“It was for help”
Cherbourg, May 26, 1943. She understands nothing! All this is disproportionate… She has been languishing in prison for six months awaiting her trial and today she receives “a summons to appear before the State Court, sitting at the Palais de Justice in Paris”. There is no doubt that Marie-Louise Giraud reads and re-reads the summons. In Paris why? What is this state court? However, no crime was committed. Yes, that’s right, she helped desperate women “pregnancy”: twenty-seven in all, who owed her a great debt!
She remembers the young maids who were seduced by a German employer. for mothers exhausted from repeated births; To the wives of prisoners of war overwhelmed by the consequences of a moment of bewilderment… See once again the horror of these women who are willing to do anything to save their husbands or avoid sinking further into poverty. But Marie-Louise explained it well to the commissioner: “It was for help. I regret what I did. I promise not to do it again.” A very absurd promise, which proves to what extent this 39-year-old mother is ignoring the political realities that will soon make her a penitential model.
Under the leadership of Vichy, the incentive to have children
Marie-Louise does not measure that she became an “angel maker” at the height of Vichy propaganda. Marshal Petain declared on June 20, 1940, two days before the armistice was obtained, “Few children, few weapons, few allies, these are the reasons for our defeat.” With its slogan “Work, Family, Fatherland”, the anthem “National Revolution” called for the resettlement of France, flooding the walls with explicit posters: “You who want to rebuild France, give her children first”; “Abortion is to deny your happiness by destroying life!”
The emblems that Marie Louise rubs over her shoulders without swinging. She also doesn’t wonder when Mother’s Day, an occasion since 1926, became an institution. More seriously, it is not concerned about the law of February 15, 1942, which radically strengthens the suppression of abortion. Those who engage in “failed maneuvers”, which until now are punishable by ten years in prison, become “national killers”. Their “crimes against the nation” led to their trial before the Extraordinary Body established by the Petain State Court, where they faced the death penalty. While the Marshal urges women to become “the inspiration of our Christian civilization,” Marie-Louise congratulates herself on the smooth running of her small business, for which she pays up to 2,000 francs, the equivalent of a worker’s salary. In less than two years, encouraged by the influx of requests, she has given up all caution and doesn’t see the gears she’s going to crush into place.
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Nothing is destined for Marie-Louise to become the tragic heroine of a historic trial. Born in 1903 in Barneville, near Cherbourg, she was raised in the countryside between a gardener’s father and a maid’s mother. At the age of twelve, she failed the school certificate and was placed in turn. She fought World War I without understanding its danger, obsessed with wanting to escape her mother’s fate. At the age of 18, in 1921, she tried her luck in Cherbourg where she became a waitress in a café and restaurant. In contact with men and alcohol, it tastes unprecedented freedom.
This brunette girl with a normal face but generous curves is seducing her in ways that aren’t too shy. Intoxicated by her new life, she spends the money she does not have. To the point of committing several robberies that earned him a first symbolic conviction and then two prison sentences of one and two months. However, this small criminal record will have a lot of weight before the state court, fifteen years later. In 1929 she apparently calmed down, married for love Paul Giroud, an officer in the French Navy and had five children with him, of whom only two survived: a son born in 1936, and a daughter born in 1939.
At the start of World War II, ten years of motherhood and loneliness waiting for her sailor to return captured her love.. She has become a laundromat at home and no longer expects much from existence except for a little comfort and happiness in the love of her children whom she adores. The war, the armistice, the Petain, the massive influx of Germans flooding the city with swastikas, the resistance … none of this seemed to concern her. Paul, now in residence, became taciturn, drank a lot and seldom helped him. She consoles herself by taking a lover.
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From the first abortions to the organized network
Her fate changed in December 1940, when she surprised Gisele, her 18-year-old neighbourPerforming a mustard bath in the hope of inducing a miscarriage. Giselle is unmarried and her lover who is about to return to the front does not want to leave her alone with a child. But how do you end this pregnancy? More or less scary ways are exchanged between womenInserting a chicken bone or a knitting needle into the uterus; Drink boiled parsley or potassium permanganate …
Choosing Giselle does not convince Marie-Louise. It seems to him that the soap and water injection is more effective. Giselle agrees and begs her to help her. Marie-Louise allows herself to be convinced. After several attempts, I developed a system with an enema bulb and cannula. Delivered, Gisele thanks her by introducing her to the gramophone and her recordings. Proud to own such a thing, but even more proud of her success, Marie-Louise never felt such a strong feeling. She will like it.
Word of mouth brings him a new filter, after six months. She is hesitant, they offer to pay her, she accepts. From then on, paid abortions will be performed at an increasingly continuous pace. The operation takes place in her home, on the kitchen floor. To boil the water, you have to wait for the gas to return, at 5 pm, and finish before 9 pm. If the miscarriage occurs within 24 hours, you receive a coded message: “Bismarck screwed up,” otherwise you have to start over. Of the 27 women who miscarried, not one survived: she developed a high fever, hid the cause, and delayed hospital admission due to sepsis that carried her into two weeks. Upon learning of this, Marie-Louise believes that she has nothing to do with him and does not question her or her way of working.
So it will diversify its activities. Installed on Grande Valley Street, they are born with the world of prostitution and end up renting rooms to the “girls on the card” who hit the sidewalk. She paid 30 francs per ticket, and increased her income by a lump sum that she herself estimated at 14,000.00 francs at the time of her arrest. Over the months I formed an tacit network with three guides who take commission along the way: Jane Travert, a neighbour, then Augustine Cosnefroy and Yulali Helen, two fortune-tellers who often greet desperate pregnant women in consultation..
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condemnation for example
All went well, Marie-Louise made many enemies, starting with her husband, who was insulted by contempt for his wife’s success. There’s also Alexandrine, the maid whom Marie-Louise encourages to “distract” Paul, and some prostitutes who consider themselves exploited. Neighbors who consider it shameful and vulgar are not excluded. Who of these critics finally decided to denounce it? Details of the anonymous letter that led to the arrest prove that the crow is close. Paul and Alexandrine seem the most suspicious, especially since they will testify to the allegation.
Marie-Louise was arrested on October 23, 1942, convinced she would escape a reduced prison sentence. Even referring to Paris, she is still optimistic. During the trial, on June 7 and 9, 1943, she began to worry before the disgusted faces of the judges who would decide her fate. When the prosecution demands the death penalty, she is stunned, but her lawyer reassures her: Do not condemn a woman to scaffolding, even to an abortion! On the other hand, she risks forced labor forever…Again, she doesn’t understand, she just doesn’t believe it.
The hour of sentencing has finally arrived: “Accidents, rise up!” His accomplices were sentenced to five to ten years in prison. Then comes his turn. Because of the “vile work” and “her worst behavior and morals,” she was sentenced “to the death penalty and, according to Article 12 of the Penal Code, be beheaded.”
Death not life! The presidential pardon, which his lawyer assured him he had, would never come. Petain studied the request personally, but wanted an example. On July 30 at 5:25 a.m., in the courtyard of Petit Rocket prison, Marie-Louise Gero was the first and last woman to be executed for an abortion. She gave to her lawyer who was helping her before the execution, and asked him to hand it over to her children, one of the locks of hair that the executioner had just cut off.
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