Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens died last week at her home near the Loire River in France. She was 98. During World War II, she served as an interpreter for a French business association during the German occupation – and also as an amateur spy whose charm, flawless German, and incredible courage enabled her to gather and pass along information on the development of the V-1 and V-2 rockets that saved thousands of English lives.
Perhaps like me, you had never heard of Ms. de Clarens, who almost never talked publicly of her wartime life, which included brutal confinements in three concentration camps, including Ravensbrück, from which she was released, near death, in 1945.
“After the war, the curtain came down on my memories,” she told The Washington Post in a 1998 interview. “What I did was so little. Others did so much more. I was one small stone.”
What a powerful image in these times of hyperinflated bombast, when two “mouthy welterweights” (in Dan Barry’s wonderful phrase) make hundreds of millions of dollars for 30 minutes’ work and our political leader struts and preens upon stages of his own construction, telling us of his greatness, publicly basking in the adoration of his fan base, privately berating his staff for the empty seats at his rallies. For it’s all about crowd size. It’s all about large. It’s all about him.
We have little time to pay tribute to Jeannie Rousseau, one small stone, cast quietly into the water, whose ripples, barely noticed, helped change the world.