SISTERS IN RESISTANCE tells the story of four young women who risked their lives to fight Nazi oppression and brutality in occupied France, not because they themselves were Jewish or in danger of being arrested, but because it was the right thing to do. Within two years of the start of the Occupation, they had all been arrested by the Gestapo and were deported as political prisoners to Ravensbruck concentration camp.
The documentary follows the paths of the four women — Geneviève de Gaulle Anthonioz, Jacqueline Pery d'Alincourt, Anise Postel-Vinay and Germaine Tillion — from before the war to the present. The women speak about what compelled them to resist, their roles in the Resistance, their arrests, deportation and liberation. They talk about the struggle to rebuild their lives after the war, their desire for children and their continued battles in the name of justice.
Today the women live in Paris. They were decorated for their heroism and became social activists and intellectual leaders in their fields. SISTERS is about these four lifelong friends as Resistance fighters, as fellow prisoners, as idealists and as women, offering a perspective that has been largely overlooked in the history of the Holocaust.
Director Maia Wechsler filmed interviews with the women separately, in pairs and with all four together. She shot at Ravensbruck concentration camp, at the French prisons and at numerous Paris locations central to the story. Archival footage illustrates their activities in the Resistance.
The eldest of the women is Germaine Tillion; at 93, she is the “mother hen.” A founder of the famous Resistance network Musée de l'Homme, Germaine met the youngest of the friends, Anise Postel-Vinay, before boarding the train to Ravensbruck. Said Anise of Germaine: “This phenomenal woman, with her tremendous sense of humor, literally took me under her wing. Every day for the next 18 months she gave me a piece of her bread ration, on the grounds that I was younger than she and would, as she said, one day be going home to get married and have 10 children.”
Geneviève de Gaulle Anthonioz, the niece of Resistance leader General Charles de Gaulle, was arrested while working for the newspaper Défense de la France. Just before war broke out, she met Jacqueline Pery d'Alincourt; they immediately recognized that they were kindred spirits. When they met again in 1941, Jacqueline was a war widow. She was 21 years old. Resistance and arrest led them to Ravensbruck, where they shared a straw mattress, and most importantly, defied the dehumanization of the camp by taking care of one another with love and tenderness. The intense camaraderie that existed among these four friends helped them survive the concentration camp and lead productive lives after the war.
All four women were liberated in the spring of 1945. To this day, the women have remained passionately engaged in the cause of justice. Germaine Tillion was among the first to denounce the use of torture by French forces in Algeria’s war of independence. Anise Postel-Vinay was the first to document the use of poison gas in Ravensbruck. Jacqueline Pery d’Alincourt speaks tirelessly to students in the United States and France about her war experiences. Geneviève de Gaulle Anthonioz was the long-standing president of an international movement to help the poor until her death on February 14, 2002.