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November 3, 1912
|Died||December 11, 1996|
|Alma mater||Collège Sévigné|
|Era||Fourth Republic, Fifth Republic|
|Organization||Resistance, Fédération nationale des déportés et internés résistants et patriotes|
|Criminal penalty||deported to Auschwitz in 1943|
|Criminal status||transferred to Ravensbrück, stayed after Liberation to care for the sick|
|Spouse(s)||Paul Vaillant-Couturier, Pierre Villon|
|Relatives||sister Nadine Vogel, actress;grandfather Hermann Vogel, illustrator|
Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier (3 November 1912 in Paris – 11 December 1996 in Paris), born Marie-Claude Vogel, was a member of the French Resistance as well as a photojournalist, Communist and later, French politician.
Vaillant-Couturier's father, Lucien Vogel was an editor who created Vu magazine in 1928. Her mother, Cosette de Brunhoff, whose brother Jean de Brunhoff created Babar the Elephant, was the first editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris.
Vaillant-Couturier became a photojournalist at a time when the trade was overwhelmingly male, which earned her the nickname of “the lady in Rolleiflex”. She joined the Association des Écrivains et Artistes Révolutionnaires (AEAR) and in 1934 the Mouvement Jeunes communistes de France (MJCF), the Communist Youth Movement of France, as well as in 1936, the Union of the Girls of France. In 1934, she married Paul Vaillant-Couturier, founder of the Republican Association of Ex-servicemen, a communist and chief editor of L'Humanité, who mysteriously disappeared in 1937. She became a photographer for L'Humanité, which she later took over, and got to know Gabriel Péri and Georges Cogniot.
Attached to the Vu team as a photographer but also as a Germanist, she took part in an investigation in Germany into the rise of Nazism and travelled there in 1933, two months after Adolf Hitler came to power. Her report on the Oranienburg and Dachau camps was published upon her return to France. She also reported for Regards, in particular on the International Brigades. The prohibition of L'Humanité in September 1939 due to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, influenced her change of activities.
Resistance and deportation
Vaillant-Couturier participated in the Resistance and helped produce clandestine publications, including leaflets such as: l'Université Libre (first issued in November 1940); Georges Politzer's pamphlet Sang et Or (Blood and Gold) which presented the theses of the Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg (November 1941); and a clandestine edition of L'Humanité with Pierre Villon (her second husband, whom she married in 1949). She strengthened the relationship between the civil resistance (Committee of National Front Intellectuals to fight for the Independence of France) and the military resistance (the Organization spéciale (OS), which later became the Franc-tireurs et Partisans Français (FTPF), French Snipers and Partisans. She even transported explosives.
She was arrested in a trap by Marshal Philippe Pétain's police on February 9, 1942, with other Resistance activists, among whom Jacques Decour, Georges Politzer, Georges Solomon, and Arthur Dallidet, all of whom were shot by the Nazis at Fort Mont-Valérien. Vaillant-Couturier was interned until February 15 at the Dépôt de la Préfecture, and on March 20 was secretly moved to La Santé Prison – here she stayed until August when she was transferred to Romainville, an internment camp under German authority. Like her companions, among whom were Danielle Casanova and Heidi Hautval, she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau via the internment camp of Compiègne in the convoy of January 24, 1943, said to be the convoy of "31,000" (see the Memorial of the deportees of France to the title of repression, by the La Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Déportation, 2004 and The Convoy of 24 January, by Charlotte Delbo, Midnight Editions, 1965). Others in the convoy included Danielle Casanova and Madeleine Passot. Singular in its composition, this convoy of 230 women, Resistance members, communists, and Gaullist wives of Resistance members, was illustrated in La Marseillaise by crossing the entrance of the camp of Birkenau; only 49 of these 230 women returned from the camps after the war.
Vaillant-Couturier was in Auschwitz for 18 months, where she witnessed the genocide of the Jews and the Gypsies and took part in the international clandestine resistance committee of the camp. She was then transferred to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in August 1944. Initially assigned to earthworks, she was transferred to the revier (camp infirmary) because of her knowledge of the German language. Ravensbrück was liberated on April 30, 1945 by the Red Army. Vaillant-Couturier returned to France on June 25, 1945. During the interim weeks, she devoted herself to the patients' repatriation. According to a June 16, 1945 article in Le Monde, “Each day, this magnificent Frenchwoman makes the rounds, uplifting courage, giving hope where it is often but illusion. The word "holiness" comes to mind when one sees this grand sister of charity near these men and these women who are dying every day."
Social and political engagement
In 1945 she successively participated in the Provisional Consultative Assembly and the two Constituent Assemblies and was then elected as a French Communist Party (PCF) deputée, member of parliament for the Seine (1946–1958; 1962–1967), then for Val-de-Marne until 1973. She twice was vice-president of the French National Assembly, from 1956 to 1958 and 1967 to 1968, and later became its honorary vice-president.
In 1946, she was elected Secretary-General of the Women's International Democratic Federation and in 1979 was elected vice-president of the Union des femmes française (today Femmes Solidaires). She notably wrote legislative bills for wage equality between men and women, and was also allied with the peace movement.
Defended Soviet Gulags
In 1951, David Rousset filed libel charges and won a suit against the newspaper Les Lettres Françaises. The newspaper, at the time closely related to the PCF, had attacked Rousset after he compared the Soviet Gulags to Nazi concentration camps. The newspaper accused him of being a “Trotskyst falsifier”. Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier declared at the time: “I indisputably regard the Soviet penitentiary system as the most desirable in the whole world”.
A leading member of the National Federation of Deported and Imprisoned Resistance Fighters and Patriots since its creation in 1945, she became its vice-president, then co-president in 1978. She was also one of the first presenters of l'Amicale d’Auschwitz. A witness at the Nuremberg Trials, she said later, “by telling of the sufferings of those who could not speak any more, I had the feeling that, through my voice, those who they had tortured and exterminated, accused their torturers.” However, she returned from the trials “shocked, worried,” “exasperated by the procedure,” and particularly denouncing the absence from the dock of the leaders of businesses like Krupp, Siemens, and IG Farben, which had greatly profited from the economic exploitation of the deportees. But in spite of these failures, she later emphasized the extent to which the definition crimes against humanity was “progress for the human conscience”.
In 1964, Paul Rassinier, father of negationism, and a critic of the verdict of the Nuremberg trial verdicts, and himself a Holocaust survivor, accused her of having survived only by dispossessing her companions. Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier filed suit against these accusations and the lawsuit against Rassinier made justice of the charges. Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz declared to the bar of witnesses “We entered the infirmary buildings not to hide, but because we needed courageous German speaking comrades. […] When we gave back this ration of bread deducted from our own ration, this bulb, we knew that she would give it well to those who needed it most and without any political appreciation […] I know few women as courageous as Marie-Claude, who always gave the feeling that her own life was nothing if she wasn't with the company of her comrades.” Rassinier and the manager of the extreme-right magazine Rivarol were condemned. During December of the same year, she defended in front of the French National Assembly the concept of imprescriptibility of the crimes against humanity, thus opening the way with the ratification, by France in 1968, of the Convention of United Nations on the imprescriptibility of these crimes.
In 1987, she called all the civil parties to testify against Klaus Barbie. During the creation of the Foundation for the Memory of the Deportation, in 1990, she was unanimously designated President, then President d' Honneur until her death on December 11, 1996.
Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur from December 20, 1945 – Officer in 1981, Commander in 1995 – she was also a holder of the title of Combattante Volontaire de la Résistance et de décorations étrangères (Croix de Guerre Tchécoslovaque).
- Benoit Cazenave: Marie Claude Vaillant Couturier, in: Hier war das Ganze Europa, Brandenburg Memorial Foundation, Metropol Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-936411-43-3 (German)
- Vaillant-Couturier's hearing at the Nuremberg Trials Retrieved May 3, 2010
- Vaillant-Couturier's testimony