Dr George Rodocanachi (1875-1944)
By Fanny Rodocanachi (née Vlasto) c. 1946
And though you tell me I shall die,
You say not how or when or why." John Betjeman
uring World War ll, Dr George Rodocanachi and his wife Fanny were among the founders of Pat Line, one of the most successful of Europe's escape & evasion organisations.
From 1941, until the betrayal of the line in 1943, over 600 Allied soldiers, sailors, airmen and secret agents on the run in Occupied France were either hidden at or processed through the Rodocanachi's large Marseilles apartment, which doubled as a safe-house and headquarters.
Additionally, in his capacity as a doctor, Rodocanachi was responsible for saving the lives of over 2,000 Jews by procuring false medical certificates justifying their escape to the USA.
Above: Dr George Rodocanachi in his consulting room in Marseilles,
probably taken close to the outbreak of war in 1939.
Below: Fanny Vlasto in around 1904 and a few years before
her marriage to Dr George Rodocanachi.
The courage the couple showed and the risks they took, under the noses of the occupying Germans, seem almost unimaginable today and eventually almost inevitably they and their line were betrayed. He was arrested and died at Buchenvald concentration camp in the Spring of 1944.
Two or three years later, Fanny Rodocanachi (née Vlasto) wrote the following personal account of their wartime work probably intended for her son and grandson but certainly not for publication.
In it she excludes any mention of her own extraordinary contribution to their work. Also absent are details which remained, in post-war Britain, 'sensitive' or 'secret'.
If her admiration for her husband sometimes sounds over-stated, it should be noted that, after his betrayal and cruel death, she was grief-stricken, undoubtedly traumatised by all they had endured and already terminally ill with cancer.
Fanny Rodocanachi, spoke fluent though idiosyncratic French and English, among other languages. Consequently, a few minor modifications have been made to the punctuation, grammar and paragraphing.
Over-long sentences have, in a few instances, been divided. In the original text, the writer consistently describes radio operators as 'radio-transmitters'. Nothing of any material importance has been altered. The document is unabridged.
All illustrations and additional notes have been added by Christopher Long for clarification or explanation.
By Fanny Rodocanachi & Christopher Long
Earlier Life & World War l
eorge Rodocanachi was born in Liverpool on 27th February 1876 of a Greek father and mother, both British subjects. He studied at the Lycée de Marseille and became a medical student at the Faculté de Médecine in Paris.
He obtained his medical diploma in 1903 and began practising in Marseilles the same year, specialising in infantile [children's] diseases.
Right: Dr George Rodocanachi in c. 1903. In 1907 he married Fanny Marie Nathalie Vlasto (1884-1959) in London. They settled in Marseilles where their only child, Constantine 'Kostia' Rodocanachi (1908-81) was born. See also: Chios Diaspora
In 1914 he worked at the Hôpital du Dispensaire des Enfants Malades which had been re-organised for receiving wounded from the 'front'.
But at the very start of the war he strove to be included among the doctors who were sent to the front.
A letter from the War Office in London advised him to try and obtain permission to do so on the French front, as his French medical diploma did not allow him to be sent to the British front. In Paris, however, being a British subject, he was refused permission to be sent to the French front.
Dr Rodocanachi could not accept remaining in a hospital at the base, earning good money, while others were in the firing-line. He therefore decided on the quickest course left open to him he became a French subject and enlisted in the 24th Battalion of the Chasseurs Alpin which were among the best French troops.
Right: Fanny Rodocanachi (née Vlasto) late 1920s or early '30s.
He took part in the campaigns of Alsace (Hartmanswillenkopf, etc), of the Somme (Craonne, etc) and others, and distinguished himself throughout by his courage, endurance, his spirit of initiative and the splendid example he gave his men. He won seven citations, two of which were the Croix-de-Guerre ('avec Palmes', 'à l'ordre de l'armée') and the Légion d'Honneur. He was wounded twice and gassed once.
Right: At far right in 1912 is Fanny Marie Nathalie Rodocanachi (née Vlasto) with her only child Constanine 'Kostia' Rodocanachi.
In the centre: is her sister Antoinette 'Netta' Zarifi (née Vlasto) holding her elder daughter, Fanny Zarifi (see: Charles-Roux, De Gaulle & The Free French in London 1942-43).
At the far left is their cousin, Nellie Demitriadi (née Ionides) with her son Constantine Demitriadi.
World War ll & 'Pat' Line
In 1940, stricken by the odious betrayal of Vichy, when the armistice was signed, he again could not resign himself to remaining inactive when so many brave lives were being given in the cause of freedom. Early in 1941 [aged 65] he began to do useful work.
In 1940 he had come into contact with the British Sailors' Mission, in the Rue Forbin in Marseilles, which was then directed by the Rev. [Donald] Caskie and where soldiers, sailors and airmen, escaping from the north before the invading German armies, were received and hidden. The sick and the wounded came to Dr Rodocanachi to be treated either at his house or in hospital. Dr Rodocanachi also often invited them to his house.
[At this stage the majority of these men were those stranded after the British retreat at Dunkirk in 1940. Later the majority were downed Allied airmen.]
About that time he got into touch with Captain Garrow who, after a short time, no longer came to the house and disappeared. He had started to organise a secret service to help in the escape of these hidden men and did not want to compromise us.
Right: The Rev'd Donald Caskie OBE, (d. 1983) whose Sailors Mission in the port of Marseilles was the foundation and inspiration for the 'Pat' escape line. He was imprisoned in seven gaols and condemned to death, though released just before the Liberation of Paris.
But, having been called in to attend a Mrs Elizabeth Haydon-Guest [whose child, Anthony, was suffering from malnutrition] and after talking things over with her, Dr Rodocanachi discovered that he could play a useful part in helping to put up these escaping men now that the Sailors' Mission had been shut down by suspicious French police.
He then met Captain Ian Garrow again and from June 1941 until February 1943 he put up in his flat many escaped men soldiers, sailors and airmen, English Scottish, Welsh, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Poles, Belgians, Americans and one Norwegian.
About 180 to 200 men must have stayed at the house, among them three commandos from the St Nazaire raid and two from the Dieppe raid [August 1942].
[Though around 200 stayed at the Rodocanachi flat, the Pat line housed or handled another 400 or more elsewhere, nearly all repatriated to Britain. (See: Personal Account of an Evader)]
Captain Garrow remained hidden in the flat from early in July 1941 until his arrest by the French police in October. Afterwards Captain Pat O'Leary became our Chief.
Right: Capt. Ian Garrow DSO who founded the escape line, later known as 'Pat' line, in 1941, based in the Rodocanachi flat in Marseilles, until betrayed in 1943. He was betrayed in October 1941 by Fari, a French police double-agent. Sprung from jail by 'O'Leary', he returned to London and served MI9 alongside Jimmy Langley and Airey Neave.
Right: Lieutenant-Commander Patrick Albert O'Leary, RN cover name for Albert-Marie Guérisse. This picture was 'snapped' by a Marseilles street photographer in 1941 and O'Leary is clearly unhappy about it. The fact that it survived suggests, unsurprisingly, that it was 'acquired' from the photographer for security reasons. 'O'Leary' was formerly a medical officer in the Belgian Cavalry. Following the arrest of Capt. Ian Garrow he led the first and most successful of the escape lines adopted by MI9 and SOE passing himself off as French. Earlier, Garrow fixed the escape of O'Leary from imprisonment in St Hippolyte du Fort. Eventually O'Leary returned the compliment. Operating under SOE/MI9's code-names of 'Joseph' and 'Adolphe', O'Leary was later to become one of the most highly decorated veterans of World War ll. [See: HMS Fidelity]
With Mario Prassinos and Bruce Dowding (Mazan) and Léoni Savinos, we continually received, examined, equipped and prepared the escapists for their evasion either by the Pyrenees or by submarine off the coast.
[Bruce Dowding's codename was 'André Mason', not 'Mazan'.]
They used to arrive either in groups or alone, brought by guides or unaccompanied. They were then taken to be photographed.
False identity cards were fabricated, complete with rubber stamps and signature, and either Dr Rodocanachi or another took them to the station where they were given into the hands of a guide or they found their way to the frontier alone.
As an example of what this secret, intensified life meant, there remains the memory of All Saints Day, 2 November 1941, in the bitterest cold weather.
In Dr Rodocanachi's consulting-room waited M. [André] Postel-Vinay who had arrived that morning from Paris with certain plans and wished to get in touch with our Chief [Pat O'Leary] of whom he had heard speak by Dr Rodocanachi's nephew, George Zarifi.
[André Postel-Vinay, a French member of Pat Line, was later arrested for helping Allied escapers and evaders. He was appallingly tortured by the Germans at Frèsnes prison in southern Paris where he jumped from a window in a failed suicide attempt to prevent himself from betraying the line. Gravely injured, he was'allowed' to escape by a sympathetic prison doctor. Racked with pain, Postel-Vinay returned to Marseilles and was then evacuated by sea on Operation Titania from Canet-Plage on 21 September 1942. His account of his treatment at the hands of his Germans captors astonished Donald Darling, a member of British military intelligence stationed in Gibraltar, who hadn't expected him to survive it. Highly decorated by the French, he became a minister in de Gaulle's provisional war-time cabinet and a banker and French government minister after the war. [Christopher Long interviewed André Postel-Vinay in 2003]]
Right: George Zarifi (1916-98), nephew of George & Fanny Rodocanachi, was a courier and guide for Pat line from 1941-43 before escaping to London on the last convoy across the Pyrenees. He then joined De Gaulle's Free French in London where this picture was taken. He was the author's cousin and god-father. See: de Gaulle The Man Who Stood Alone.
The latter [George Zarifi] did most useful work in the organisation until he became too suspect by his activities and his height, and who we were able to send to Spain by our last convoy where he was interned in Spanish prisons for six months before being able to get to England.
In Dr Rodocanachi's bedroom were hidden three escaped men. In the big spare-room, inhabited by Pat [O'Leary] and Bruce [Dowding], were also Mario [Prassinos] and Léoni [Savinos] and Dupré [sic François Duprez] (a receiving agent from the north) who were conducting a tribunal against Coles [sic] the traitor who was being convicted of taking money from all sides.
Right: Sgt. Harold Cole alias Paul Cole, alias Delobel, a petty crook, fraudster and double agent, who betrayed scores of British and French escapers, evaders and helpers before being shot dead by police in a Paris flat in 1945.
François Duprez and his wife helped escaping and evading allied airmen by hiding them at their home, 1 Rue de la Gare, La Madeleine, in northern France. From there the 'parcels' were introduced into Pat Line for which François, who had lost his right hand and wore a prosthesis, worked as courier from June 1940 to the day of his arrest, 6 December 1941. He had been betrayed by Harold Cole. Having been condemned to death, François died at Sonnenburg concentration camp around June 1944. According to his eldest son Jean-Claude, an airman after the war, he left a widow and four children, the youngest born after his arrest.
Below: 'Achille' (Francis Blanchain), Mario Prassinos, Hugh Woolatt, Airey Neave and Louis Nouveau. This unique picture of Pat line organisers and British servicemen, was taken at the home of Louis Nouveau at 28a Quai de Rive Neuve, Marseilles in 1942. Nouveau (far right) was a successful businessman who hid around 156 Pat line escapers and evaders before he was betrayed by Roger Le Légionnaire le Neveu. He survived incarceration in Buchenvald concentration camp to be awarded the George Medal by King George Vl on the same day that Mario Prassinos's widow accepted his posthumous OBE. Airey Neave DSO, OBE, MC, MP, who escaped from Colditz, was assassinated by the IRA in March 1979 when a car-bomb exploded in the underground car-park of the House of Commons in London where he was an MP. Mario Prassinos was described by 'O'Leary' as "the bravest man I ever knew". When his activities put him at risk he was spirited down the line to London where he trained as an SOE agent. But he was later caught and either died or was killed by the Germans just before the end of the war. He was awarded a posthumous OBE.
In the drawing-room, having tea, were three placid ladies who suspected nothing of the goings-on in the other rooms.
The scene with Coles became violent, but unfortunately he was not killed, for fear of the noise, and he managed to escape while under the guard of Bruce. He later betrayed many of our agents in the north, as well as poor Bruce who has never been heard of since.
It is impossible to name all the men who passed through the flat. I can only remember a young aviator nicknamed 'Sandy' Whitney-Straight, since Wing Commander; a young Nabarrow [Fl. Lt. Derrick Nabarro the first airman to receive the DCM], airman and poet; and a delightful young airman from Vancouver whose Christian name was Rass and who remained with us the longest of any, until there was a convoy. [See: Personal Account of an Evader]
As a rule the escapists remained one or two, or many days, until there was a convoy, up to about a week or a fortnight, depending on the arrangement for the departure of convoys.
Among the Belgians there was a Baron Montpellier and our radio operator Jean, a one-eyed airman who had already escaped once to England where he trained as a radio-operator.
He was later arrested at Nîmes when a plane parachuted materiel and was then set free when the Germans occupied the whole of France.
Right: This extraordinary photograph of Capt. Ian Garrow and companions 'somewhere in France' was almost certainly taken while they were being held in captivity at Fort St Nicolas, Marseilles. It was smuggled out and taken by courier to SOE headquarters in London. It was then sent on 7 Nov. 1941 to Garrow's parents in Scotland as proof that their 'missing' son was still alive. Dr & Mrs Garrow had already had a flurry of communications from MI9 cryptically telling them that their son was alive and well and evidently doing vital undercover work for the Allies see: Secret Papers. It appears likely that the background of this photograph was 'adjusted' by MI9/SOE to disguise the location.
When Germany extended its occupation of France in the South Zone (Vichy) in November 1941, Garrow had been moved with others at Meauzac prison in the Dordogne and feared that the Germans would now transport them to camps in Germany. A message was smuggled out to O'Leary who then hatched an audacious and successful plan to spring them from jail.
Georges, another radio operator, also stayed some time with us when he transmitted messages. From time to time transmissions were made from the flat, with necessary interludes, so that the Gestapo should not be able to locate whence they originated. With this radio operator, Georges, Dr Rodocanachi installed a perfected antenna from the roof of the house to his bedroom, which caused comment from the concierges.
There were also the codes to prepare and the messages to be decoded; and also the listening-in constantly to know the answers and notices about the arrivals of submarines and planes to fetch away the men. [See: SOE and Codes & Ciphers]
Right: The entrance to the Rodocanachi's apartment block in Marseilles.
[In private documents left by Fanny Rodocanachi, she suggests that the concierges resident caretakers in French apartment blocks were among those most likely to have informed on Dr Rodocanachi leading to his arrest. She believed, very reasonably, that he was not betrayed by anyone who knew anything about the line's work or organisation since the flat was only superficially searched, the charges put to him were shallow and off-target and no connections with escape and evasion line members were alleged. However, Pat O'Leary was among those who remained convinced that the fraudster and double-agent Paul Cole was the culprit as he certainly was in his betrayals of scores of others notably the Abbé Carpentier on both sides. He was shot dead in Paris in 1945.]
[The other major traitor was Roger le Neveu ('le Légionnaire'), who was recruited into Pat Line by Rodocanchi's great friend and fellow safe-house owner Louis Nouveau. He was responsible for betraying Nouveau, O'Leary and most of the line's personnel. According to Nancy Wake, also of Pat Line, Le Neveu was tortured and executed by the Maquis group she formed after she parachuted into France as a member of SOE. Another traitor was Desoubrie who was condemned to death and executed in 1945 for his betrayal of the escape and evasion networks.]
[The 'answers' were among the dozens of 'personal messages' broadcast daily on the ordinary BBC radio which meant nothing to anyone but the intended recipient. For example, 'Adolphe doît rester' received around 2-4 July 1941 was the signal to Pat O'Leary from his SOE/MI9 minders in London that he should stay on to lead the escape line.]
Above: A view of the Vieux Port in Marseilles in c. 1943. As in most pictures from this period, German troops are everywhere at least five visible here.
Below: Another scene from Marseilles in c. 1943 shows the all-pervading nature of the German occupation, with armed troops everywhere. More insidious was the hidden army of police and military agents and spies who relied on local French collaborators to suppress or expose any resistance. The penalties for resistance generally involved imprisonment, torture, deportation as forced labour and death.
'Fixing' the Escape of Jews
Dr Rodocanachi's activities did not cease with the work that went on for harbouring the escapists. He was named examining doctor for the Jewish immigrants by the U.S.A. consulate.
It is impossible to give a number but the amount of immigrants examined by him in the course of two years must have easily been over 2,000. He had to answer a questionnaire and undertake the responsibility of tracing the sick and at the same time help as much as possible to hasten the sailing of these unfortunates for America which work Dr Rodocanachi undertook with all his professional conscience, attempting to conciliate his honesty with immense pity and compassion for these victims of Nazi hatred.
It is impossible to tell the story of the extreme agony he went through and the enormous amount of work those examinations entailed. Already in the summer of 1940 he had experienced the first painful attacks of angina pectoris which tortured him until his death and in spite of which he never ceased to over-work.
From 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. he examined these immigrants. He also had to prepare all the clerical work , sign documents and obtain certificates from specialists and all this apart from his usual medical duties, visits to patients, consultations, etc.
He could use no car after 1941 and was reduced to trams for getting about, wearing himself out continually. Sometimes he hung on to walls in the streets when, during the cold winter evenings, he was seized by the atrocious spasms and pains of his angina pectoris. Yet he was obliged to rush to the sick-bed of an ailing child or to attempt to get ration necessities for the escapists at his house who had to be fed.
I think quite frankly that it is entirely due to this conscientious trust to his duty and to his unlimited kindness of heart and infinite pity that Dr Rodocanachi was able to save the lives of so many Jews which he was thus able to help reach the U.S.A. With a less scrupulous, less intelligent and less ardent doctor, the whole thing would have been slowed down. The persecuted Jews would not have been able to get away as quickly and many more would have fallen victims of Nazi cruelty when the Germans occupied the entire country.
[This rush to 'fix' the escape of so many Jews suggests that Rodocanachi had anticipated that the Germans would intensify their occupation into the 'Vichy' South Zone in November 1942, thus 'closing the door' on them.]
Apart from being inspired by his great heart and immense compassion for these unhappy people, Dr Rodocanachi was also acting from another impulse. His waiting-room being constantly full, the hall and corridors of the flat invaded by immigrants, the constant coming and going of patients, made such a to-do and stir in the house that the concierges and neighbours were unable to realise that the flat was nearly always full of escaping men.
Dr Rodocanachi came and went, his friends of the organisation were in and out all day long. The men were taken out to be photographed and to the station, often in the very early morning. They came at all hours of the night. This constant tumult prevented that anyone could find out what was actually happening in the flat.
The most difficult job was the food question. In those lean years of 1941-1942 it required miracles to find the wherewithal to feed many escapists, often extremely hungry. It was thanks to the unceasing efforts of Mario, Pat, Jean the One-eyed and of Dr Rodocanachi and his nephew Georges Zarifi (who was a merciful providence with his unlimited gifts of macaroni from his father's factory) that these men were kept from starvation.
'Fixing' the Escape of Allied Servicemen
The third mission to which Dr Rodocanachi devoted himself heart and soul and to which he sacrificed everything, because this was almost certainly the indirect cause of his arrest was his nomination to the Medical Board at the Military Hospital Michel-Lévy. The U.S.A. requested him to represent British interests in the Medical Board which discharged the obligation of examining men as fit or unfit for military service, so as to decide whether they should be repatriated to England.
Right: This mock-up photograph for a 1984 article in London Portrait Magazine includes the original MI9 letters, telegrams and signals sent to the parents of Capt. Ian Garrow during 1941-43 (in the possession of CAL). While officially perpetuating the myth that Garrow was still 'missing' after the 1940 Dunkirk retreat, they skilfully kept his parents informed that he was very much alive and well, doing vital and sensitive work for the Allies in France.
With Dr Rodocanachi were also nominated three other French doctors, more or less indifferent or anglophobe or frightened. Happily Dr Resch was quickly convinced and won over to Dr Rodocanachi's sympathies and was the only one to help him with all his efforts and intelligence to save as many men as possible. Each doctor on the board represented either French, British, German or neutral (Swedish) interests.
In this case there were no conscientious scruples to overcome. Dr Rodocanachi had only one aim in view to try and manage that as many men as possible should be declared unfit for military service.
It is impossible to relate here the tale of all the acrobatic medical feats accomplished by him between 1940 and the last meeting of the Medical Board in August 1942. The number of false certificates, the cautious advice given to the examinees beforehand, when he could get in touch with them.
The tricks and expediencies which he cleverly contrived to simulate disease and physical inabilities all the old fraudulent and ingenious systems which he had noted during the war of 1914 when swindlers tried to evade military duties. All that was contrary and in such absolute contrast to his whole medical career, so loyal and so splendidly honest, he exploited at these sittings at the Medical Board.
He, who was always so proud and so conscientious, abased himself to beg complaisant certificates and attestations from his fellow-doctors so as to help to confirm the cases fraudulently presented as unfit.
The radiographs which he interpreted at his will to denote so-called lung trouble, counsels for simulated heart-disease, faulty sight, assumed deafness (the case of Whitney-Straight, for example). In fact, the strength of character, the ingeniousness and decision of Dr Rodocanachi never found a better field for his energies.
There is a characteristic anecdote which must be recalled here which underlines his courage and moral superiority and stresses the difference between his spiritual values and those of his colleagues, who acted from lack of conscience, from cowardice and from selfish motives.
Until August 1942, the German interests at the mixed commission of the Military Board were represented, as already stated, by a French doctor. But from that date he was replaced by a German military medical officer. He first appeared as a civilian, but the second and last time it was a German officer who acted as medical examiner. This one was a typical Prussian officer, with a scar on his face and extremely 'correct' in attitude. He introduced himself to the four French doctors and offered to shake hands. Dr Rodocanachi alone affected not to see his gesture, but the other three shook hands very cordially with him.
The examination started. This time there were only civilians to attend to none interesting in any way but the German was anything but lenient, to which attitude he had a perfect right. In one case which seemed a dubious one, Dr Rodocanachi observed that in this circumstance it would be normal to declare the patient unfit for military service.
Right: Lt-Col. James 'Jimmy' Langley, MBE, MC who, as a lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards, lost an arm at Dunkirk. Reaching Marseilles he was passed by Dr Rodocanachi, in February 1941, as 'unfit for further military service' at a Medical Board examination. By March 1941, repatriated on a destroyer, he was a key figure at MI9 in London, alongside Airey Neave.
"Not at all," said the German, "in Germany a duodenal ulcer is considered quite curable if it is attended to and anyway it can be operated on."
Dr. R.: "I represent British interests here and neither in England nor in France can a man be operated on against his will."
German: "We pay no attention to personal opinions in Germany and a duodenal ulcer is an ordinary operation."
Dr R.: "Whatever the operation, there is always a risk to be incurred by the patient and no-one has a right to inflict that risk without his consent."
German: "In Germany this operation always succeeds because we have excellent surgeons."
Dr R.: "Germany has not alone the privilege of forming [training] good surgeons. In France also we know how to operate.
The three other doctors, who were not [even] of Greek blood like Dr Rodocanachi, did not even turn a hair at this insolent German thrust at the French medical profession.
At the end of the meeting the German doctor did not attempt to shake hands with Dr Rodocanachi, but did so warmly with the other three doctors. When the German had gone Dr Rodocanachi, in spite of the control he usually kept over his opinions and feelings, could not refrain in view of the complacence of his craven colleagues from saying to them:
"Gentlemen, I think I'm the only one who does not need to wash his hands."
Not one of the three doctors took any exception to this scathing and unwise criticism of their attitude but one of them in his ignorant and bourgeois provincialism remarked:
"You are right it was most incorrect on his part to shake hands with us without removing his gloves!"
[Personal statements and documents left by Fanny Rodocanachi make it clear that while she deplored the weakness, cowardice and treachery of so many of the French population, her greatest contempt was reserved for the majority of her husband's medical colleagues.]
The First American Threatening Security
The invasion by the Germans of the South Zone in November 1942 put an end to the meetings of the Medical Board, but we continued to house escapists and to send clandestine radio messages. This necessitated, of course, more and more care and prudence. The U.S. consulate until its departure and since [read: following] the certainty of the entry of the U.S. into the war had brought us very precious help in sending to the flat all pilots who were seeking refuge.
Right: Jean de la Olla, a vital and loyal agent for Pat Line. He was betrayed and arrested, like Louis Nouveau and Pat O'Leary, by the French traitor, Roger le Neveu.
The first American pilot who was escaping came to Dr Rodocanachi and very nearly got us into very serious trouble. We advised the consulate of his arrival and, in their delight at knowing of it, they begged that he should be allowed to dine with them before being sent away by convoy.
We had made it an unbreakable rule that no refugee should ever leave the house, except accompanied either to be photographed or to go to the station. Most of them could not speak a word of French and the danger of their being spotted was too great.
Right: The Seamen's Mission in Marseilles, pictured during the 1940s. Here the Rev'd Donald Caskie first sheltered Allied servicemen adrift in France. His work inspired Garrow to found what later became known as Pat Line.
As a favour and an exception this first American was granted permission to dine with one of the vice-consuls. After his long trials flight, hunger, privations the shock was too great for him. He was brought back late at night in a state of great exhilaration and it was not an easy job to bring him from the front door of the house two storeys up to the flat, a happy but too merry pilot who would persist in singing patriotic songs.
Betrayal End of the Line
Things slowed down until February 1943, but activities became more and more difficult. On every side our organisation was being betrayed and the location, by special cars, of radio transmitters made the sending of messages very dangerous.
Dr Rodocanachi, however, was not interfered with and became more wary. But on 26 February at 6 a.m. the Gestapo arrived in the shape of two officers and six men [who] invaded the flat and arrested him. They did not make a very thorough examination nor any particular charge.
Right: Nancy Fiocca, an early joint-founder of Pat Line, pictured here with Capt. Ian Garrow (centre) and her husband, Henri Fiocca. Under the name Nancy Wake she wrote of her experiences with the line in The White Mouse.
During two months we feared that all the work of sheltering men would be discovered. But in spite of all the workers of our organisation being arrested one after another by the successive betrayals of Fari and Roger 'the Legionary', Dr Rodocanachi was never suspected of his real activities and work.
[Fari was a member of the French police, introduced to the line by Gaston Nègre who believed his connections might be 'useful' and for which money was paid. He turned out to be a double-agent. Roger le Neveu ('le Légionnaire'), a Frenchman, may have been bribed or blackmailed to work for the Germans. He betrayed Pat O'Leary and Louis Nouveau, who ran a vital parallel safe-house near the Vieux Port. Le Neveu went on to penetrate lines in Brittany and escape routes into Spain until June 1944 but was 'dealt with' appropriately by the French Resistance after the Liberation of France.]
The three times he was subjected to Gestapo cross-examination he was never questioned on what he had really done, but each time on silly, vague accusations of different kinds. The last cross-examination concerned a gambling-hall at Cannes, to which town he had never been.
There was one saving miracle, however. The day after his arrest, the 27th February, six pilots were brought to the house at 7 a.m. If the Germans had come a day later, or the pilots a day earlier, all would have been discovered.
St Pierre Prison Marseilles
All Marseilles knows what sort of a man Dr Rodocanachi proved himself to be during the ten months he was interned in the St Pierre prison.
His magnificent courage, his physical resistance to privations and blows (he was not tortured, however), to vermin and filth; his extraordinary influence on his unhappy comrades, his splendid morale, his unceasing good temper, his patience and constant sense of humour and gentle irony [all] have gained for him a reputation which is the crowning glory of his military career and his fine medical record.
Right: An eye-witness account by a Général Challe, written in 1950, of the last days of Pasteur Charles-Roux and Dr George Rodocanachi who, he implies, both died as a consequence of cruel treatment and medical neglect at Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany.
The Germans feared and respected him. The odious Mrs Berne, sadistic torturer and officer of the Gestapo, had nursed a special hatred towards him because he perpetually fought to help the miserable prisoners of St Pierre and had complained about the abominable conditions in which they lived.
Mrs Berne (when a friend of Dr Rodocanachi went to beg permission to send a parcel of food and linen to him after he had been put in solitary confinement for trying to protect Father Roux, after the latter had been ill-treated, and for taking his part), declared:
"Dr Rodocanachi is a bar of iron nothing can bend him."
His custodians respected him and allowed him to keep his hands in his pockets in winter, which was a thing strictly forbidden.
Right: George Rodocanachi a photograph taken shortly before he was captured in December 1943 and effectively murdered by the Germans in January 1944.
The article published in the Provençal of 10 January 1945 shows to what extent his courageous and dignified conduct had raised the admiration and affection of all those who had known him in prison.
On December 17th, 1943, Dr Rodocanachi was taken to Compiégne [north-east of Paris] where he remained a month in prison. On 17th January 1944 he was transferred to Buchenvald [concentration camp, Germany], in one of those atrocious convoys of which all have heard. In spite of the privations and untold suffering, he was able to withstand the journey and his fellow-sufferers relate the story of his brave attitude, his sense of humour and his unadulterated kindness to all, in circumstances which are now legendary.
Right: Fanny Marie Nathalie Vlasto (1884-1959) second from left, photographed in Paris in 1894, with her mother Helen Vlasto (née Zarifi) (1860-1946), her sister Antoinette Marie Antoinette 'Netta' Vlasto (1886-1989), and her brother Michel Ernest Théodore Demetrius Vlasto (1888-1979). In 1907 Fanny was to marry George Rodocanachi (1875-1944) and settle in Marseilles, as did Netta who, in 1908, married her cousin, Theodore Zarifi (1873-1949).
George Rodocanachi & Louis Nouveau
[I am indebted to Michael Moores LeBlanc for finding and sending me the following from Des Capitaines Par Milliers by Louis H. Nouveau, a.k.a. 'St-Jean' (Calman-Levy Editeurs, 3 rue Auber - Paris. 1958).]
Background Spring 1941: Nouveau, who had helped Garrow with money in the past while unaware of his escape line organisation, has started working for the Line after Garrow ensured the safe passage of Nouveau's son over the Pyrenees. Having been broke for some time, the Garrow organisation manages to get FFr.1,000,000 from Mr Gosling and Louis Nouveau is asked to make the rounds paying off the Line's debts... [from pages 122-123]...
"... The first person I visited, and the one owed the largest amount, was Dr Rodocanachi. Along with his wife, he had worked alongside us from the beginning, though I did not know this at the time. They had never said a thing and had given me money as though they were merely sympathisers. Garrow had wanted to keep matters self-contained.
I must repeat that these friends, the Rodocanachis, were among the most pure and among my only relations in Marseilles from before the war who were willing to take real risks.
In addition, the doctor was a member of the [Medical Board] composed of doctors from a variety of nationalities he representing the USA or Britain in front of which passed interned allied soldiers and officers who asked to be repatriated for reasons of infirmity. If, by this means, they were deemed unfit for armed service they could be repatriated to England officially.
Poor, dear Doctor Rodo died in Buchenwald 15 days after I arrived there. He had been arrested not for his activity, or that of his wife, in our organisation, but denounced by someone I do not know, as a Gaullist and also, perhaps, for his activity on the Board.
Dear Dr Rodo, who might have been released from St. Pierre prison in Marseille if he had agreed to sign a paper pledging never to do anything against the Germans, refused to do so.
Arriving at Buchenwald at the end of January 1944, I learned, eight days later, that he was also in one of the blocks of the small camp, but in another section separated by a barrier, in quarantine like me. His arrival preceded my own by a few days.
Despite a gate denying access from one section to the other, I was able to spend three-quarters of an hour in conversation with him and found his head so closely shaved that he appeared bald. A few days later he died of lung congestion [pneumonia].
I went to his block, as soon as I learned of his death. . . that is to say four or five days too late. I was only able to obtain very few details about his end and that a few hours before his death, in his bed, in response to his number being called by the block chief or the clerk, he replied with a sort of humour, saying: 'Good for the crematorium'."
Comments by Christopher Long
have clear childhood memories of my great aunt Fanny Rodocanachi at her flat at 16 Sussex Gardens, London, during the 1950s. She was already terminally ill with cancer, grief-stricken at the cruel murder of her husband and, though not lonely, very alone. She was too, I think, deeply disillusioned and angry with conduct of much of France during and after the war.
I remember her as elegant, frail, austere and intimidating. I then knew nothing of the appalling experiences she had been through (1941-44) a mere 6-10 years earlier. Like her sister, Netta Zarifi (née Vlasto), she spoke English with a French accent and French with an English accent.
The large first-floor flat was exquisite, elegantly furnished with things she had brought from the flat in Marseilles. But the atmosphere was very adult and formal a continuation of the Edwardian era. She was generous with presents giving me French cavalry toy soldiers brought back from France, 'pocket money' and such improving and educational books as 'Man Must Measure'. But I was astonished to be sharply ticked-off for holding unwashed coins to my face and being told not to stand with my hands in my pockets. It's ironic or perhaps significant that this matter of 'hands in pockets' plays a part in her account of her husband's imprisonment.
About ten years earlier, Pat 'Hicky' Hickton, aged 22, noted in his diary, while hiding in the Rodocanachi's Marseilles safe house: "Doctor's wife a bind...".
No doubt she was. But the whole line hinged upon the work being done in rooms in her home and under the noses of the Gestapo and of the French 'Milice'. All this was accompanied by the constant fear of betrayal by French neighbours, informants and collaborators. One slip by any member of the labyrinthine Pat Line organisation would cost the lives of hundreds of escapers, evaders, organisers and agents not to mention the safety of her husband, family members and friends. Eventually, of course, much of this came to pass.
Young, careless and exuberant escapees, usually in the late teens or early twenties, seldom appreciated the immense risks being taken on their behalf and the need for strict discipline. If captured they risked imprisonment under the Geneva Conventions.
Their civilian helpers faced almost certain torture and death. Dr Rodocanachi's work necessarily involved taking risks, like all those in the organisation.
But I suspect that it fell to Fanny Rodocanachi above all to minimise these risks and to be the 'enforcer'.
Right: Maj. General Albert-Marie Guérisse (d. 1989) 'Pat O'Leary' GC, KBE. Following his betrayal and capture he survived Mauthausen, Natzweiler and Dachau concentration camps and was liberated on 29 April 1945. As a doctor, he stayed on to tackle a typhus breakout at Dachau. He was able to identify the body of the traitor Paul Cole, shot by French police in Paris. Here is pictured after receiving the George Cross in 1946 with his wife Sylvia Cooper-Smith. He met her while she worked for Donald Darling MI9's wartime escape route co-ordinator in Spain and Portugal at the Foreign Office's 'Awards Bureau' in Paris keeping in touch with Special Services. With them are Fabian de Cortes and Albert Leycuras.
As a place in which to hide escapers and evaders, her home was ideal. But that it should be the headquarters of the line as well was another matter. It was almost certainly her iron courage, shrewd judgement as to who could be trusted and her self-discipline that led Garrow and later Pat O'Leary to base the operation there too. The loyalty and discretion of Séraphine, Fanny's personal maid, who was awarded a citation by the British Government after the war, must have played their part too. The safety of the safe-house depended upon the constant appearance of normality the usual comings and goings of patients, visitors, family and friends. Mixed among these, as well as hidden in back rooms, were the line's organisers and clients. If Garrow, Rodocanachi and O'Leary were the writers and producers of the show, Fanny was the theatre manager, stage-manager, set director, costume designer, caterer, publicity agent, props department, voice-coach and prompt. Vitally too, she was guardian of the stage door C.A.L.
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