Jean Moulin and the Musée de la Libération

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Jean Moulin and the Musée de la Libération
To celebrate and honor the liberation of Paris 75 years ago, on the 25th August 1944 when General Leclerc’s 2nd French Armored Division liberated the capital, the old Musée de la Liberation, sited above Montparnasse station, was moved into new, more accessible premises, a place redolent in the history of the Resistance, on Place Denfert-Rochereau. The two pavilions flanking the entrance were designed by the architect Claude-Nicholas Ledoux in 1787, but it was what the pavilions concealed in WWII, that make this new site so significant. 100 steps down and 20 meters beneath the ground was a defense shelter, a bunker, built in 1938 by the public authorities as a place of safety from the threat of toxic bombs. It wasn’t until August 1944 that the Resistant fighter, Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, set up his headquarters in the bunker. By then Jean Moulin, probably the most famous French Resistance leader during WWII, was already dead. Dead at the hands of the Germans, and more precisely as a result of torture by the infamous Nazi, Klaus Barbie. General Leclerc outlived Jean Moulin by four years and the museum is named after both men: Musée de la Liberation-Musée du General Leclerc-Musee Jean Moulin. But it is Jean Moulin who still fascinates, who has captured the imagination of historians and the French public for the last 76 years. Jean Moulin was perhaps an unlikely hero, although in most aspects of his life, Moulin often remained an enigma and unpredictable. His life, as his death, contains mysteries still not fully resolved, despite being pored over by historians both past and present. What is indisputable however are the facts of his birth on 20th June 1899 in Béziers. His father, Antoine Moulin, was ambitious for his son (especially after the death of Jean’s older brother Joseph) and used his influence as councillor and freemason to not only further Jean’s career, but also to intervene in 1917 when Jean was 18, in his conscription into the army. (Jean Moulin was ever after to feel guilt at not fighting in WWI and doubtless this was a deciding factor in his determination to be part of the resistance movement more than 20 years later.) Moulin’s father could not however fight the French government’s decision to bring forward the age of the compulsory draft and in 1918, Jean was torn from the refuge of his university and joined the 2nd Engineers in Montpellier. After months of training, his Commander in Chief, Foch, planned an offensive in Lorraine for 13th November. The armistice was signed two days earlier, on the 11th. Jean Moulin had still not come under fire nor fired a shot in battle, but was not spared the consequences of this most brutal of world wars. As engineers, their jobs were to bury the bodies of the last soldiers who had been killed in battle near Metz and he was a witness to the return of skeletal prisoners of war. To be posted to Paris in 1919 and have his first taste of Bohemian life in Montparnasse where some of his cousins lived, must have been an impressionable experience. Moulin was an accomplished artist and loved paintings. In Montparnasse he could embrace both with a passion. His father’s influence was never far away though and in November he was demobilized and returned once more to Montpellier. (Moulin was to return to Paris and Montparnasse many times indulging in the licentious life Montparnasse always had to offer.) Despite being an unsatisfactory, rebellious student, Moulin returned to university and took his law degree in 1921, becoming deputy chef de cabinet to Préfet Lacombe. It was the first of many posts that culminated in Moulin becoming the youngest Préfet in 1937 in the Aveyron dept. Moulin’s love life did not run smoothly and after agreeing to an arranged marriage with Jeanette Auran, one of his cousins from Paris, Moulin and his father were dismayed when Auran’s father turned him down. He had neither liked Moulin, nor found his prospects good enough for his daughter. Moulin chose his next wife, Marguerite Cerruti, a professional singer, 8 years his junior aged 19. Cerruti, soon bored with the marriage, simply disappeared from their apartment one day without a word. They divorced two years later. From then on, Moulin would have numerous affairs, often with three women at the same time, each believing he loved them exclusively. France throughout the 1930s and beyond was a hot bed of radical political parties, almost too numerous to mention. Moulin, although abandoning his father’s nineteenth century radicalism, still retained his belief in Republicanism and radical socialism. However, he was far from a zealot, and enjoyed his life as a successful administrator and a divorcee with a satisfying social life. The constant underlying presence in politics, under whichever name, whatever banner, was always that of communism and the Comintern. The Comintern’s ambitions were global. Their aim was to set up the biggest Soviet spy ring that encompassed the army, navy and air force, the arms industry, ports, railways and government ministries. Non communist organizations dedicated to ‘world peace’, ‘human rights’ or ‘anti-facist’– organizations that would attract influential people unwilling to ally themselves to the communist party– were a prime target for infiltration by the GPU, later more famously known as the KGB. Lenin described these people dismissively as, ‘useful idiots.’ One such person, Pierre Cot, the leader of the ‘Young Turks’ of the Radical Socialist Party, had already named Jean Moulin his second in command in 1932 when he was serving as Foreign Minister under Doumier’s presidency. Cot and Moulin were to remain entwined both politically and in the illegal involvement of shipping arms and planes to the Republicans fighting Franco, resulting in unsubstantiated…
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Lead photo credit : General Leclerc talks to his men from the 501e RCC. Image credit: Wikipedia, public domain

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After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.

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Comments

  • Marilyn Brouwer
    2019-11-12 00:04:37
    Marilyn Brouwer
    Thank you Stephanie, didn't know about Guy Moquet metro station but will definitely visit now.

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  • Stephanie Wolkin
    2019-11-08 01:00:21
    Stephanie Wolkin
    Musée de la Libération is new and improved from the smaller one near Montparnasse. Highly recommend it. Also, go to the Guy Môquet metro station and learn the inspiring story of a teenager, captured as a suspected communist, and killed. His eloquent letter to his family, predicting his death, is sobering . The story is told in subway tiles. True heroes, all of them.

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