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Doctor uses hospital to fight Nazi occupation

The Book Beat: Occupation & Resistance in WWII Paris

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On June 10, 1940, French Government officials fled in anticipation of the Nazi takeover of Paris, but Sumner Jackson stayed. He had a duty as doctor and “resident physician in charge,” and he intended to help all he could.

“Avenue of Spies,” a historical account of an American living in Nazi-occupied France by Alex Kershaw, gives the reader a glimpse into what it was like for one family in World Word II Paris.

Sumner Jackson was an American doctor who had fallen in love with a Swiss-born nurse, Toquette, when they were both working in a hospital during the First World War.

By the time World War II began, Sumner and Toquette had a 12-year-old son and were living on Avenue Foch in one of Paris’ finest neighborhoods. At the onset of the war, Sumner sent his wife and son elsewhere for safety, and he spent most nights in the American Hospital where he worked. Eventually, wife and son returned, and both Sumner and Toquette battled the Nazis in their own ways.

Sumner Jackson’s personal rebellion against the Nazis began early on, when he hid Allied troops and other members of the resistance in the basement of the American Hospital. After hiding those who needed to escape, he often kept no record of their names, or he officially recorded them as “deceased.”

Toquette was recruited to be part of the resistance by using the Jackson home as a “drop box.” Every action was risky, especially with the German officials living merely a few hundred yards away in their newly established Nazi headquarters on Avenue Foch. One small slip and the whole family could be captured by their new neighbors to join the screams of other spies and resistance members. Avenue Foch had once been a wealthy, happy neighborhood, but it had turned into a devil’s playground.

The reader watches the Nazis advance through the eyes, ears and minds of the Jacksons. The Nazis are 150 miles from Paris, now closer. Hospitals and ambulances are being targeted by the German troops, and Sumner’s hospital paints over any red cross symbols that would announce their presence and intentions: “From the terrace of Sumner’s office … [he] could see flashes of light from bursting artillery shells splashing across the horizon. Hitler’s storm troopers were less than twenty miles away.”

“Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and one American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris,” reads more like a thrilling spy novel than a history lesson and draws on extensive interviews with Phillip Jackson, Sumner and Toquette’s son. This non-fiction book includes a selection of photographs of the Jackson family, as well as images of many other high-profile names discussed in this book.