‘To everything there is a season,’ reads the sign above Henri Nussbaum’s door.  It’s a life lesson he’s appreciated since his days in the French Underground during some of the bloodiest fighting in the Second World War. 

He will describe the violence, the lost friends, the close calls, even the shrapnel wound whose scar he displays by lifting up one pant leg, but he chokes with emotion when describing the liberation of his beloved France by American GI’s in 1944.  “Chewing gum,” he says of the gifts the paratroopers doled out to young French soldiers when they landed in days leading up to D-Day. “That’s what I remember best, because we had never had any before.  They were generous; they gave us cigarettes—Philip Morris and Luckies—and K-Rations, but it’s the gum that I remember best.”

The story has a particular emotional significance to Nussbaum, because he knows that a lot of these kind-hearted soldiers would not survive the next few days. 

Among the pre-D-Day paratroopers sent in to soften up German lines, the 101st Division suffered particularly large losses, with only one-sixth of the men actually reached their destination points. “The first regiment of the 82nd Division fared better,” Nussbaum says, “but the second suffered heavy supply losses -- much of the division was left without sufficient arms.”

Prior to this, Nussbaum had spent several years living in the forest, being fed by local townsfolk, as a member of the F.F.I.—French Forces of the Interior, or Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur.  This remarkable band of resistance fighters served as a valuable manpower addition to regular French troops, often taking on some of the more difficult assignments due to their mobility and clandestine operating style.  “I knew nobody’s last name,” Nussbaum relates; “Men and women I worked and fought alongside, we all went by first name only.  That way, if one of us were taken prisoner, we would not be able to betray our comrades even if tortured—we really didn’t know who they were.”

Among his many exploits during this phase of the war was holding a dam near Paris with his force of two hundred against a Panzer division that numbered nearly ten thousand.  The sweetness of victory, which he celebrated in Paris by marching with his division beneath the Arc de Triomphe, was all the more keen for his sacrifices.

Following the war, Nussbaum followed his brother to the United States, married a Canadian girl, and settled in Detroit.  Physical therapy was his vocation, and he became a masseuse in the Fisher Building, where his adventures were not as dangerous as his Resistance exploits, but every bit as colorful: he number among his customers many of Detroit’s biggest names, including Max Fisher, Al Kaline and Gordie Howe, but equally, celebrities like Mickey Rooney, Hubert Humphrey and Rock Hudson.



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