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avenue of spies

a true story of
terror, espionage, and
one american family’s
heroic resistance in
nazi-­o ccupied france

Alex Kershaw

CROWN PUBLISHE RS

NE W YORK

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Copyright © 2015 by Alex Kershaw

All rights reserved.


Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown
Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
www.crownpublishing.com

CROWN is a trademark and the Crown colophon is a registered trademark of Penguin


Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data


Kershaw, Alex.
Avenue of spies: a true story of terror, espionage, and one American family’s heroic
resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris / Alex Kershaw.—First edition.
1. Jackson, Sumner Waldron. 2. Jackson, Sumner Waldron—Family. 3. World War,
1939–1945—Underground movements—France—Paris. 4. Spies—France—Paris—
Biography. 5. Americans—France—Paris—Biography. 6. Physicians—France—Paris—
Biography. 7. World War, 1939–1945—France—Paris. 8. Paris (France)—History,
Military—20th century. 9. France—History—German occupation, 1940–1945. I. Title.
D802.F82P37476 2015
940.53'44361092313—dc23 2015016861

ISBN 978-­0-­8041-­4003-­4
eBook ISBN 978-­0-­8041-­4004-­1

Printed in the United States of America

Maps by David Lindroth Inc.


Jacket design by Elena Giavaldi
Jacket photographs by DPA/ZUMA (top left); Mondadori/Getty (top right); Roger-Viollet/
The Image Works (bottom left); courtesy the author (bottom right)

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

First Edition

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N O R W AY

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Part On e

city of darkness

What Nazism, epitomized by the Gestapo, tried to realize


(and almost succeeded in realizing) was the destruction of
man as we know him and as thousands of years have fash-
ioned him. The Nazi world was an empire of total force, with
no restraints.

—­J A C Q U E S D E L A R U E , The Gestapo: A History of Horror

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ONE

the fall

A SH E L L E X PL ODE D. Fragments of shrapnel hit a young soldier. He


fell to the ground. Before long, nurses with East Coast prep school
accents, volunteers at the American Hospital of Paris, helped the
young man into a makeshift operating theater. The emergency sur-
gery was in the elegant ballroom of a casino in Fontainebleau, forty
miles south of Paris. A tall man with thick dark hair, blue eyes,
bushy brows, large but nimble hands, and a boxer’s face was soon at
the shattered young man’s side. His name was Dr. Sumner Jackson,
a fifty-­six-­year-­old American and the chief surgeon of the American
Hospital of Paris.
Sumner began to examine the young man’s leg and decided there
was only one thing for it. It would have to go. He needed a saw. It
would be no easy operation given the poor light in the casino. A
few minutes later, the boy lay in agony on a roulette table as Sumner
prepared to remove his leg, carefully cutting off the flow of blood
through his arteries. If Sumner made a mistake, the boy could bleed
to death.
Sumner took a scalpel and sliced across the boy’s muscles, reveal-
ing the underlying bone. With an oscillating saw he cut through the
bone and filed down the rough edges before delicately laying muscle
and skin flaps over the stump. It was painstaking work that took
great care and concentration in the dim light, and Sumner took in-
tense pride in his expertise. A superb combat surgeon, arguably the

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4  AVENUE OF SPIES

finest of his generation, he had vast experience, having spent much


of the last war trying to repair shattered young bodies. In 1916 he
had volunteered for Britain’s Royal Army Medical Corps and had
arrived in Flanders with other Americans who had defied U.S. presi-
dent Woodrow Wilson’s call for neutrality. He was assigned to a sur-
gery near the Somme battlefield, where over ninety percent of those
who “went over the top” and attacked German positions ended up
being killed or wounded.
Sumner had operated on hundreds of young men whose limbs
had been torn asunder by shellfire. Twenty-­five years later, he was
once again doing his best to save lives, but there was something par-
ticularly unnerving about the nature of men’s wounds in this new
war. It only took one German 88mm shell to kills dozens of troops
if caught out in the open. Hitler’s modern weapons were designed to
rip humans to small pieces of flying flesh, to turn them to hamburger.
Sumner completed the amputation, ensuring that the boy’s leg
was carefully bandaged. There was no time to rest. Dozens of other
gravely wounded men lay waiting their turn. Sumner was working
sometimes deep into the night—­often beside a fellow American doc-
tor named Dr. Charles Bove—­sawing, cutting, stitching, trying to
save as many soldiers and civilians as they could. The casino’s cor-
ridors were filled with emergency surgical cases, patients begging for
water or lying in grim silence, resigned to death. Whenever Sumner
straightened his back and took a drink of coffee or water, he could
see yet more who had been laid out on the baccarat tables, waiting
to suffer the saw. There were as many urgent cases awaiting Sumner
when he returned to his base, the American Hospital of Paris, reput-
edly the best equipped in Europe, where he had worked since 1925.
He made the journey back and forth in a white ambulance, some-
times driven by an upper-­class young American volunteer, through
the working-­class outskirts of Paris and then to the leafy streets of
upscale Neuilly-­sur-­Seine.
Many Parisians could not remember such a glorious spring. The

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t h e fa l l   5

chestnuts along the Avenue Foch, where Sumner and his wife and
twelve-­year-­old son lived in a ground-­floor apartment at number 11,
were a wonderful green. Breezes carried the sweet scent of purple
lilacs and lilies of the valley. From a wide terrace adjoining his office
on the fourth floor of the hospital, when Sumner was able to take a
break from surgery, he could see the city’s immense elegance as he
stood for a few minutes relaxing, usually smoking a cigar or more
often a cigarette.
Sumner’s view of Paris, spread out before him, was fabulous, with
the Eiffel Tower clear in the distance a few miles to the southeast. In
the courtyard below, ambulances pulled up all that May, their bells
ringing, returning from the front lines. The impossible was happen-
ing. France was falling. Anyone who could get out of Paris was doing
so. Many of his American colleagues at the hospital, a cornerstone of
the expatriate community since 1910, and his wealthy neighbors on
Avenue Foch, several of them Jews, had already fled.
Sumner had seen the rise of fascism in Europe, the weakness of
European democracies, and the appeasement of Hitler, whom he de-
spised. He had been convinced the previous fall, after war had bro-
ken out, that the United States would join her allies from the last war
to once again put Germany in her place. Hitler would be stopped.
Sumner could not believe that America would stay neutral and let
Europe fall into the abyss once again. But now his worst fears were
being confirmed.
A fortnight earlier Europe had exploded as the Nazis launched a
massive spring offensive in the West. Since May 10, Sumner had read
headlines that grew more ominous by the day. The Wehrmacht had
stormed with seemingly unstoppable force through Belgium, Hol-
land, and northern France. Hitler’s armies were less than a hundred
miles from Paris. The French were in retreat, the nation losing heart,
it seemed, and the unimaginable happening. Indeed, Sumner knew,
it was no longer a question of whether France would be defeated
but when.

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6  AVENUE OF SPIES

Operating on severely wounded young men consumed all of


Sumner’s waking hours. When he did have time to wipe his brow,
take a long gulp of coffee, and drag on a cigarette as he gazed to the
south from his terrace, he could not help but think about his fifty-­
two-­year-­old wife and their son, Phillip, at home on Avenue Foch, a
couple of miles from the Eiffel Tower.
After twenty-­one years of marriage, Sumner was still utterly de-
voted to Swiss-­born Charlotte Sylvie Barrelet de Ricou, whom Sum-
ner had always called Toquette. She was petite with sandy brown
hair and the lean physique of a keen tennis player. In her youth, she
sometimes boasted, she had beaten the best French tennis player of
the time, Suzanne Lenglen, who had won thirty-­one championship
titles. After the last war, Sumner had taken her back to New England,
but she was so dreadfully unhappy, missing Paris and her family so
much that she fell ill. “It’s me or America,” she finally demanded.
Sumner chose her, abandoning a good job in a Philadelphia hospital
and returning to Paris, where he was forced to spend years studying
French and taking endless exams in order to practice medicine in
France, much to his bitter frustration. He was in fact compelled to
repeat six of his seven years of medical school. Finally, at age thirty-­
five, he had been able to earn a living as a doctor once more.
Toquette had been more than worth the sacrifice. The youngest
of six children whose father was a successful Swiss lawyer, she had a
remarkably powerful spirit. Sumner also greatly admired her cour-
age and stamina. She had won a Red Cross award for four years of
service in bloody surgeries in World War I and shared his belief that
one should give back, not just take, in a civilized society. He had first
met her when she was a feisty twenty-­eight-­year-­old nurse working
at his side in a hospital on the Rue Piccini in Paris in 1916. “The first
time I kissed your mother,” Sumner jokingly told his son, “was in a
linen closet at the Rue Piccini. . . . It was a very long kiss.”
Toquette was witty, spoke flawless English, and quickly discov-
ered that the equally pithy Sumner also loved to swim, sail, and play

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t h e fa l l   7

tennis. Soon, thirty-­one-­year-­old Sumner, whom she called Jack, was


seriously wooing her, often visiting her family home in Enghien-­les-­
Bains, an upscale suburb of Paris. Neither Toquette nor her family
needed any persuading, and the couple was married at the family
home in Enghien in November 1917. Over a decade later, their son,
Phillip, known to all as Pete, was born on January 10, 1928, in the
American Hospital. Phillip’s birth when Toquette was thirty-­nine,
after she had all but given up hope of conceiving, prompted a rau-
cous party with several bottles of Bollinger 1921 champagne being
drunk to celebrate the new arrival.
Sumner and Toquette had since doted on their only child, and
he had grown up very much aware that his parents had a great love
for each other. Toquette did all she could to make Sumner happy,
determined he would never regret his decision to forsake his family
(he was close to his brother, Daniel, and sister, Freda) and a life in
America for one in France. Yet on the outbreak of the Second World
War, the previous September, Sumner and Toquette had once again
been forced to decide whether they should stay in Europe or leave.
Sumner had thought it best they go to America for Phillip’s safety.
But Toquette had insisted on staying. The idea of living in the United
States again filled her with almost as much dread as the approaching
Germans.
Eight months later, Toquette was just as determined to stay in
Paris, close to her family. And Sumner still faced an agonizing
choice. Should he continue to do as his wife wanted? Or should he
ignore her wishes and take his family back to America while there
was still time to escape?

into the sky. Near Amiens in northern France,


F L A M E S J U M PE D
an ambulance driver tried to make his way past burning buildings,
avoiding downed telephone wires, rotting horse carcasses, and bomb
craters, pitiful evidence of the immense ferocity of Hitler’s Blitzkrieg.

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8  AVENUE OF SPIES

It was early on May 18, 1940, when a well-­spoken Princeton gradu-


ate, thirty-­two-­year-­old Donald Coster, looked up from the ambu-
lance and saw German planes, wave after wave of them. There were
the whistles and screams of bombs falling. Stuka dive-­bombers with
inverted gull wings attacked, dropping five-­hundred-­pound bombs,
leaving behind a blanket of acrid, sickening fumes. Coster made it to
a hospital in Châteaudun just as the bombing became most intense.
Terribly afraid, the volunteer ambulance driver took shelter in the
hospital’s basement.
After about an hour, the sound of bombing ended. There was a
tense silence. Coster knew the Germans were close by, approaching
Amiens itself, one hundred and fifty miles north of Paris. Like mil-
lions of French, Coster had tried to escape their lightning advance.
That was why he was now cowering in a cellar beside several dozen
doctors, nurses, and wounded soldiers. The bombing began again.
This time the explosions were much closer. Coster felt them like
“punches” against his chest. It was quiet once more. He could hear
his heart beating fast and then came the sound of heavy jackboots on
cobblestones. For several minutes Coster waited, expecting grenades
to be thrown down into their shelter. He stood up and climbed the
steps leading out of the cellar.
Daylight blinded Coster as he left the shelter and walked into a
courtyard. For the first time he caught sight of a German soldier.
The storm trooper was aiming at a line of French prisoners backed
against a wall. They were civilians. The German looked as if he was
going to finish them off. Coster waved his identification card at the
German, who instantly turned his gun on him and was about to pull
the trigger when someone called out in German, begging the soldier
to spare Coster and take him to his commander instead.
Coster and some of his fellow ambulance men, under guard,
walked fifty yards or so until they reached a main junction on the
road to Amiens. There was a roaring of engines, a clanking of tank
tracks. A Panzer column was moving into the city—­the tip of the

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t h e fa l l   9

Nazi spear thrusting toward Paris. There had been no more mobile
and powerful force in the history of war, and Coster looked on in
awe. The column seemed to stretch forever and moved so fast, the
tanks thundering by at forty miles an hour, bristling with heavy
weapons, the eight-­foot-­high steel behemoths surely unstoppable.
Armored cars followed, pulling camouflaged antiaircraft guns, their
20mm barrels pointing skyward. One tank rolled toward a bar-
ricade farther down the road and smashed through, making light
work of heavy logs. “Nothing invented by man, you felt with a shock
of despair,” recalled Coster, “could possibly withstand this inhuman
monster which had already flattened half of Europe.”
A German officer ordered Coster to help at a nearby hospital and
bring in wounded from the battlefield. In a field of high grass were
many English dead rotting in the sun, their faces purple and black.
There were a few men whose wounds were already gangrenous, and
they gritted their teeth as they called for help from where they lay
amid dozens of dead cows with huge bloated stomachs. The stench
was nauseating. Three hundred British soldiers had been riddled
with bullets from the Panzers’ machine guns. Fewer than thirty had
survived.
A German approached as Coster helped the wounded. He thought
Coster was a British soldier, mistaking his uniform, and snatched his
gloves away. Coster stupidly tried to grab them back and the German
whipped out his pistol and aimed it at his stomach. Coster pointed
to the band on his arm, showing the symbol for the American Field
Service, a volunteer ambulance unit.
“Amerikanisch,” said Coster.
To Coster’s surprise, the German officer stood to attention, sa-
luted Coster, shook his hand, and then left without another word.
Other German soldiers nearby talked with Coster. They regarded
Americans with bemused contempt, especially President Roosevelt,
a vacillating windbag compared to their glorious, decisive Führer.
One of them said: “We never see any of you on our side.”

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10  AVENUE OF SPIES

There was more good news from the front—­for the Germans.
After advancing through southern Belgium, the Germans had
crossed the Meuse River and pierced the French line at Sedan. The
Allies had been forced to retreat toward the port of Dunkirk. Disas-
ter loomed. Nothing, it seemed, could stop the Nazi juggernaut as it
barreled toward Paris.

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