Search for "Hélène Jeanty Raven" in Google Books she appears to be little more than footnote, referenced in passing due to her late marriage to the Anglican theologian Charles Raven, or because of some letters she received from Albert Speer that came to light in 2007. Her memoir <em>Beyond Frontiers</em> shows why she is of interest in her own right. The story can be divided into two halves: in the first, we read of her war work and suffering under the Nazis, and in the second, of her post-war activism on behalf of refugees, for the fair treatment of German prisoners, and for international reconciliation.
At the start of World War Two, Hélène and her first husband Paul Jeanty were living an upper-middle class life in Belgium. War brought dislocation, and eventually tragedy when the two of them were arrested after taking in an RAF airman. They both faced execution, but there was a chance of survival if she could convince the court that she was mentally unstable and had brought the airman to her house without her husband's permission. Following some contrived courtroom histrionics she was committed to a mental hospital and moved to Germany, but Paul - as she discovered only after her release - was eventually shot by the Nazis.
After the war, Hélène was asked by the Judge Adovate-General to return to Germany to give evidence about Nazi war crimes. She did so, confirming that the director of the German asylum where she had been held was a non-Nazi who had colluded in her feigned illness to protect her. She then took an apartment in Paris, where she became friends with "Gabriel Marcel, Jean Schlumberger, Daniel Halévy, and Raymond Aron". Back in London, she was asked by Rev Henry Carter to represent the World Council of Churches' refugee work in Germany, despite being religiously uncommitted. In Germany she helped to process displaced Jews, but also became involved with the plight a group for whom there was less general sympathy: displaced Germans from the east, who included dispossessed ex-farmers and "exiled intellectuals" who were unable to find suitable employment.
Back in France, she concerned herself with SS soldiers imprisoned for the massacre at Oradour. Apparently, under French law any SS member in France was deemed culpable, whether they had been at Oradour or not - this law was reconsidered when it was realised that some SS men had been conscripts from Alsace, but in the meantime German prisoners spent several years languishing in prison in Bordeaux while awaiting trial. Hélène met the prisoners and attended to some of their needs, and was present at the eventual trial. High-profile prisoners she encountered included Constantin Canaris, head of the Brussels Gestapo. In Jeany's judgement - once she had got past her visceral revulsion at the position he had held -Canaris "had been pushed into" the job "by his anti-Nazi uncle, who had urged him to try to moderate the horrors of the Hitlerite regime", and he had undergone a "spiritual transformation" while in prison. It was difficult to read this without some resistance, especially having recently read <em>Blind Eye to Murder</em>, Tom Bower's polemical book on post-war Nazi rehabilitations.
Hélène also held a number of discussion meetings after the war. One introduced Belgians to German anti-Nazis resistors, while another was on Constantine Brunner, a Jewish philosopher whose works had been banned by the Nazis. Hélène had been approached by Brunner's follower Magdalena Kasch, who was attempting raise funds to have his books republished, and a local industrialist was persuaded to support the effort after Hélène arranged for him to have lunch with Yehudi Menuhin. A further colloquy, on race relations, included Trevor Huddleston, Laurens van der Post, and the son of a Gold Coast chief. Curiously, she made of point of not allowing women to take part in these events.
An epilogue explains how in 1954 she was asked by Canon McKay, Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC, to appear in a television discussion with Canon Charles Raven. The book ends with her married to Raven and settled in Cambridge.
Of course, while a memoir has immediacy and intimacy, it may lack critical distance: Hélène seems to have been reasonably self-aware, and she just about avoids tipping into sentimentality, but there's not enough her to assess her role in post-war public life in any deep sense. Perhaps it's time for a biographer to take up the challenge.Read more ›