Between hope and despair
In the final phase of the mission with the White Buses, Folke Bernadotte successfully presses Heinrich Himmler so much in the negotiations that Himmler gives permission for the Swedish relief effort to collect anyone he wants, from wherever he wants, completely without restrictions. One of the absolute last transport operations is to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in northeastern Germany. They start by loading the Scandinavian prisoners, but the situation in the camp is so awful and so urgent that they finally start filling the buses to bursting point regardless of nationality. One of the women who travelled with them from Ravensbrück all the way to Sweden is Frenchwoman Marie Berthe Sérot. After a highly dangerous transport operation, where a number of prisoners and a Swedish driver are killed by low-flying fighter aircraft, Marie Berthe Sérot reaches Sweden and is housed in a camp in Ryd in Småland.
Marie Berthe Sérot, or her maiden name Grünfelder, was born in France in 1898. There she meets the young officer André Sérot who had become an air force officer at the end of the First World War. At the outbreak of the Second World War, André is called up for service as intelligence officer and after Germany’s occupation of France, Marie joins the resistance movement. On 23 June 1943, Marie is arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Almost two years later, she is rescued by the White Buses and ends up in Sweden. After the war, she returns to France and her husband André. Here, the story could have ended if it had not been for one last fatal meeting.
In July 1948, with help from the UN Security Council, Folke Bernadotte negotiated a new ceasefire in Palestine. He wants to set up a new observer force and engages a number of Swedish officers and calls on a number of other countries to send officers too. France heeds the call and one of the volunteer officers is André Sérot. Deeply grateful for the efforts that Folke Bernadotte had made for his wife three years earlier, he would now try to repay at least something.
On 17 September 1948, the staff for the mediation efforts in Palestine spearheaded by Folke Bernadotte are due to return home after inspecting a building for a possible new headquarters for the operations. Seated in the rear of the large car together with Bernadotte are also Andre Sérot and Swedish Major General Åge Lundström. Suddenly, a jeep blocks the way of the vehicle column and a number of would-be assassins rush out towards the cars. One of them points a sub-machine gun through the window of the car with Bernadotte and Sérot and empties the magazine. André Sérot dies immediately seated next to Folke Bernadotte, who dies later on the same day. André Sérot’s coffin is transported to Orly Airport outside Paris, where it is met by a military guard of honour but also by a solitary woman. Marie Berthe Sérot is now alone with her newborn daughter. Her husband, Andre Sérot, who survived World War II, has been murdered in cold blood in the service of peace. A final note is made in the scrolls of the French Legion of Honour order – “Date de décès: 17 Septembre 1948”.