New book celebrates heroics of Canton woman’s family

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Author to visit Canton Public Library Sept. 17

Loraine Jackson Riemer’s father is a man who does not easily express his deepest emotions. Phillip Jackson and his parents, Dr. Sumner and Charlotte Sylvie Berrelet de Ricout ‘Toquette’ Jackson, secretly provided support for a resistance network, Goélette, in Paris during World War II until they were betrayed, arrested and sent to concentration camps. Phillip Jackson, who was a teenager at the time, and his mother survived their experience and were later reunited; Sumner Jackson, a skilled, highly respected and caring surgeon, died aboard a prison ship.

Lorraine Jackson Riemer with her father, Phillip “Pete” Jackson

Lorraine Jackson Riemer with her father, Phillip “Pete” Jackson

Riemer did not learn of the details of her father’s experiences in France during the war until he shared them with her just before she left Paris to move to the United States. She knew far less of the emotional toll they had taken on him until Jackson traveled to Canton during the spring several years ago to visit his daughter, her husband, Ed, and their sons, Vincent and Sam. On Memorial Day, the family watched veterans and local citizens march along Washington Street.

“I remember him being very moved by the Memorial Day parade in Canton,” Riemer said. “He saw the parade and he just cried,” her hands indicating that tears poured down her father’s face. “That’s a very strong memory for me.”

In his recently published book Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris, author Alex Kershaw writes of how the Jackson family home was a key location in the exchange of information for the resistance movement. In Paris, the family lived on Avenue Foch, a few doors from a home where the Gestapo headquarters were located. Kershaw will speak about the book and the Jackson family at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 17, in the Community Room at the Canton Public Library.

Sumner Jackson was born in Maine and trained to be a doctor. He served in France in World War I as a surgeon, which is where he met the Swiss-born Toquette, who was a nurse. After they married, they moved to New England, but Toquette missed her home and the couple returned to France. In order to practice medicine in France, Sumner Jackson had to learn French and repeat his medical studies. They had been married for about 12 years when their only child, Phillip, was born. Phillip Jackson is now 87 years old and lives in Les Invalides, a hospital and retirement home for war veterans in Paris.

At the start of the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940, Sumner Jackson worked at the American Hospital, where he saved lives both through medical treatment and by helping secure safe passage for many patients — including Jews and wounded servicemen — to other countries by providing false papers for them. He and his wife were recruited to work for the resistance and agreed, explaining to Phillip what was involved and swearing him to secrecy.

“He’s a big guy. He’s a very smart guy, very outdoorsy,” Riemer said of her father, whose nickname is Pete. “He has an interest and love of everything that’s nature. I think his experiences during the war made him very emotionally reserved. It was not something that we talked about. He never talked about a concentration camp.”

Phillip Jackson became an engineer after the war, married a woman from Switzerland and had three children. Riemer is his youngest child. As a college student, she decided that full-time university studies were not what she wanted. While still a teenager, she came to the United States for six months to take part in a summer program at Northwestern University and stay with distant family members from Sumner’s family who lived in Chicago. She also bought a Greyhound bus pass and traveled across the country for two months, visiting Boston and other areas.

“I just loved it,” she said of her first trip to the U.S. “I felt that I belonged.”

She returned to France and began a career in the software field. When a company wanted to hire her to help open an office in Paris, she agreed on the condition that they help her to find a job in America. Ten years after her first trip, she told Phillip that she was moving to Massachusetts, where she was going to work in South Natick.

“He was really moved that I was going back to my roots,” she said.

Riemer’s decision also prompted her father to open up and share information about his youth with her. “Just before I left, we spent a weekend together,” she said. “He started talking to me about it. He still never went into much detail. It really helped me understand him better. It must have changed him as a person. He’s gone through so much.”

The Jackson family was arrested in May of 1944. Two weeks later, on June 6, Allied troops arrived in Normandy to begin the liberation of France. On June 7, the family was delivered to the Gestapo. Phillip Jackson was 16 years old.

“I’m angry and sad at the same time,” Riemer said. “They left Paris the week of the liberation. A couple of days difference, they would not have spent a year in a concentration camp. It kills me, what could have happened. If only.”

Near the end of the war, Sumner Jackson was given the opportunity to be freed, because he spoke French. He chose to remain with the ill prisoners for whom he was caring. His son stayed with him. In a video entitled “Doctor Jackson’s File,” Phillip Jackson says of his father’s decision that it was the Hippocratic Oath pushed to the utmost. Riemer said, “I think the thing I learned and took away was how my grandfather was dedicated to his craft. He was a doctor before anything else.”

Kershaw has dedicated Avenue of Spies to Pete and Loraine. “That was pretty special for me,” Riemer said.

She has read other books about her grandparents and father, and found something very personal in Avenue of Spies.

“This book is very well researched,” she said. “It focuses on the Occupation and Paris and gives a lot of factual information, but it also talks about the human aspect of it. I think it’s very well done in that aspect.”

The website of the American Hospital of Paris contains a statement that says that in 2013, the hospital’s Board of Governors created the Jackson Award to commemorate the extraordinary devotion of Dr. Sumner and Charlotte Jackson to serving the hospital before and during World War II. The first recipients of the Jackson Medal were Sumner and Charlotte Jackson, posthumously. Phillip Jackson accepted the award.

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