I have long had a fascination with the French Resistance during WW2. All those brave men and women who fought so hard against the Nazi oppression and whose stories need to be told.
I often read stories of their magnificent but dangerous endeavours and wondered if I could have done the same brave thing, and deep inside I know the answers as probably not. The heroics of these people is something that should be passed down from generation to generation.
There is one particular man who I have always admired, and his name is Jean Moulin.
Jean Moulin was born at 6 Rue d’Alsace in Beziers, Hérault, on the 20th June 1899. He was the son of Antoine-Émile Moulin and Blanche Elizabeth Pègue. He had an uneventful childhood with his sister Laure, and a brother Joseph. Sadly, Joseph would die of pneumonia in 1907. Jean was always an average student and despite enrolling at the Faculty of Law in Montpellier he was still not a brilliant student, but with the help of his father he managed to find a government role.
Called up for service in WW1 on the 17th April 1918, Jean was assigned to the 2nd Regiment of Engineering based in Metz. He arrived in Charmes on the 20th September and was preparing for the front when the Armistice came into effect. He took on several roles including carpenter, digger and a telephonist for the 7th and 9th Engineer Regiments and from there he was de-mobbed and returned to his former government role in Montpellier.
Having returned to his studies he obtained a law degree in 1921 and gained a role as Chief of Staff to first the Deputy of Savoie in 1922 and then Albertville from 1925 to 1930. During this time Jean also married a 19-year-old singer called Marguerite Cerruti. The marriage however was not a happy one and it eventually led to a divorce.
During the next couple of years, he drew political cartoons for newspaper such as Le Rire under the pseudonym Romanin, and also illustrated book by the Poet Tristan Corbiere. In 1932 Pierre Cot, a radical socialist politician named Jean Moulin his second in command when he was foreign minster under Paul Doumer’s presidency. In April 1934 Moulin was appointed the Seine Prefect and on the 1st July became Secretary General in Somme and Amiens. In 1936 he became involved in the efforts to assist the Second Spanish Republic with planes and pilots. Moulin himself presented the winner with their prize and one them was the son of Benito Mussolini himself.
He became the France’s youngest prefect in the Aveyron Department based in Rodez in 1937, and there have been rumours that he was supplying arms from the Soviet Union to Spain, but this is just pure speculation and something that has never been proved. Along with his supposed communist leanings. This is often seen as a way to damage his reputation.
When war was declared he requested again and again to be demoted as he wanted to be fighting against the enemy not collaborating with them. Jean ran into trouble from day one and had to inform his parents that they make hear things untruths about him but they were to be rest assured that it was not him as his reputation had to be kept intact, and he knew from day that he would have trouble trying to keep the population safe and this made his decision to become part of the resistance all the more urgent.
He was arrested by the Germans on the 17th June and tortured for refusing to sign a false declaration that three Senegalese traitors had committed the atrocities against civilians in La Taye. The people had infact been killed by German bombings and despite beaten and imprisoned he still refused to sign the order. To escape from his situation, he cut his own throat with a piece of glass and this left him with a permanent scare and in the photos he can be often seen with a scarf that was in effect to become his trademark.
He was deemed to radical by the Vichy government and dismissed from his post within the government, and during that time he had decided that collaboration was not the way forward but to act in resistance. He took on the name of Joseph Jean Mercier and met with other resistance forces to fight back against the Nazis.
The French resistance had some great successes against the Nazi regime and quickly became a thorn in the side of the Germany Army. A reward was often put against the names of those in the resistance, or threats were made against villagers to give up the names. Terror was the only way that the Nazis could deal with the resistance, and the Germany Army often found the train lines sabotaged, assassination of top Nazis in France, ambushes, coordinating with SOE in London and often killing those who were collaborating with the Nazis.
De Gaulle had total faith in Jean Moulin and when he arrived in London 1941 to meet De-Gaulle and Moulin was given the task of coordinating all the various resistance groups for a greater effect. The 1st January 1942 Moulin was parachuted back into France and started the task given to him by De-Gaulle. Some in the resistance movement found him to be ambitious and wanted to side line his ambition, but he had the full confidence of De-Gaulle and managed to bring together 3 resistance groups to coordinate larger attacks against the Germans.
In January 1943 Moulin returned to London to deal with the difficult task of bringing together all the resistance movements, many of whom had wanted to remain autonomous and fight in their own way, but this was managed with the cooperation of the Communist resistance groups who had been at first reluctant to accept De-Gaulle as the de-facto leader of France in exile.
Capture and death.
On the 21st June 1943 Jean Moulin was arrested at a meeting with fellow resistance leaders in the home of Frederic Dogoujon in a suburb of Lyon.
At Lyon prison he came into the terrible hands Klaus Barbie….the butcher of Lyon and the Head of the dreaded Gestapo. Barbie had sent 300 children from a Jewish orphanage to be murdered in the gas chambers during his time there, and was renowned for beating, torturing, and killing those he deemed against the Nazi state. Despite having his toenails and fingernails pulled out using hot nails, his ribs broken, his hands were repeatedly slammed in door frames until his knuckles were broken, along with his wrists. Following this Barbie then had the handcuffs on Jean tightened so that his skin was penetrated and despite having his face battered to a pulp, Jean Moulin still did not talk, by the end of this he was in a coma and his face was mis-shaped and yellow.
This was the last time that anyone saw Jean Moulin alive again and his body was found on a railway track at Metz. Klaus Barbie who himself would finally meet justice and die in prison stated that Moulin had committed suicide, but this is hard to believe especially as Jean was in a coma and almost certainly unable to even move because the Nazis would have savaged not only his face, hands and stomach but they would also have done the same to his spine and his legs. You only have to read that his nails were pulled out to realise that they did not leave Jean in any fit state to walk and certainly not able to commit suicide.
There have been various theories that Jean Moulin was captured because various people informed to the Nazis. They include a man called Rene Hardy who some believe him guilty of siding with the Nazis to save his own skin, however this could not be proved and the threat of a lawsuit against the production team who were going to make a television film quickly shut this down.
There was talk that Jean Moulin was a communist and that the De-Gaulle himself and his followers were the ones who informed Barbie that he was in the house on the day he was taken due to being a communist. However, this again is speculation as during his time as a Prefect Moulin himself had ordered the police keep tabs on communist agitators and despite Barbie trying to blame both De-Gaulle and the communists for his capture, it was decided that all Klaus Barbie was doing was trying to deflect the murder of Jean Moulin away from him.
Whoever was the person or persons that gave away the hiding/meeting place of the resistance movement which not only rounded up Jean Moulin but also several high ranking resistance leaders, they had in effect knocked the resistance back for months and maybe, based on my own speculation had he not been caught then the damage to the Nazi war machine in France would have had a greater impact that it did.
I often wonder if Jean Moulin and not De-Gaulle would have been the President after the war especially as De-Gaulle had escaped to Britain and Jean had stayed to fight the Nazis. I think that men like Jean Moulin are really a special breed….they know that every operation they took part in, every meeting and every movement could have resulted in operation certain death but this was a risk they were willing to take to free their country and for me that makes him a hero in any book.
When thinking of statues maybe it is about we recognised other countries heroes who helped take part in the struggle in WW2 and I would certainly like to see Jean Moulin on one of the plinths as without men like him, and other people I admire like Guy Gibson, Zhukov, Montgomery etc….we would not be what we are now….free from tyranny.
There is that saying that some men are born to fight and die in war as the peace would have been hell, and I am of the firm belief that Jean Moulin would have struggled with the peace. He belongs to the ages and to take his place amongst the heroes that come along whenever there is an evil threat.