(previously by Jill Korn on SWC: Collaboration)
Andrée Bigard, or Dédée, became Edith Piaf’s personal secretary during World War 2. Secretly, she used her work for the singer as a cover for her underground activities as a member of the French Resistance. Piaf was notoriously badly organised, and careless to the point of folly with her money. She came to rely on Andrée more and more, not only as an employee, but as a close friend and confidante. It was Andrée who organised shelter from the Nazis for Edith’s Jewish friends, and arranged for them to receive money and food in the so-called Unoccupied Zone. Some of them were hidden in a farm belonging to Andrée’s family.
At the end of the war, it was Andrée, too, who put together Edith’s defence when she was called before the Comité d’Epuration des Professions des Artistes Dramatiques et des Musiciens Exécutants (The Purification Committee) to answer for her activities under the Nazi Occupation.
During my research for Collaboration I made my way across Paris to the National Archive, clutching my passport and my application to view the folder containing the papers presented to the Committee and its conclusion.
The folder was very thin. I sat at one of the long tables, the researcher’s lamp switched on to make reading and photography easy, and worked my way through the documents. Some were typed meticulously – I saw Andrée’s work in evidence there – others were handwritten, and some were impossible to read. The content is very matter-of-fact with no evidence of the emotions that must have raged in the singer as she faced down her post-Occupation critics and wondered what the cost of survival had been.
One postcard says it all. I have put it in the play. It is handwritten and reads simply:
Pas de sanctions et Félicitations’
The final word has a capital initial as though this is the most important part of the message. Piaf’s career was not finished – yet. She shone more and more brightly until she burned out completely 18 years later, drug-ridden, a physical wreck and an international star.
Dédée Bigard remained loyal for all of Edith’s life. After the singer’s death, she said:
“Whatever people say or imply about her, she was a woman of great purity.”