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Lieutenant Sonia Vagliano

A Memoir of the World War II Refugee Crisis

Hundreds of World War II memoirs have been written, but the stories about the bravery and valor of the women who also served are rarely told. In Lieutenant Sonia Vagliano: A Memoir of the World War II Refugee Crisis, Vagliano provides a gripping and compelling account of how she and her team of four French women were attached to an American First Army unit that arrived in Normandy two weeks after D Day. From 1943 to 1945, Vagliano followed her unit from Normandy to Paris, through Belgium, and finally into Germany where they cared for 20,000 displaced persons and prisoners of war each day.

Rich in detail, Vagliano not only describes her experiences—from caring for thousands of refugees in the worst possible conditions, to defusing landmines, being kidnapped, shot at, torpedoed, and bombed—she also recounts the major events of the war in Europe including the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge, and, finally, the concentration camps. Spending five weeks at Buchenwald repatriating the 21,000 prisoners still there, she provides a unique witness to the transition period between the liberation of the camp and its turnover to the Russians in July 1945, and saw first-hand "to what extremes the human imagination can go in its search for the most cruel methods of torture."

Striking a balance between daredevil-level escapades and the sobering reality of a war-time account, this book won the 1982 Saint Simon award for best memoir of the year under its original title Les Demoiselles de Gualle. Now translator and editor Martha Noel Evans brings the young French lieutenant's memoirs to English-speaking audiences for the first time.

About the Authors

Sonia Vagliano Eloy was a French lieutenant in the Free French Army during WWII. She received the Bronze Star and the Croix de Guerre and was made an officer of the Légion d'Honneur. Her memoir, Les Demoiselles De Gaulle, is based on the daily diary she kept during her service, official documents, and letters she had written home. Martha Noel Evans, translator, is a retired French and women studies professor and former director of book publications at the Modern Language Association. She is the author of Fits and Starts: A Genealogy of Hysteria in Modern France and Masks of Tradition: Women and the Politics of Writing in Twentieth-Century France.

Reviews

"I'm delighted that this lively, well-written, and engaging memoir of everyday refugee-camp life in important battle and concentration-camp sites at the end of WWII will join the corpus of women's war-experience life writing. Vagliano's understated account of her competence is impressive, and her wry recital of her own flubs and failings makes for a good-humored, tactful, and fast-paced narrative."—Julia Watson, professor emerita of comparative studies, The Ohio State University

"A very valuable translation of Sonia Vagliano-Éloy's Les Demoiselles de Gaulle. Her story deserves to be better known by francophone and anglophone readers. This memoir speaks to the growing theme of emotion and intimate relationships in time of war, and is significant for anyone interested in WWII history, the French external resistance, gender and war, and humanitarian history."—Charlotte Faucher, University of Manchester

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Hardback
February 15, 2022
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