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Victory over Vichy

If Daniel Cordier had died in early June 1940, on the age of 19, he can be remembered as a traditional younger man from a right-wing background. Historians who stumbled throughout him would have detected a contact of romantic extremism in his character that may have made him double down on his political opinions round 1943 and transfer from Pétainism to outright collaboration. In truth he joined the Free French in June 1940 and was parachuted again into France in July 1942 to take up the supremely harmful place of radio operator. Had he died then, he can be remembered as a younger Resistance hero. Had he died in 1945, he can be remembered as the person who served as aide to the Resistance chief Jean Moulin within the transient however essential interval earlier than the latter’s seize and loss of life in the summertime of 1943. By the tip of the conflict the twenty-five-year-old Cordier was essential sufficient be one of many thousand or so folks to be designated by Charles de Gaulle as “companions of the liberation” – although he was not a major determine within the Resistance and didn’t search to construct a political profession after 1945. Had he died in 1958, he can be remembered for having made a repute and a fortune as an artwork seller: Moulin had been concerned with trendy artwork and, after his loss of life, Cordier appears, in Ripleyesque vogue, to have adopted a part of Moulin’s id. Had he died in 1970, Cordier can be remembered because the founding father of the Membership Jean Moulin – a left-wing dialogue group that was, at the least at first, supposed to counter what its members took to be the authoritarian character of de Gaulle. Left-wing opinions had been one other of Moulin’s qualities that Cordier appears to have adopted.

Because it was Cordier died, aged 100, in 2020. For many of his life he had been discreet – for males corresponding to him, discretion had as soon as meant the distinction between survival and loss of life below torture. For many years he stated little about his wartime profession. Within the final years of his life, nonetheless, he turned recognized largely because the writer of books concerning the Resistance. He had written a biography of Moulin, the primary volumes of which appeared within the Eighties. In his nineties, seeming to relish a new-found fame, Cordier revealed a flamboyant memoir, Alias Caracalla (2009). His loss of life, when it lastly got here, was an occasion of nationwide significance – partly as a result of he had outlived nearly all his comrades and rivals. Just one companion of the liberation survived him.

Laurent Douzou’s ebook examines the comparatively transient interval in Cordier’s life when he turned essential to historians. This started in 1977, when Cordier confronted the Resistance chief Henri Frenay throughout a tv programme. Frenay urged that Moulin may need been a communist mole; Cordier insisted that this was fallacious and stated that he would produce paperwork to show his case. His seek for paperwork led to him writing Moulin’s biography, the primary quantity of which was trailed in 1983 with a lecture by Cordier in entrance of a distinguished viewers, launched by the French minister of schooling.

It’s generally argued that Cordier’s work marked a historiographical shift. Till that time, it’s urged, a very powerful historians of the Resistance had been veterans who relied on their very own reminiscence and that of their comrades. Cordier exercised a type of self-denying ordinance – refusing to attract on his personal recollections and as an alternative looking down written paperwork in Britain and the USA, in addition to France. He dug up the unique variations of Resistance tracts somewhat than counting on postwar publications. He brought about specific controversy by unearthing an announcement by Frenay that was hostile to the Germans however pledged loyalty to Marshal Pétain and urged that Jews can be welcome within the motion “supplied that they’d fought in one of many two wars”.

Douzou argues that the obvious historiographical shift was in truth primarily based on false dichotomies. Critical tutorial analysis on the Resistance had begun earlier than Cordier’s work. Henri Michel, the Resistance veteran who presided over the Comité d’histoire de la deuxième guerre mondiale, made a aware effort to recruit youthful individuals who had grown up after the conflict (usually archivists and lecturers) to proceed the work of his contemporaries. Written and oral sources had been probably not separable – even Resistance paperwork that had been produced in the course of the conflict usually amounted to the recording of hearsay and rumour. Older historians used their recollections to complement paperwork and sometimes to seize the temper and tone of the time. For all his protestations Cordier generally did this himself, even within the austere and well-documented books that he wrote on Moulin – not to mention in his explicitly autobiographical Alias Caracalla.

Probably the most helpful elements of Douzou’s ebook seize the actual circumstances of the Seventies and Eighties. Although Cordier was well-known on the time of his loss of life, he generally appeared a junior accomplice at a time when key Resistance leaders had been nonetheless alive. He was, strictly talking, Moulin’s secretary, and there have been instances when he did certainly look like the “workplace spouse” of widespread tradition – fussing over the welfare of his boss and finding out correspondence. Frenay remarked witheringly that Cordier had been “l’intendance” (quartermaster) of the resistance. In fact, in some methods, Cordier’s benefit lay exactly in the truth that he was involved with administrative element. He understood the paperwork partly as a result of he had compiled them.

Douzou was himself a participant in a few of the debates that swirled round Cordier. Specifically, in 1997, two Resistance veterans – Raymond and Lucie Aubrac – selected to seem earlier than a “jury d’honneur”, composed of historians, together with Cordier, and organized by the newspaper Libération, after a journalist urged that their indiscretion, or worse, may need introduced concerning the seize of Moulin. There was not a lot substance to the allegations in opposition to the Aubracs. All the identical, the jury d’honneur left awkward recollections. Its members identified that the Aubracs weren’t all the time correct of their accounts of their wartime experiences. This encounter is usually described as one which pitted the Aubracs in opposition to a gaggle of historians who had grown up after (and even been born after) the tip of the conflict. This isn’t solely truthful. Douzou, who was near the Aubracs and wrote a biography of Lucie, was himself a member of the jury. The historians merely identified that it was cheap for them to query testimony from any witness, nonetheless distinguished. The bitterest exchanges appear, in truth, to have concerned Cordier and the Aubracs, and it’s hardly stunning that folks ought to say some unguarded issues when discussing occasions that had occurred greater than fifty years earlier and had such devastating results on folks to whom they had been shut – Raymond Aubrac’s dad and mom had died in Auschwitz.

One would possibly set the “Cordier second” in opposition to a broader background. The American historian Robert Paxton revealed his influential Vichy France: Previous Guard and New Order in 1972. It was concerning the regime somewhat than its opponents, but it surely contained some transient and dismissive remarks concerning the Resistance and encapsulated a way that accounts of wartime France wanted to be constructed on “archival bedrock”. Paxton’s work additionally contributed to a way that the tempo of debate on wartime France was being pressured by folks exterior the nation – although his work was rapidly assimilated by French students, and it’s they who, lately, have produced the good bulk of essentially the most specialised and detailed work on each Vichy and the Resistance. There was additionally a shift in French public debate. Those that had grown up after the conflict had been usually fascinated by the Resistance, however they noticed it in curiously summary phrases – as if it represented an ethical purity that may very well be separated from the actions of actual Resistance veterans. Libération epitomized this fascination – although, despite its identify, it had been based by soixante-huitards within the early Seventies somewhat than by résistants in 1944. The cult of Moulin, of which Cordier turned the excessive priest, fitted in with this abstraction, partly as a result of Moulin’s profession had been minimize brief by his heroic loss of life. He due to this fact by no means needed to negotiate the awkward conflicts that got here throughout and after the liberation. The celebration of the reminiscence of de Gaulle (which reached a peak across the centenary of his beginning in 1990) additionally contributed to a way {that a} man who had spent the occupation solely exterior France was extra admirable than these (Mitterrand particularly) who had manoeuvred their approach by the awkward compromises of motion in France itself.

Some French historians discovered this an exasperating time. On the very second once they had been producing detailed and delicate work on the occupation, they had been usually caught within the crossfire of journalistic polemics and/or made to really feel that they had been below assault by international students. Douzou’s ebook illustrates the strengths of French scholarship on the interval: cautious and understated, it captures the complexity of French recollection of the Resistance.

Douzou’s intention is to not debunk Cordier’s repute, however I believe it truthful to say that he most likely doesn’t wholly share the admiration for Cordier that’s now so extensively expressed. There are, although, some methods wherein Cordier emerges from this cool-headed account as an much more admirable man. Older Resistance veterans generally reproached him for producing a cold account of their motion – one which made an excessive amount of of organizations and constructions, and too little of people and keenness. However emotional restraint isn’t all the time a nasty factor. Cordier’s wartime profession was harmful even by the requirements of the Resistance. He will need to have learnt easy methods to management his concern, and one suspects too that as a homosexual man he grew up in a milieu that pressured him to cover his emotions. Cordier had extraordinary qualities: these included an iron will, power and the capability to embrace change in addition to bodily braveness. It’s exhausting to not really feel that he deserved the popularity and success that he achieved in outdated age.

A few of his obituaries had been accompanied by a touching {photograph}. It exhibits Emmanuel Macron greeting Resistance veterans. Most of them are in wheelchairs, however Cordier stands up, grinning broadly and greedy the president’s hand.

Richard Vinen teaches historical past at King’s School London

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The publish Victory over Vichy appeared first on TLS.



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