At the small elementary school in Jouy-sous-les-Côtes, in northeastern France, Gisèle Marc knew the rumor about her: that her parents were not her real parents, and her real mother must have been a whore. It was the late 1940s, just after the war, a time when whispered stories like this one passed from parents to children. Women who were said to have slept with occupying soldiers—“horizontal collaborators”—had their heads shaved and were publicly shamed by angry crowds. In the schoolyard, children jeered at those who were said to be born of “unknown fathers.”
The idea that Gisèle might have been abandoned by someone of ill repute made her terribly ashamed. At the age of 10, she gathered her courage and confronted her mother, who told her the truth: We adopted you when you were 4 years old; you spoke German, but now you are French. Gisèle and her mother hardly ever talked about it again.