Sunday, June 19, 2011

Guy Môquet - French Communist Resistance Hero

Guy Môquet, a Parisian, was 16 when the Germans invaded France. He became committed to the Resistance, distributing leaflets, but was arrested in 1941. He was tried and acquitted but, as a Communist, he was held as a political detainee.

When a German officer was killed by three Communists in Nantes, Hitler ordered the execution of 50 prisoners in retaliation. The Vichy government supplied the names and Môquet was the youngest.

On October 21, 1941, the night before he was shot, he wrote home to "my dearest mother, my adored little brother, my beloved father", asking them to be brave. "I am going to die," he started, adding: "17 and a half years, my life has been short, I have no regret except for leaving you all.

Guy Môquet – the Courageous Struggle

Translated 22 October 2007, by Patrick Bolland

Homage. The memory of the young Communist resistance fighter, Guy Môquet, is to be honoured. His last letter to his family will be read in all French high schools. Nicholas Sarkozy is co-opting our past to fit his political agenda.

The decision was announced by the president of the Republic on Wednesday 16 May, just after he was installed in office, in a ceremony paying hommage to the 35 young resistance fighters who were assassinated at the waterfall in the Bois de Boulogne. The last letter of the young communist Guy Môquet, shot by the Germans on 22 October 1941, will be read out by teachers in all French high schools at the start of each new school year.

To justify this, Nicolas Sarkozy said "I believe it is essential to explain what it is to be young and French" ... "Let us be proud of France in whose name they died", he declared to the young generation, invoking the memory of the young resistance fighters "for whom France counted more that politics or religion".

Executed by the Nazis at the age of 17

Frequently cited when Sarkozy talked in his electoral speeches of "selective immigration" and "national identity" during the presidential campaign, the student at the lycée Carnot, an activist with the Communist Youth League, is therefore being honoured today by a president of the Republic eager to clean up his image as a source of division.

Three great resistance fighters, Serge Ravanel, Danial Cordier and Raymond Aubrac, while pointing out their distance from Nicolas Sarkozy, are supporting this initiative, hoping that the trajectory of the young resistance fighter will be explained by teachers.

Sarkozy has appealed for "the liquidation of May ’68" and praised the "spirit of resistance", at the same time proclaiming the legitimacy of colonial conquests: the new head of state is trying to give a privileged space to history in his ideological combat. As Gérard Noiriel puts it, Nicolas Sarkoszy "is consecrating the great figures to consecrate himself" (1).

The historian continues: "This discourse on collective memory is also aimed at building a consensus that disregards social conflicts and the struggle for power." The political stuggle to which Guy Môquet was committed recurs, in fact, thoughout the president’s speeches; Sarkozy exalts only the "pride of France" which guided, according to him, the young resistance fighter. End of the story - no mention of the anti-fascist struggle, internationalism, the ideal of human emancipation, the fight for equality and for democracy that motivated him.

Arrested by the French police

Moreover, it is only the Gestapo that is being stigmatized. As the historian Max Gallo has however emphasized, Nicolas Sarkozy is saying absolutely nothing about the responsibility of the Vichy police and the Pétain government. Any mention of the role played by French citizens in the assassination of the young resistance fighter would have tarnished the heroic and twisted story of the nation that the new president wants to write.

Yet, it was the French police, looking for underground communist activists, who, on 13 October 1940, arrested Guy Môquet at the Gare de l’Est metro station. They then tortured him to try and obtain the names of the comrades of his father, Prosper Môquet, member of the National Assembly representing the 17th arrondissement in Paris – who was arrested a year later, stripped of his mandate and deported to Algeria.

A list of hostages to be shot

Imprisoned in Fresnes, then at Clairvaux, Guy Môquet was finally transferred with other communist activists to the Châteaubriant camp. On 20 October 1941, the Feldcommandant Karl Hotz was killed by three communist resistance fighters: two French, Marcel Bourdarias and Gilbert Brustien, and an ’immigrant’, the Italian Spartaco Guisco. As a reprisal, the nazi authorities presented to Pétain’s minister of the interior, Pierre Pucheu, a list of hostages who were going to be shot. Pucheu negotiated, picking out the communists "in order to prevent fifty good Frenchmen from being shot".

Two days later, in the Salière quarry, just outside the Châteaubriant camp, 27 resistance fighters were assassinated, among them Guy Môquet. Those whom the Vichy government representatives considered "bad French" fell under the bullets, crying out "Vive la France!" - A France they could only dream about, like the ’foreigners’ of the Affiche rouge(2), who had shed themselves of all the poison of fear and hatred of the Other.

The text of the farewell letter written by 17-year-old Resistance hero Guy Môquet before his execution in 1941 and read in schools across France on Monday:

My dearest Mother, my beloved little brother, my beloved father.

I'm going to die! I'm asking you, especially Mother, to be brave. I am being so and I want to be just as brave as those who have gone before me. Of course I would have preferred to live. But what I want with all my heart is that my death serves some purpose. I haven't had the time to embrace Jean. I embraced my two brothers in arms Roger and Rino.

Alas, I wasn't actually able to embrace my real brother. I hope all my things are sent back to you, they will be of some use to Serge, who I trust will be proud to wear them one day. Dearest Dad, although I've given you and Mom lots of troubles, I send you one last greeting. I hope you know that I have done my best to follow in your footsteps.

A last farewell to all my friends and to my brother who I love a lot. He should study hard so that he becomes a man later on.

17 and a half. My life has been short, but I have no regrets apart from leaving you. I'll be dying alongside Tintin and Michels. Ma, I'm asking you, and I want you to promise, to be brave and get over your pain.
I can't write any more. I leave you, Mother, Serge, Dad, embracing you with all my young heart. Be brave.

Your Guy who loves you.