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The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France's Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando

Harper Collins
Robert de la Rochefoucald

This episode originally aired on April 12, 2018.

Robert de la Rochefoucald was captured by the Nazis three times during World War II. He was an aristocrat, educated in Europe's finest schools, turned Special Operations Executive in the French resistance. The stories of his escapes sound like something straight from an Ian Fleming novel, except they're true.

Paul Kix uncovered them after reading Rochefoucald's obituary in the New York Times. The Iowa born author and deputy editor at ESPN the Magazine says it was a story that chose him, instead of the other way around. He spent years traveling across Europe documenting the story of this unsung hero. The result is The Saboteur: The Aristocrat who Became France's Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando.

The book details Rochefoucald's escape to London and his training in "ungentlemanly warfare." After learning how to gouge out a man's eyes, where to place explosives for maximum damage, and how to withstand torture, he parachutes back into his home country during the German occupation. The 19-year-old leads much older men in wreaking havoc all over the continent.

After his third capture, Rouchefoucald contemplates using the cyanide capsule hidden in the heel of his shoe. He has previously withstood months of torture at the hands of the Nazis, and knows more is in store. Instead he decides if he's going to die, he wants to do it as he's lived, fighting.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Paul Kix, author of The Saboteur about Rouchefoucald's life in the French resistance and how he devises a third successful escape.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk