Torrès was born Tereska Szwarc to the Jewish Polish sculptor Marek Szwarc and his wife Guina in Paris. She had to flee her native country in 1940 via Lisbon to England when France surrendered to Nazi Germany after the Battle of France, while her father, serving in the Polish Armed Forces in the West, was evacuated from La Rochelle by the British Home Fleet. Her family was able to escape because they received visas signed by Vice-Consul Manuel Vieira Braga (following instructions from Aristides de Sousa Mendes) in Bayonne, France in June 1940.
At the age of 18 Torrès enlisted in Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces Volontaires Françaises Corps and worked as a secretary in de Gaulle's headquarters in London. In October 1944 when she was five months pregnant, her first husband 20-year-old Georges Torrès, stepson of pre-war French-Jewish Prime Minister Léon Blum, was killed while fighting with the 2nd Free French Armoured Division in Lorraine.
In 1947 Torrès accompanied American novelist Meyer Levin while he filmed the documentary Al Tafhidunu (The Illegals) about Jewish refugees who fled Poland after the Holocaust and tried to reach Palestine. Her diary about her experiences on this journey from Poland's destroyed cities through the displaced persons camps in Western Europe to Israel and her imprisonment there by British Forces were published so far only in German as Unerschrocken (Unafraid).
In 1948 Torrès married Meyer Levin in Paris. He urged her to publish the diary she wrote while serving in the Free French Forces.
In 1952 Women's Barracks was selected as an example of how paperback books were promoting moral degeneracy, by the House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials. When the book was republished by The Feminist Press in New York in 2003, it was acclaimed as having inspired a whole new genre of lesbian and feminist writing in the US.
Torrès did not allow Women's Barracks to be published in France. Instead her wartime diary was published as Une Française Libre.
In 1963, Torrès accompanied Levin to Ethiopia, where he filmed "the Fellashas" which was the first documentary about the life of Beta Israel Jews in Ambover.
Tereska wrote some further 14 books, which were often translated by her husband into English. Her still unpublished diary notebooks are preserved by Boston University.
She was one of a few surviving members of the "Volontaires françaises" - the women's army corps of the Free French Forces.
Women's Barracks (Femmes Fatales) by Tereska Torres
Series: Femmes Fatales
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: The Feminist Press at CUNY (May 1, 2005)
Amazon: Women's Barracks (Femmes Fatales)
Amazon Kindle: Women's Barracks (Femmes Fatales)
Originally published in 1950, this account of life among female Free French soldiers in a London barracks during World War II sold four million copies in the United States alone and many more millions worldwide.
The novel is based on the real-life experiences of the author, Tereska Torres, who escaped from occupied France. She arrived as a refugee in London and joined other exiles enlisting in Charles de Gaulle’s army, then stationed in Britain awaiting an invasion of their homeland by Allied forces. But Women’s Barracks is no ordinary war story.
As the Blitz rains down over London, taboos are broken, affairs start and stop and hearts are won and lost. Women’s Barracks was banned for obscenity in several states. It was also denounced by the House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials in 1952 as an example of how the paperback industry was “promoting moral degeneracy.” But in spite of such efforts—or perhaps, in part, because of them—the novel became a record-breaking bestseller and inspired a whole new genre: lesbian pulp.
From the obituary in the New York Times:
Tereska Torrès, 92, Writer Of Lesbian Fiction, Dies
Tereska Torrès, a convent-educated French writer who quite by accident wrote America’s first lesbian pulp novel, died on Thursday at her home in Paris. She was 92…
…It was not homophobia that caused Ms. Torrès to find her book’s canonical status peculiar. Quite the contrary, she said: because affairs with barracks mates were so much a part of ordinary wartime experience the hoopla seemed simply prurient.
“The book spoke very delicately about the few matters of sexual encounters,” Ms. Torrès told Salon.com in 2005. “But so what? I hadn’t invented anything — that’s the way women lived during the war in London.”
She added: “I thought I had written a very innocent book. I thought, these Americans, they are easily shocked.”
Femmes Fatales restores to print the best of women’s writing in the classic pulp genres of the mid-20th century. From mystery to hard-boiled noir to taboo lesbian romance, these rediscovered queens of pulp offer subversive perspectives on a turbulent era. Enjoy the series: Bedelia; The Blackbirder; Bunny Lake Is Missing; By Cecile; The G-String Murders; The Girls in 3-B; In a Lonely Place; Laura; Mother Finds a Body; Now, Voyager; Skyscraper; Stranger on Lesbos; Women's Barracks.
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