‘I Was Looking Forward to a Quiet Old Age’: Instead, Etta Shiber, Helped Smuggle Stranded Allied Soldiers To Freedom
On December 22, 1940, a former Manhattan housewife named Etta Kahn Shiber found herself in Hotel Matignon, headquarters of the Gestapo in Paris, sitting across from a “mousy” man in civilian clothes who said his name was Dr. Hager. Shiber, a 62-year-old widow, planned to follow the advice that had replayed in her head for the past six months—deny everything—but something about the doctor’s smile, smug and imperious, suggested that he didn’t need a confession.
“Well, the comedy is over,” he began. “We now have the last two members of the gang…. And I have just received word that Mme. Beaurepos was arrested in Bordeaux two hours ago. So there really wasn’t any reason to allow you to wander around the streets any longer, was there?”
A clerk appeared to transcribe everything she said. Dr. Hager asked hundreds of questions over the next 15 hours. She answered each one obliquely, being careful to say nothing that could be used against her friends and accomplices, and was escorted to a cell at the Cherche-Midi prison.
As he turned to leave, Dr. Hager smiled and reminded her that the punishment for her crime carried a mandatory sentence of death.
Six months earlier, on June 13, 1940—the day the Nazis invaded Paris—Etta Shiber and her roommate, whom she would identify in her memoir, Paris Underground, as “Kitty Beaurepos,” collected their dogs, jewelry, and a few changes of clothing and started out on Route Nationale No. 20, the broad that connected Paris with the south of France. The women had met in 1925, when Etta was on vacation with her husband, William Shiber, the wire chief of the New York American andNew York Evening Journal. They kept in touch, and when her husband died, in 1936, Kitty invited Etta to live with her in Paris. Kitty was English by birth and French by marriage but was separated from her husband, a wine merchant. Etta moved into her apartment in an exclusive neighborhood near the Arc de Triomphe.
Now the city streets were deserted and the highway was choked with thousands of refugees—in autos, on foot, in horse-drawn carts, on bicycles. After twenty-four hours Etta and Kitty were still idling on the outskirts of Paris, and they knew the Germans would soon be following.