Every time a plane flew overhead, Nicole Braux Taflinger remembered how her teenage years began like a nightmare in Nazi-occupied France and ended like a fairy tale.Taflinger, 88, a longtime Pullman resident and WWII survivor died Feb. 12 in Pullman. Because she believed people need to know the reality of war she wrote about her experiences in “Season of Suffering: Coming of Age in Occupied France, 1940-45,” published in 2010 by Washington State University Press.
“What was difficult was to not say as much as I wanted,” Taflinger told the Lewiston Tribune in an interview when the book was released. “People don’t want to hear about it, lots of people. … If reality is too gruesome, it makes them feel uneasy. If you lived it, or if you had to live it, you would feel differently.”
Taflinger, whose maiden name was Braux, was about 12 when the Nazis invaded her hometown of Nancy, France. As a teen she joined other women in dressing to offend the Germans, wearing short skirts, lavish makeup and outfits in the colors of the French flag. She saw people die in horrible ways. She had to take a gas mask to school where the occupiers required they learn the German language. The teacher had them complete one page of their German workbook, in case someone came to check.
The Americans’ liberation of France was “the biggest day in our lives,” Taflinger wrote. She and neighbors rushed into town to kiss and hug the dusty soldiers, to touch them, and know it was not a dream.
The next day a plane landed in a field next to her family’s home and hundreds gathered to meet the first American to set foot in their part of town. Taflinger was among them, carrying a small boy who wanted to kiss a “Mezerican.”
But the boy was afraid so Taflinger kissed him instead. By the time Lt. Ancel (Gordon) Taflinger left left two months later, his commanding officer, General George Patton, had given the okay for them to marry.
The war continued to haunt her. After the liberation, Nicole Taflinger took a government job processing German concentration camp victims taken in by France.
“Some of them didn’t remember what country they were from to begin with,” she said. “They had lost all their capacity to remember, to think. We even gave (some of them) new names.”
Her father spent four years as a German prisoner of war and returned barely able to walk and “brainwashed” to hate his own country. Her parents divorced.
Taflinger’s book ends with her marriage. In 1952, she and her husband moved to Pullman when he got a job teaching at Washington State University. They raised five children. She taught art and French at Pullman’s junior high and high schools. She also owned Nica’s Gallery, a Pullman art gallery that operated for about 20 years.
Taflinger found many did not want to hear about her war experiences, from her mother-in-law to a principal who told her not to talk too much about it to the teens she taught.
In America the realities of war are often hidden, she told the Tribune.
“They don’t want to show the bad part. You know what it would do? Make people not want war.”