From the pageantry of Adolf Hitler’s Olympic Games to the triumph of Charles de Gaulle’s entry into Paris, The Cross of Lorraine documents France’s darkest hours of occupation. As the quiet days of the thirties come to an end, France finds itself at war with Germany for the second time in three decades, only this time defeat brings the stark reality of division and occupation. Into this new world come two Americans who join the battle and with others form the nucleus of French Resistance.
Born of an American member of the famous Lafayette Escadrille and a French mother, Hank Herbert, or Henri Hebert as he is know in France, feels he has no other choice but to join the fight for French liberty. On the other hand, Samantha James, who first comes to Europe to run in the 1936 Olympic games, chooses to return as a student in Lyon, and learns from her experiences that one’s personal integrity requires a commitment to oppose oppression no matter the dangers.
While France strives to be free, Henri and Samantha search for his or her own individual identity. As do their friends, who battle the occupation, each surrendering a portion of their innocence to the ugliness of war. Ultimately, the characters’ struggles parallel the growth and decay of nations. For even as Germany blindly follows Adolf Hitler down an insane course of destruction, so Samantha’s German cousin Heinrich is blinded, crippled, and driven insane. Ultimately, for Henri and Samantha, the war brings them of age, and they discover an enduring love despite the pains and sacrifices of war.
Within the pages of The Cross of Lorraine, we meet the villains, the martyrs, and the heroes of the French Resistance – itself a frail child born from the ashes of bitter defeat. The German occupiers are men like Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, and Heinrich Biebischeimer, his one-eyed adjutant. And of course there are the collaborationists like the unscrupulous Alain de Beavais, who would use anyone, even his American fiancée, to aid the Nazi cause. The martyrs are men and women like Jean Moulin, who survives his own throat slashing only to die at the butcher’s hands, and Boris Vildé whose leadership inspired a nation, and Lisette Arnout, who despite imprisonment and rape still fought to defend the honor of her loved one’s memory. The list of heroes is even longer, but none of them, not the country boy from the village of rainbows, nor the rail worker from St. Lazare, nor the spoiled child of the Avenue Foch, and not even the Parisian wine merchant, nor the talented athlete from the shores of Lake Michigan – none of them ever thought that survival made them heroes. For them, Resistance was the only choice, and each in his or her own way helped give a nation back its freedom.