Channel Islands: How two lesbians fought the Nazia with a typewriter

The jig was up. On July 25, 1944, two women were stopped by German secret police on a bus. When their home was ransacked, the Nazis found what they were looking for: a suitcase filled with leaflets — a surrealist art project — that had plagued the German army for months. Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe were sent to prison for their use of war’s most insidious weapon in the least likely place.

Schwob and Malherbe moved to the Channel Islands in 1937, from Paris, where their lives had been wrapped up in the surrealist movement and communist politics. But their new home proved far from a retreat after Nazi forces occupied the islands in 1940. By then the women, who were stepsisters and life partners, were in their 40s. Given their record of activism and Schwob’s Jewish heritage, they had every reason to lay low in their little village. But that wasn’t really their style.

“They’ve got a lot of reasons not to do anything,” says Jeffrey Jackson, a history professor at Rhodes College who’s working on a book about Schwob and Malherbe’s Jersey résistance. “As lesbians, as French women living in exile, there are lots of things to suggest they should keep their heads down. But instead they stick their necks out.”

The pair had been transgressive in Paris too. They cross-dressed — which was illegal in France in the 1930s — and Schwob is now regarded as an early transgender icon under her assumed name, Claude Cahun. Malherbe, who also went by the name Marcel Moore, was an artist herself. But the Channel Islands were initially supposed to be a quiet escape for the pair, one where Schwob’s chronic health problems might be assuaged by country air.

The couple’s resistance started small. They were looking for a way to get the enemy to stop fighting, for peace to prevail in what they called “revolutionary defeatism.” So they began dropping notes, messages written on cigarette packets to remind occupying soldiers how long the war had dragged on. Later, they branched out into leaflets, typing up news bulletins in German signed “the nameless soldier,” a character they invented in hopes he would inspire German troops to give up and go home.

They wrote of the horrors suffered by soldiers while Nazis back home lived the high life. The women also sent leaflets — translated into Czech — about impending Nazi defeat fluttering into forced labor camps, hoping to help prisoners keep going. Read more via Ozy