport 57,000”, the last transport leaving Paris on 15 August 1944. There was no water, no toilet on the train; the heat was oppressive, the comrades took turns standing and sitting. After six full days and nights, they reached Fürstenberg. This was followed by five months at Königsberg (Oder) subcamp, where forced labour consisted of surface levelling, digging out tree stumps and carrying rails. In early 1945, there was the death march back to Ravensbrück where the blocks were overcrowded. They were put in a tent.
In mid-February, the transfer to Rechlin, where work consisted of camouflaging aeroplanes and repairing runways. Conditions in the blocks of this camp were so terrible that only very few of those deported returned. Denise only narrowly escaped being transported to her death. Then, she was transferred to Ochsenzoll subcamp near Hamburg, which was being shelled, with nightly assembly line work below ground. Then, finally, liberation on 1 May 1945; she was brought to Denmark by train and then to Sweden by ship – thanks to negotiations with Count Bernadotte – where she finally was able to recuperate.
In early July, she returned to France: first, per military plane to Le Bourget, then she was transferred to Hotel Lutetia for a check. She returned home on a local train, just her and her sister.
Denise never recovered from her deportation; she almost never speaks about it. She has eight children. Even aged 100, she is still plagued by nightmares.
Daughter of Denise Rousseau