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Jean Moulin (20 June 1899 – 8 July 1943) was a high-profile member of the French Resistance during World War II. He is remembered today as an emblem of the Resistance, owing mainly to his role in unifying the French resistance under de Gaulle and his courage and death at the hands of the Gestapo.
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Moulin was born on 20 June 1899 in Béziers, France, a town where his father was a professor in geography. He had a peaceful childhood with his brother and sister. Later, following his father's example, Moulin entertained strong Republican convictions. In 1917 he signed up for the Law Institute of Montpellier, and was appointed at the cabinet of the prefect of Hérault.
He enlisted in the French Army on 17 April 1918, and was posted in the 2nd Engineer Regiment, but before he could join the battle lines after concentrated training, the armistice was called.
De-mobilized in November 1919, he immediately applied for the Montpellier prefecture, where he resumed his old function in the same week. The quality of his work brought him to be promoted to "chef-adjoint de cabinet" end 1920.
He then entered the prefectural administration as chef de cabinet to the deputy of Savoie in 1922, then as sous-préfet of Albertville, from 1925 to 1930. He was France's youngest sous-préfet at the time.
He married Marguerite Cerruti in the town of Betton-Bettonet in September 1926, but the couple divorced in 1928.
He was appointed sous-préfet of Châteaulin, Brittany in 1930, when he drew political cartoons for the newspaper Le Rire on the side under the pseudonym Romanin. He also illustrated books by the Breton poet Tristan Corbière, including an etching for La Pastorale de Conlie, Corbière's poem about Camp Conlie where many Breton soldiers died in 1870 (during the Franco-Prussian War). He also made friends with the Breton poets Saint-Pol-Roux in Camaret and Max Jacob in Quimper.
The 19 January 1934, he is appointed sous-préfet of Montargis, but does not pick up this function and prefers to remain by Pierre Cot's side. In the first half of April he is redirected to the Seine préfecture, and, 1 July, takes his place as secretary general in Sommes, in Amiens.
In 1936 he was once more named chief of cabinet of Pierre Cot's Air ministry of the Popular Front, and along with Cot helps the Spanish republican rebels by sending them planes and pilots. At the same time he also participated in the organisation of many civil air races like the crossing of the South Atlantic sea, the race Istres-Damas-Le Bourget, on which occasion he presented the winners with their prize; Benito Mussolini's own son was one of those winners.
Some claim that during the Spanish Civil War he supplied arms from the Soviet Union to Spain. A more commonly accepted version of events is that he used his position in the French aviation ministry to deliver planes to the Spanish Republican forces.
In 1939, Moulin was appointed préfet of the Eure-et-Loir département. The Germans arrested him in June 1940 because he refused to sign a German document that falsely blamed Senegalese French Army troops for civilian massacres. In prison, he attempted suicide by cutting his throat with a piece of broken glass. This left him with a scar he would often hide with a scarf — the image of Jean Moulin remembered today.
In November 1940, the Vichy government ordered all préfets to dismiss left-wing elected mayors of towns and villages. When Moulin refused, he was himself removed from office.
He then went to live in Saint-Andiol (Bouches-du-Rhône), and joined the French Resistance. He reached London in September 1941 under the name Joseph Jean Mercier, and met General Charles de Gaulle on 24 October, who gave him the assignment of unifying the various Resistance groups. On 1 January 1942, he parachuted into the Alpilles and met with the leaders of the resistance groups under code names Rex and Max:
He succeeded to the extent that the first three of these resistance leaders and their groups came together to form the Mouvements Unis de la Résistance (MUR) in January 1943. The following month, Moulin returned to London accompanied by Charles Delestraint, head of the new Armée secrète which grouped together the MUR's military wings. He left London on 21 March 1943 with orders to form the Conseil national de la Résistance (CNR), a difficult task since the five resistance movements involved (besides the three already in the MUR) wanted to retain their independence. The first meeting of the CNR took place in Paris on 27 May 1943.
On 21 June 1943, he was arrested at a meeting with fellow Resistance leaders in the home of Dr. Frédéric Dugoujon in Caluire-et-Cuire, a suburb of Lyon, as were Dugoujon, Henri Aubry (alias Avricourt and Thomas), Raymond Aubrac, Bruno Larat (alias Xavier-Laurent Parisot), André Lassagne (alias Lombard), Colonel Albert Lacaze, Colonel Emile Schwarzfeld (alias Blumstein) and René Hardy (alias Didot).
He was, with the other Resistance leaders, sent to Montluc Prison in Lyon, in which he was detained until the beginning of July. Interrogated extensively on a daily basis in Lyon by Klaus Barbie, head of the Gestapo there, and later more briefly in Paris, Moulin never revealed anything to his captors and died near Metz on a train headed for Germany from injuries sustained either during torture or in a suicide attempt. Moulin's ability not to provide information to the Gestapo was extraordinary given the ferocity of the torture he was subjected to, which reportedly included hot needles being put under his fingernails, doors being closed on his hands until his knuckles broke, the use of screw-levered handcuffs to cut into his wrists and whipping and beatings.
Barbie alleged that suicide was the cause, and one Moulin biographer, Patrick Marnham, supports this explanation although it is widely believed that Barbie personally beat Moulin to death.
René Hardy was caught and released by the Gestapo, who had followed him to the meeting at the doctor's house. Some[who?] believe him guilty of a deliberate act of treason; others think he was simply reckless. Two trials found him innocent. A recent TV film[when?] about the life and death of Jean Moulin depicted Hardy as collaborating with the Gestapo, thus reviving the controversy. The Hardy family attempted to bring a lawsuit against the producers of the movie.
There have been many allegations in the postwar years that Moulin was a communist. No hard evidence has ever backed up this claim. Marnham looked into the allegations, but found no evidence to support the assertion (although Communist Party members could easily have seen him as a "fellow traveller" because he had communist friends and supported the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War). As préfet, Moulin even ordered the repression of communist 'agitators' and went so far as to have police keep some of them under surveillance.
It has also been suggested, principally in Marnham's biography, that Moulin was betrayed by communists. He points the finger specifically at Raymond Aubrac and possibly his wife, Lucie. He points out that communists did at times betray non-communists to the Gestapo, and that Aubrac was linked to harsh actions during the purge of collaborators after the war. In 1990, Klaus Barbie, by then "a bitter dying Nazi", named Aubrac as the traitor.
To counteract the accusations levelled at Moulin, Daniel Cordier, his personal secretary during the war, wrote a biography of his former leader.
Moulin was initially buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. His ashes were later transferred to the Panthéon on 19 December 1964. The speech given by André Malraux, writer and minister of the Republic, at the transfer site is one of the most famous speeches in French history.
The current French education curriculum commemorates Jean Moulin as a model of civic virtuousness, moral rectitude and patriotism, and as a symbol of the Resistance. Many schools and a university, as well as innumerable streets, squares and even a Paris tram station have been named after him. The Musée Jean Moulin commemorates his life and the Resistance. Jean Moulin is the third most popular name for a French Ecole primaire, Collège or Lycée.
The Jean Pierre Melville film Army of Shadows (based on a book of the same name) depicts several famous events in Moulin's war experience, such as his visits to London, his reliance on his female assistant, his decoration by Charles de Gaulle and his parachuting back into France during the war. Not all of these events have been specifically confirmed as attributable to Moulin, but the parallels are no doubt intentional given the film's celebration of the resistance and Moulin's iconic status.
Jean Moulin has become the most famous and honored French Resistance fighter. He is known by practically all French people thanks to his famous monochrome photo with the scarf and fedora hat. All the other martyrs of the clandestine fight, such as Pierre Brossolette, Jean Cavaillès or Jacques Bingen, all organizers of the underground army, are overshadowed by his legend.
In 1993, a commemorative French two-franc coin was issued showing a partial image of Moulin against the Croix de Lorraine, drawn from the iconic fedora-and-scarf photograph.