I wouldn’t have noticed the plaques if they weren’t pointed out to me. Along a busy Paris street, the foot-long plaques don’t stand out against the beautiful buildings that tower above them. But they are there nonetheless, bearing the names of French men and women lost during the week where the citizens of Paris fought back against the Nazis. The one I gravitated towards was a plaque for a woman named Madeleine Brinet. She was a nurse who died on August 25, 1944, the day the Germans surrendered. She almost made it. I wonder if she knew the Nazis had given up, if she got to see France free once again. It was a cause that she worked for and in the end, died for.
The plaque didn’t list Madeleine’s age, but I found it later as I searched for her on the internet. She was my age, 23. The number rings in my head hollowly. She was my age when she died. Before that point, she worked in the Croix-Rouge Française, the French Red Cross. On her plaque is a small epitaph: “Morte Pour La France” – died for France. Below the plaque was a pot of purple flowers and a ring to hang a flag on. Madeleine was one of over 1000 fighters and civilians who died in the uprising. All that is left of that movement are bullet holes, plaques and stories. Paris has moved on. I think that’s how she would have wanted it.
I don’t know what she looked like or what drew me to her plaque that day. I had just been out shopping the night before and enjoying the finer things Paris had to offer. Today I stood before a memorial to a girl my age, who died years and years ago. She would have been 87 today. I’m humbled just thinking about it.
We’re leaving Paris tomorrow. We’re going back to the states, where I’ll rehash the stories and show pictures to my friends. I’ll laugh at the funnier moments of the trip and try to convey the sadder parts of what I saw. But I don’t think I can describe standing by Madeleine’s plaque. I don’t know if I can tell that story. It is not one I know well myself. I was not alive that day in Paris, when the Americans marched in, and when Madeleine lost her life. I was there nearly 64 years later to reflect and remember and attempt to understand a girl my age who died for France.