Farewell to Raymond Aubrac, one of the last résistants
France, as a nation, has survived shame thanks to De Gaulle and a few men like Aubrac. We should keep his memory alive.
Aubrac was his code name in the Résistance, a name he kept all his life. Raymond Aubrac, born Samuel, who has died aged 97 in Paris, was one of the last living 28 compagnons de la libération. This order, created by General de Gaulle in 1940, was bestowed to only 1,038 individuals for their exceptional role in liberating France from Nazi tyranny. First awarded in 1940 and last given in 1946, the compagnons de la libération represent a generation of men and women who saved France’s soul, helping to keep her standing in the world.
Aubrac was the last survivor of the French resistance’s commanding chiefs. In June 1943, he was famously arrested in Lyon by the Gestapo run by Klaus Barbie, alongside other resistance commanders, among them Jean Moulin. Their meeting was crucial, as Jean Moulin’s order from de Gaulle in London was to unify all the different movements of Résistance in France.
Lucie, Raymond Aubrac’s wife, pregnant with their second child, staged the most daring operation in October, to free her husband and his colleagues from the Gestapo. A film, Lucie Aubrac, released in 1997, with Carol Bouquet as Lucie and Daniel Auteuil as Raymond, restages these historical events. However, Moulin remained in prison and was tortured to death. He never gave away any secrets. His remains were transferred to the Pantheon in Paris in December 1964. Culture minister and former résistant André Malraux gave a famously lyrical and very powerful speech whose lines many of us know by heart (watch it here). To this day, it has not been established who betrayed Moulin and Aubrac and told the Gestapo the meeting was taking place.
These moments of French history are carved in French minds. The resistance – comprising only a handful of valiant and fearless men and women – is the one event in contemporary history that we, as a nation, desperately cling to. Generations of French people have indeed lived with the moral burden of Vichy France. Every French family hides tales of passive resistance and passive collaboration with the Nazis. Collectively, as a nation, we have survived shame thanks to De Gaulle and a few men like Aubrac.
What is most admirable with Aubrac, whose wife died in 2007, is the fact that he fought all his life against injustice. He and Lucie were always present at protests, speaking out, tirelessly visiting schools, writing columns in newspapers, battling and arguing, with as much passion as reason. Stéphane Hessel, 94, is the same: after striking a storm last year with his pamphlet Time for Outrage! (3.5m copies sold), he campaigns to keep the resistance’s beliefs alive in the face of rampant inequality and intolerance.
I have grown up with all of them but what will the next generation feel about this period of our history when the last résistant has passed away? The familiarity and proximity will have gone. It is our role to be Aubrac’s living memory and to keep his fight alive.