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Helene Deschamps Adams, 85, daring French spy, rescuer in WWII

NEW YORK -- Helene Deschamps Adams, a daring World War II spy and French Resistance fighter who saved American fliers from capture and Jews from execution by the Nazis and played a role in secret preparations for Allied invasions of France, has died.

Ms. Deschamps Adams, whose espionage derring-do in Nazi-occupied France became the subject of books and television documentaries, died Saturday at a Manhattan hospital at age 85. The cause was congestive heart failure, said a daughter, Karyn Anick Monget.

Drawing on experiences that read like the script for a spy epic, she wrote two books, ``The Secret War," in 1980, and ``Spyglass: The Autobiography of Helene Deschamps Adams," in 1995. She was honored by the U S and French governments for her deeds.

When asked why she took on the dangerous role of secret agent, ``she was fond of saying, `I didn't like the idea of Nazis taking over my country,' " her daughter said.

Helene Deschamps was born into a French military family at Tientsin, China, in 1921, and grew up in colonial outposts in Senegal, Madagascar, and Reunion and returned to France when her father, a general, retired in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France.

Studying at a convent when Adolf Hitler invaded France in 1940, she joined the Resistance, beginning a harrowing period as a spy, first for the French Underground and later for the U S Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, in France and Switzerland.

Her duties ranged from being a courier to gathering information on German troop strength, airfields, and coastal installations in preparation for an Allied invasion of southern France in 1944. She rescued downed U S fliers before the Nazis could find them and guided groups of Jews to safety across the Spanish border in the Pyrenees mountains.

Using the code name Anick, Ms. Deschamps Adams brazenly posed as a secretary at the Vichy headquarters of the Milice, the French equivalent of the Gestapo, and was able to steal the records of hundreds of people, including Jews and Resistance members, who had been marked for death, her daughter said.

``She gained access to a huge filing cabinet," Monget said. ``Every morning for several months she would pull cards, put them in her brassiere and flush the evidence down a toilet."

Always in danger of being exposed, the diminutive auburn-haired Ms. Deschamps Adams, just over 5 feet tall, suffered a permanent back injury when beaten by a French interrogator. Another time, faced with the choice of being blown up or having her cover blown, she walked into a building where she knew a bomb had been planted. She barely escaped, bleeding and partially deafened, when it exploded.

In 1946, she moved to the United States as the French war bride of an American Army lieutenant, Forest E. Adams, whom she had met just days earlier while on vacation in Cannes. He died in 1951, and she never remarried.

Ms. Deschamps Adams spent many years as a French teacher in Hawaii, Bermuda, Germany, and Iran, among other places. In 1953, living in Los Angeles, she made local headlines when a man responding to her ad to sell her sports car turned out to be one of the downed fliers she had rescued a decade earlier, Allen Fitzgerald.

``He looked at me and said in a half question, `Anick?' " she told the Los Angeles Times at the time.

Shortly afterward, Fitzgerald was on hand as a witness when she was sworn in as a U S citizen.

In addition to her books -- she was working on a third when she fell ill -- Ms. Deschamps Adams was the subject of several TV documentaries on female spies.

She also was a consultant in 2000 for a Sony PlayStation game called ``Medal of Honor: Underground," featuring a heroine named Manon and based on her World War II missions.

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