After the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, Dr. Sumner Jackson, a high-profile American-born surgeon, found himself in the perilous position of living a few doors down fashionable Avenue Foch from the Gestapo headquarters. At the time, Jackson was in charge of the American Hospital in Neuilly, only a brisk bicycle ride away from the home he shared with his wife, Toquette, and teenage son, Phillip. America was not then at war with Germany, but Jackson had worked in Paris long enough to count himself among the vanquished and, thus, sympathetic to the resistance.
Alex Kershaw (The Bedford Boys) describes in stark detail how the City of Light quickly became a city of intrigue and terror. Jackson’s neighbor and nemesis was Helmut Knochen, head of the Gestapo in Paris. In addition to the spying apparatus he imported from Germany, Knochen also tapped into the local criminal underworld to recruit an army of informants and torturers. At first, Jackson’s high-placed connections insulated him and his hospital from oppressive German oversight. But his and his wife’s willingness to aid members of the resistance kept them in constant danger of being discovered.
Kershaw shows how Parisians generally and Jews specifically suffered terribly under the occupation. While German officers dined in splendor, ordinary citizens faced starvation. And there were other outrages, too. In 1943, the Germans publicly burned more than 500 works by Miro, Picasso and other artists, deeming them “degenerate.”
A few months before the Allies liberated Paris, the Germans finally imprisoned the Jacksons, including son Phillip, whose family archives and personal recollections served as principal sources for this tense and compelling narrative.