Mary Barraco was an American teenager living with family in Renaix, Belgium when World War II broke out. Once the Nazis occupied Belgium, Mary and her mother were forced to report three times a day to the Nazi authorities, as they were seen as “the enemy.”
Eventually, Mary became appalled at the hateful policies of the Nazis, and began working with the Belgian Resistance. She posed as a Red Cross volunteer and snuck prisoners out of detention; worked on underground newspapers; rescued downed Allied airmen; smuggled documents and passed information between Resistance members about sabotage of Nazi strongholds; and helped smuggle Jewish children to safety after her hairdresser mother worked to change their looks.
She and her Resistance fighter fiancé were betrayed, and both were imprisoned and tortured. Her fiancé was eventually executed by the Nazis for his “crimes.” Mary survived the immense torture she was subjected to, and upon release from prison, followed her moral compass and went right back to working for the Resistance.
Mary moved to Virginia Beach with her husband in 1950 and, as she had been sterilized in prison, they adopted a daughter in 1959. Mary became known as “Dame Mary” after she was knighted by the Belgian king in 2004 for her service to the Resistance during the war. Much beloved for sharing her story with thousands for over 70 years, Mary passed away in December 2019, at the age of 96.