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On the way to Aiken I met a delightful Frenchman, Colonel Balsan, who married the Duchess of Marlborough, a Vanderbilt by birth. The Balsans came to dinner one night, and I sat next to Madame Balsan. She told me that they had stayed on in their château in France until June, 1940, and had left France, after the collapse, only because they were warned that they would be held to ransom by the Germans, if captured, as were the Rothschilds in Austria.

Just before the final collapse the Balsans had turned their French home into a hospital, and were trying to provide first aid to scores of civilians who had been mercilessly machine-gunned from the air. A young German pilot, whose plane had been brought down by anti-aircraft fire, was carried into their home. He was mortally wounded. The doctor bent over him and said: “You are a soldier, and you can face death bravely. You have only an hour to live. Would you like to dictate a letter for your family?” The boy shook his head. The doctor, pointing to women and children grievously wounded, for whom it had not been possible to provide enough bandages, let alone anaesthetics, said: “Now that you are about to face your God, you surely wish to express your sorrow for what you’ve done, now that you see the results of your work.” The dying pilot replied: “No, I only regret that I cannot continue to carry out the order of my Führer. Heil Hitler!” He fell back dead.

At the end of May, 1940, the colonel interviewed a German flying officer who had crashed behind the French lines. He was a man in the late thirties, with charming manners. He spoke French and Italian perfectly and was clearly a man of wide reading and considerable culture. But he was a Prussian, and when Colonel Balsan suggested tentatively that he could not sympathise with the crudities of the Nazi ideology the Prussian replied: “I am whole-heartedly behind the Führer. This generation of Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians, and so forth, will have an unpleasant time because they will be in stupid revolt against our German organisation. But their grandchildren will erect monuments to prove their gratitude to Hitler.”

Arnold Lunn (from And the Floods Came, 1942)

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