Jean Moulin (20 June 1899 – 8 July 1943) was a high-profile member of the Resistance in France 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 Charles de Gaulle and his death at the hands of the Gestapo.
Before the war
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Moulin was born on 20 June 1899 in Béziers, France, where his father worked as a geography teacher. 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 an "attaché to the cabinet" at the departmental prefecture for Hérault. Moulin enlisted in the French Army on 17 April 1918, and was assigned to the 2nd Engineer Regiment, but before he could join the battle lines after completing his training, the armistice of 11 November 1918 was signed. De-mobilized at the start of November 1919, he immediately presented himself at the departmental prefecture in Montpellier, where he resumed his old functions the same week. The quality of his work led to promotion, and he became "chef-adjoint de cabinet" at the end of 1920.
After World War I, he resumed his studies and obtained a law degree in 1921. Moulin 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. Moulin married Marguerite Cerruti in the town of Betton-Bettonet in September 1926, but the couple divorced in 1928. Biographer Patrick Marnham attributes this to Moulin's mother-in-law, who believed he only married the girl because of an anticipated inheritance.
Moulin 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.
In 1932, Pierre Cot, a Radical Socialist politician, named Moulin his chef adjoint when he was serving as Foreign Minister under Paul Doumer's presidency. In 1933, Moulin was appointed sous-préfet of Thonon-les-Bains, parallel to his function of head of cabinet of Pierre Cot in the Air ministry under Albert Lebrun. On 19 January 1934, Moulin was appointed sous-préfet of Montargis, but he did not assume this office and chose to remain by Pierre Cot's side. In the first half of April Moulin was appointed to the Seine préfecture, and, 1 July, took his place as secretary general in Somme, in Amiens. In 1936 he was once more named chief of cabinet of Pierre Cot's Air ministry of the Popular Front. In this capacity, Moulin was deeply involved in Cot's efforts to assist the Spanish Republic by sending them planes and pilots. For the Istres-Damas-Le Bourget race he presented the winners with their prize; Benito Mussolini's own son was one of those winners. He became France's youngest préfet in the Aveyron département, based in the commune of Rodez, in January 1937. It has often been claimed that during the Spanish Civil War Moulin assisted with the shipment of 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 on 17 June 1940 because he refused to sign a German document that falsely blamed Senegalese French Army troops for civilian massacres. The Senegalese had fought fiercely for the republic and delayed the Wehrmacht outside Chartres, who were so enraged that black troops had slowed them down that 180 Senegalese were lined up and shot after surrendering. To justify the massacre, the Germans wanted Moulin to sign a "protocol" saying that the Senegalese had gone on a rampage, raping and murdering French women and children, which was only stopped when the Wehrmacht massacred them. Moulin refused "...as a Frenchman, who had the duty as a high official of representing his country to the enemy" of not signing an "infamous statement" full of lies about the Senegalese. For "insulting the great German Army", Moulin was beaten, which led him to ask for the "infamous proceedings" to stop and accused his captors of shaming their own uniforms by their conduct. The British historian Alan Clinton wrote that transcripts showed the "...ideological gulf between those infected with Nazi racism and the republican prefect, son of a man who had defended Captain Dreyfus and protested before 1914 against the crimes of European imperialism in Africa". When Moulin asked for proof that the Senegalese had murdered French civilians, he was told the alleged massacre showed "the characteristics of crimes committed by Negroes", a statement that Moulin called absurd, for which he was beaten yet again. When Moulin protested that he was only doing his duty as a prefect in refusing to sign a statement he knew to be false, he was beaten again as "the hireling of the Jew Mandel...who wanted to unleash war against Germany". Moulin in his turn protested as the prefect of Chartres he was not "hired" by Georges Mandel, but responsible to him as he was the Interior Minister, a statement that led him to be beaten for "fighting for a land of Jews and Negroes". Moulin replied that the republic upheld the principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité for all, so he was pleased that France was a place that welcomed Jews and blacks, unlike the Reich that upheld the belief in an Aryan herrenvolk (master race). Moulin was taken out to the countryside to see the alleged massacre where he was shown the remains of eight women and children spattered about, which led Moulin to remark to his captors "you do not have to be a great scholar" to see that they "were the victims of a bombing". Moulin was then locked in a cell with the remains of one of the bombing victims and a Senegalese prisoner who barely spoke French to think over whether to sign or not. Moulin was told that since he liked blacks so much to enjoy the company of the Senegalese soldier who gave Moulin some cigarettes, but since the Senegalese had only the most minimal command of French, he was unable to give much emotional support.
In the depths of despair, Moulin quoted the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy from Hamlet to himself before deciding to go to "the undiscover'd country" from which "no traveler returns". Moulin wrote in a note on the night of 17 June explaining why he was going to kill himself that: "For seven hours I have been subjected to physical and moral torture. I know that today I reached the limits of resistance. I know that if it starts again tomorrow, I will sign in the end. The dilemma remains: to sign or to disappear. It is impossible to flee. Whatever happens, I cannot sign." In his cell, 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. The Wehrmacht blamed the suicide attempt on Moulin's alleged "taste for blacks", claiming with no evidence that the well known womanizer Moulin was a homosexual with a fondness for black men and that the deep gash in Moulin's neck from which the blood flowed so copiously was the result of a lover's quarrel with the Senegalese POW, who had in fact sounded the alarm when he woke up on 18 June and discovered Moulin bleeding to death. The French writer Pierre Assouline wrote that Moulin was noted for his great appreciation of the beauty of the female body and there is no evidence that he was gay, but the accusation made in June 1940 has continued to circulate as many people still want some grounds for damaging Moulin's reputation. In this regard, Assouline noted that as public attitudes towards homosexuality have become more tolerant, Moulin's detractors have become less and less interested in accusing Moulin of being gay.
On 3 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 on 16 November 1940.
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:
- Henri Frenay (Combat)
- Emmanuel d'Astier (Libération)
- Jean-Pierre Lévy (Francs-tireurs)
- Pierre Villon (Front national, not to be confused with the present-day Front National political party).
- Pierre Brossolette (Comité d'action socialiste)
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 Émile 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.
Who betrayed Moulin?
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 suppositions in the postwar years that Moulin was a communist. No hard evidence has ever backed up this claim. Marnham looked into the assertions, but found no evidence to support them (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. At the trial of Klaus Barbie in 1987, his lawyer Jacques Vergès made much out of speculation that Moulin was betrayed by either Communists and/or the Gaullists as part of an attempt to distract attention away from the actions of his client, by making the true authors of Moulin's arrest his fellow rèsistants rather than Barbie. Vergès failed in his effort to acquit Barbie, but he did succeed in creating a vast industry of various conspiracy theories, many very fanciful, about who betrayed Moulin. Leading historians such Henri Noguères and Jean-Pierre Azéma rejected Vergès's conspiracy theories, in which Barbie was somehow less culpable than the supposed traitors who tipped him off.
The British intelligence officer Peter Wright in his 1987 book Spy Catcher wrote that Pierre Cot was an "active Russian agent" and called his protege Moulin a "dedicated Communist". Clinton wrote that Wright based his allegations against Moulin entirely on secret documents that he claimed to have seen, which no historian has ever seen, and on conversations that he is supposed to have had decades ago with others long dead, which made his case against Moulin very "dubious". Henri-Christian Giraud, the grandson of General Henri Giraud who had been outmaneuvered by de Gaulle for the leadership of the Free French movement hit back in his two volume work De Gaulle et les communistes published in 1988 and 1989 which outlined a conspiracy theory suggesting that de Gaulle had been "manipulated" by the "Soviet agent" Moulin into the following the PCF's line of "national insurrection" and thereby eclipsed his grandfather, who he maintained should have been the rightful leader of Free France. Taking up Giraud's theories, the lawyer Charles Benfredj argued in his 1990 book L'Affaire Jean Moulin: Le contre-enquête that Moulin was a Soviet agent who had been not killed by Barbie, but had allowed by the German government to go to the Soviet Union in 1943, where Moulin supposedly died sometime after the war. Benfredj's book was published with an introduction with Jacques Soustelle, the archaeologist of Mexico and wartime Gaullist whose commitment to Algérie française had made him a bitter enemy of de Gaulle by 1959. The essence of all the theories about Moulin the alleged Soviet agent was that because de Gaulle had agreed to co-operate with the Communists during WW II (which was apparently all Moulin's work), that this had set France on the wrong course and led to de Gaulle granting Algeria independence in 1962, instead of keeping Algeria as a part of France as he should have done.
It has also been suggested, principally in Marnham's biography, that Moulin was betrayed by communists. Marnham points the finger specifically at Raymond Aubrac and possibly his wife, Lucie. He alleges 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. In April 1997, Vergès produced a "Barbie testament" which he claimed that Barbie had given him ten years earlier which purported to show the Aubracs had tipped off Barbie. Vergès's "Barbie testament" which was timed for the publication of the book Aubrac Lyon 1943 by Gérard Chauvy, which was meant to prove that the Aubracs were the ones who informed Barbie about the fateful meeting at Caluire on 21 June 1943. On 2 April 1998 following a civil suit launched by the Aubracs, a Paris court fined Chauvy and his publisher Albin Michel for "public defamation". In 1998, the French historian Jacques Baynac in his book Les Secrets de l'affaire Jean Moulin claimed that Moulin was planning to break with de Gaulle to recognize General Giraud, which led the Gaullists to tip off Barbie before this could happen.
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, through the character of Luc Jardie, played by Paul Meurisse, 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.
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- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 page 91.
- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 page 89.
- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 pages 89–90.
- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 page 90.
- Assouline, Pierre "Beneath the Scarf of Jean Moulin" pages 1–21 from South Central Review, Volume 25, No. 2 Summer 2008 pages 5–6.
- Assouline, Pierre "Beneath the Scarf of Jean Moulin" pages 1–21 from South Central Review, Volume 25, No. 2 Summer 2008 page 7.
- Assouline, Pierre "Beneath the Scarf of Jean Moulin" pages 1–21 from South Central Review, Volume 25, No. 2 Summer 2008 page 9.
-  Death certificate for Jean Moulin (in German)
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- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 pages 203–204.
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- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 page 205.
- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 pages 205–206.
- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 page 206.
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- "Obituary:Raymond Aubrac". Daily Telegraph. 11 Apr 2012. Retrieved 11 Apr 2012.
- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 pages 202–203.
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- Clinton, Alan Jean Moulin, 1899–1943 The French Resistance and the Republic, London: Macmillan 2002 page 210.
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- Daniel Cordier. Jean Moulin. La République des catacombes. Gallimard: Paris, 1999. ISBN 2-07-074312-8
- Hardy, René. Derniers mots: Mémoires. Fayard: Paris, 1984. ISBN 2-213-01320-9
- Marnham, Patrick. The Death of Jean Moulin: Biography of a Ghost. John Murray: New York, 2001. ISBN 0-7126-6584-6. Also published as Resistance and Betrayal ISBN 0-375-50608-X. 2015 edition published as Army of the Night, Tauris. ISBN 9781784531089
- Moulin, Laure. Jean Moulin. Presses de la Cité: Paris, 1982. (En préface le discours de André Malraux). ISBN 2-258-01120-5
- Noguères, Henri. La vérité aura le dernier mot. Seuil: Paris, 1985 ISBN 2-02-008683-2
- Péan, Pierre. Vies et morts de Jean Moulin. Fayard: Paris, 1998. ISBN 2-213-60257-3
- Storck-Cerruty, Marguerite. J'étais la femme de Jean Moulin. Régine Desforges: Paris, 1977. (Avec lettre-préface de Robert Aron, de l'Académie française). ISBN 2-901980-74-0
- Sweets, John F.. The Politics of Resistance in France, 1940-1944: A History of the Mouvements Unis de la Résistance. Northern Illinois University Press: De Kalb, 1976. ISBN 0-87580-061-0
- Taussat, Robert (1998). Jean Moulin : la constance et l'honneur de la République. Rodez: Fil d'Ariane. ISBN 9782912470263. OCLC 49281909.