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Raymond Aubrac: Hero or Informer?

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Lucie Aubrac died last week. She contacted me a few years ago about the page I had written about her on my website. Her main concern was over the date of her marriage to her husband.

Lucie Samuel was born in France on 29th June, 1912. She studied history at university and began teaching the subject at a school in Strasbourg just before the outbreak of the Second World War. A member of the French Communist Party, she married fellow member, Raymond Aubrac, in December, 1939.

After the defeat of France in 1940, Lucie Aubrac taught history at a school in unoccupied zone in Lyon. Later that year she met Emmanuel d'Astier in a cafe. Together they established the left-wing Libération-sud resistance group. For the next two years Lucie and Raymond Aubrac, who was an engineer, lived double lives as resistance organizers. They were also involved in the publication of the Libération newspaper.

Lucie Aubrac gave birth to her first child, Jean-Pierre, in May 1941. She often took her child to meetings with resistance leaders such as Jean Moulin, to divert the attention of the Milice.

At the end of 1942 the German Army occupied the whole of France and Lyon became the headquarters of Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie. In March 1943, Raymond Aubrac was arrested. However, after two months of being interviewed he was released.

On 7th June 1943, René Hardy, an important member of the resistance in France, was arrested and tortured by Klaus Barbie and the Gestapo. They eventually obtained enough information to arrest Jean Moulin and Raymond Aubrac at an important meeting of the French Resistance at a doctor's surgery at Caluire in Lyon on 21st June, 1943. Moulin was tortured before being moved to Paris where he died from his injuries on 8th July 1943.

Raymond Aubrac was held and tortured in Montluc Prison in Lyon. Lucie Aubrac, who was pregnant with her second child, visited the prison and claimed that she was unmarried and that Raymond was the father of her expected child. She pleaded that Raymond be allowed to marry her before his execution. The Gestapo believed her story and allowed the couple to get married. While being transferred back to prison after the "marriage" armed members of the resistance attacked the lorry and freed him.

Lucie and Raymond went into hiding until a plane could take them back to London, where they arrived in February, 1944. On March, 1944, General Charles de Gaulle announced that once France was liberated, women would be given the vote. A consultative assembly was established, which Lucie joined. She therefore became the first woman to sit in a French parliamentary assembly.

After the war Lucie Aubrac returned to teaching. The couple remained active members of the French Communist Party. In retirement she visited schools and told the students about her experiences during the war. She also wrote a couple of books about the French Resistance including Outwitting the Gestapo (1984).

In 1983 Klaus Barbie was arrested in Bolivia. Before his trial, Barbie let it be known that in court he would reveal new facts about the resistance. This included the claim that Raymond Aubrac became an informer after being arrested in March, 1943, and that he had been responsible for the arrest of Jean Moulin.

Barbie died in September, 1991. Soon afterwards the so-called "Testament of Barbie" was released that once again accused Raymond Aubrac of being an informer. In 1997 the journalist, Gerald Chauvy published a book that relied on information supplied by Barbie to suggest that Aubrac had betrayed Jean Moulin.

The case has divided opinion in France. Some find the story about Raymond's escape difficult to believe. They suspect that Barbie was telling the truth when he said Raymond was an informer. However, others have argued that Barbie was trying to cause problems for the left in France. The right-wing in France also took the opportunity to smear the Communist Party.

Lucie's death as once again raised this issue of whether Raymond Aubrac was a hero or not. Although Raymond is 93 he is still alive.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Julian Jackson, wrote in the Guardian (16th March, 2007):

In 1945, once the war was over, she (Lucie Aubrac) published a short history of the resistance - the first to appear - and then returned to teaching. In retirement, she saw it as her duty to ensure that the memory of the resistance lived on in the memories of younger generations of French men and women, and she would regularly visit schools to provide her own testimony as survivor and historian.

This is how Lucie's life might have ended had she and Raymond not been catapulted into controversy in 1983 after Barbie's extradition from Bolivia to stand trial in France. Before his trial, Barbie let it be known that he would reveal new facts about the resistance, including the claim that after his first arrest Raymond had turned informer and betrayed Moulin. The allegations never came to anything, but were troubling enough for Lucie to write her own memory of the affair (translated into English as Outwitting the Gestapo).

After Barbie's death in 1990, however, a document - the so-called Testament of Barbie - began circulating in newspaper offices and repeating the allegations about Aubrac. It was also at this point that Chauvy produced his book. Although distancing itself from Barbie's more extreme accusations, Chauvy's work was based on genuine archival material, and its overall effect was to cast a cloud of suspicion over the veracity of Lucie's account.

Twenty leading resistance survivors published a protest letter, but the Aubracs were deeply upset by the book, and asked to be given a chance to explain themselves before a panel of leading French historians. The newspaper Libération organised a discussion between the historians and the Aubracs.

But what had been intended by the Aubracs as a way of clearing their name turned into an acrimonious exchange in which they found themselves almost on trial. None of the historians accepted the idea that Raymond had been an informer, but they noted inconsistencies and contradictions in the various versions Lucie had given over the years. There were oddities in the case which have never been entirely elucidated: what were the exact circumstances of Raymond's first release from prison?; why was he the only resister arrested at Caluire not to have been moved to Paris (thus making it possible for Lucie to save him)?

The arrest of Moulin, in which the Aubracs were caught up, was the greatest drama of the resistance. And the Aubrac affair of the 1990s reminded people that, apart from the cases of betrayal that provide rich fodder for conspiracy theorists, the resistance was also plagued by internal conflicts of ideology and personalities. The fact that the Aubracs remained communist sympathisers long after the end of the war may have had something to do with the attacks on them.

In exasperation, at one point, Lucie protested that her memoirs - written 40 years after the events, when she was in her 70s - could not be expected to be accurate in every detail: she said she had been writing her story, not history. To which the historians present could only reply that their job was to write history, even if it meant unpicking the stories people wished to tell.

The tragedy of the situation was that Lucie, herself a historian and historical actor, was at the end of her life caught between the conflicting imperatives of historical truth and legendary memory. None of which detracts from the fact that, whatever happened in Lyon in the summer of 1943, she was a woman of great courage, character and energy, one of the last survivors of a generation that, between 1940 and 1945, helped to save the honour of France.

I agree. It is indeed possible that Lucie and Raymond might have given information to the Nazis. However, they still remain heroes given the context that they found themselves in. I wonder how many of their critics would have joined the resistance in the first place?

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Robert McNamara: "to illustrate the degree to which we didn't understand the situation in Vietnam at the time, today I believe that Ho Chi Minh was more of a nationalist, more of a Tito, than a servant or a follower of Khruschev. But at that time, we looked upon him as a vassal of the Soviets. He had lived in Paris during World War II, he had lived with this man Aubrac; he was the godfather of Aubrac's child."

On 2 April 1998 a Paris judge ruled that journalist and historian

Gérard Chauvy (1952-) and his publisher Albin Michel were guilty of

"public defamation" because in his book Aubrac, Lyon 1943 (Paris

1997) Chauvy had reproduced as an appendix a document called "Klaus

Barbie's Testament", in which Barbie, wartime Gestapo chief at Lyon,

suggested that resistance army fighters Raymond and Lucie Aubrac had

betrayed resistance leader Jean Moulin in June 1943, leading to

Moulin's arrest and death after torture. Although Chauvy had written

in his conclusion that no archival document proved the alleged

betrayal and declared that he had acted in good faith, the judge said

that Chauvy, by publishing the document and citing it at least 44

times, had given it excessive weight and that he had not been prudent

enough in applying the historical method. The court ordered Chauvy to

pay damages, to publish a statement in five daily newspapers and to

insert a warning in each copy of the book. The jugment was confirmed

on appeal in 1999 and in cassation in 2000. On 29 June 2004, the

European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that the French

courts had intervened correctly and not violated Chauvy's freedom of


Jean Paul Sartre - "In the late 1960s Sartre became one of the leaders of the opposition to the United States policy in Vietnam. He also supported the student rebellions in 1968."

Finding the position that Raymond took during the 1968 uprising is difficult. Possibly it's complicated by Lucies appointment in De Gaulls governement after the war. Most websites that may deal with Raymonds position are french, and then in a format which is more akin to syllabus descriptions rather than any real information.

Does any one know what position Raymond did take during the revolt in France in 1968?

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"Does any one know what position Raymond did take during the revolt in France in 1968?"

Perhaps the answer lies in Raymonds apparent (by 1968) French civil servant status?

"The close relationship between Marseille's Vietnamese community and the French left also played a role in the history of the Second Indochina War. Immediately after the liberation, Marseille's left-leaning commissioner, Raymond Aubrac, discovered the wretched conditions at the Indochinese work camps in the city's suburbs and did everything he could to clean them up. His efforts won him the respect of Vietnamese nationalist organizations, and through them he was introduced to Ho Chi Minh, who visited France to negotiate in 1946.

When the Pugwash Committee devised the deescalation proposal to end the Vietnam War in 1967, Aubrac was selected to transmit it to Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi (Agulhon and Barrat, C.R.S. a Marseille, p. 43)."

1 He then reported to Henry Kissinger.

2 Escalation in the coming years went ahead.

Details tying these events together appear hard to find on the net.

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  • 5 years later...

Raymond Aubrac, aged 97, died at the Val de Grace Military Hospital on Tuesday. His wife, Lucie Aubrac, died in 2007. In an interview given a few years ago, he said that the decision he was most proud of was choosing his partner. "You know," he said, "in life there are only three or four fundamental decisions to make. The rest is just luck."



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