LEIPZIG, Germany, Apr. 21 (Delayed) — A slim American-born countess who was jailed by the Gestapo for hiding American fliers in her French chateau said the worst thing about her 22-months' imprisonment was being forced to undress once in front of SS troops.
The attractive Countess Henry de Mauduit, born in Stoughton, Mass., as Roberta Laurie, said the experience was worse than starvation or the rough treatment she was given. But the countess laughed as she told American liberators how she escaped being moved from the Leipzig barracks with 6,000 other women political prisoners by hiding in the typhoid ward of the prison hospital.
Four-thousand women guarded by German SS women wearing death's head insignia were marched northeastward from prison last Friday, the countess said, heading towards Berlin.
All women in the prison camp worked 12 hours a day from 6 to 6 loading artillery shells in the Hasag munition plant, second only to Krupps' as Germany's largest.
The countess, who married 17 years ago in Paris, hid American fliers in her chateau in Plourivo, Brittany, at the same time she was accommodating German officers with a phoney display of hospitality. At one time the countess, whose husband sailed for England to join DeGaulle in ’41, had 19 American and British airmen living between a false double floor in her chateau.
During the same evening she entertained the German Army engineer in control of the entire Brittany coastal defenses.
“Only one maid and I knew they were there,” the countess said. “They hid between floors and only came out at night to eat and listen to music on the radio. They would eat and clean up the dishes themselves before going back to their hiding place before dawn. To get food for them I had to buy a calf every week on the black market and kill it.”
“At the time I was arrested, June 12, 1943, I had five American fliers hidden,” she said. “One hundred Gestapo agents came and searched the place without warning but didn’t find anything. Someone must have tipped them off that I was helping Allied fliers get back to England though, because they arrested me anyway.”
Four months after she was arrested the Gestapo found the false floor, but were unable to prove a case against her because there were no Americans there at the time so she was not shot.
"They beat me five times in six months while I was wearing nothing but night clothes,” she said.
The countess was eventually put in the largest German women's political prisoner camp with 80,000 others at Ravenbruc, north of Berlin.
"Don't ever tell me women talk too much," the countess said. "They put them in bathtubs full of water at Ravenbruc, and held their heads under to make them talk and give away secrets. I know several women who drowned that way but none of them talked. I had known Germans before the war and couldn't believe they could be so cruel. Now I hate them."
This article appears as it did in the print edition of Stars and Stripes.