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Quebec Author Traces Route of Nazis Who Fled to Canada

July 3, 1996
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Four years after her controversial book “The Traitor and the Jew” uncovered anti-Semitic and Nazi-sympathizing elements in Depression-era Quebec, Esther Delisle is busy at work on her new book.

Delisle, who also is known as Quebec’s “Nasty Girl” after the young woman in the German film who uncovered her town’s past, is now writing about an underground pipeline that French Nazi collaborators and war criminals used to escape to French Canada after World War II.

“I can prove that certain people were part of the connection, but there are still pieces of the puzzle that are missing,” Delisle said.

So far, her research has turned up more ex-Nazi collaborators from France than she initially suspected, including Count Jacques Duge de Bernonville, “a higher-ranking official than Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon.”

From 1946 to 1951, Quebec church officials and politicians, including the mayor of Montreal, exerted pressure to keep de Bernonville in Quebec even as the federal government was trying to deport him, Delisle said. Delisle said that “99.9 percent of Quebec’s intelligentsia at that time rallied around him.” Eventually expelled from Canada, he went to Brazil, where he was murdered in 1971.

Delisle also has uncovered evidence that Maurice Duplessis, the province’s former autocratic premier, hired an ex-Nazi collaborator named Paul Richemont “to pull some dirty tricks in the Vatican.”

Delisle is convinced that a Nazi underground operated in Quebec as late as 1972, when an escape route was apparently prepared for French Nazi collaborator Paul Touvier, who chose to stay in France, where he was convicted of war crimes in 1994.

Delisle, a postdoctoral fellow in history at McGill University here, wrote “The Traitor and the Jew” as a dissertation.

The book exposes the nationalistic ideology of the province’s revered right- wing historian-cleric-novelist, Abbe Lionel-Adolphe Groulx, whose supporters have long dismissed as marginal his anti-Semitic, anti-liberal diatribes. Like the Nazis with whom he sympathized, Groulx built up a racial ideology based on blood purity, tribal warfare and the concept of a superior race.

Still, he is regarded as a hero in Quebec. Streets, buildings and even a Montreal subway station have been named after him.

The book became a Canadian best seller, even though it fueled the resentment of many separatists in Quebec.

Former Premier Jacques Parizeau and other prominent French-Canadian separatists have disparaged Delisle for giving outsiders a bad image of the province.

Ordinary citizens, too, have found unique means of expressing their displeasure at her choice of topic; a manager at one shopping mall was so disgruntled by Delisle’s presence at a bookstore that he disconnected the electricity.

“I’ve been pushed and kicked around so much that now, if you really want to hurt me, you have to push me very hard,” Delisle said of the public’s response. “Otherwise, I just burst out laughing.”

She also said, “I’m doing my own research and I enjoy it. I’m getting some recognition in France. So what if the kings of the tribe here don’t like me? I don’t need their recognition. I want to be an outstanding historian.”

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