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Geneviève de Gaulle : To serve with all my strength

Conserved in the file opened by the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Operations (BCRA) in the name of Geneviève de Gaulle, the letter we present here is a rare and moving document. The letter is first of all that of a niece writing to her uncle to pass on news of the family, which is in the midst of torment. It is also that of a young woman writing to the leader of Free France, aware of the role women must play in restoring the nation and seeking to ”serve”, ”with all [her] strength”.

Corps 1

A family at war

”My dear uncle Charles”… Dated 6 May 1943, the letter begins like any ordinary family correspondence (see slideshow). But it quickly takes a dramatic turn. ”Perhaps you already know about the various events that have affected the family?” writes Geneviève de Gaulle (see slideshow): Pierre, Charles' younger brother, was arrested on 16 March 1943 (not 16 April, as Geneviève writes), and has been interned in an unknown place. Marie-Agnès de Gaulle and her husband Alfred Cailliau were apprehended in their turn on 29 April. To avoid the same fate, Geneviève's father, Xavier de Gaulle, his second wife Armelle Chevallier-Chantepie and their son Henry have chosen exile in Switzerland. With the help of Abbé Pierre, a close friend of his wife Jeanne Michoud, Jacques de Gaulle joined them shortly afterwards. While the de Gaulle family paid dearly for Charles' decisions, none of its members doubted that his cause was just: ”We are all so proud of your 'gestures' that we do not want to be too unworthy of them,” writes Geneviève.

Corps 2

A committed young woman

In May 1943, Geneviève de Gaulle was 22. Resisting from the beginning, she had been active for three years, initially alone and then with the Groupe du Musée de l'Homme (group of the Museum of Man) and finally with Défense de la France. But her name, of which she was ”so proud”, had previously prevented her from approaching ”active agents, to avoid compromising them”. Hunted in the same way as the rest of her family, and now free of ”all family attachments”, she writes: ”I am at your command and I await your orders […] Whatever the risks, the difficulties, I would be infinitely happy to be useful.”

Because this is also a letter from a young woman whose future as a militant and then president of the national association of former Resistance deportees and internees (ADIR) and the International Movement ATD Quart monde is beginning to be glimpsed. For example, Geneviève writes: ”women have proved [...] that they too can serve”. In fact, women constituted 15 to 20% of resistance agents and about 15% of interned and deported resistance members. And yet their commitment was given little recognition when Liberation came: only six women were among the 1059 honoured as Compagnons de la Libération and they represented only 10% of recipients of the Médaille de la Résistance medal. We do not know how the letter reached Algiers and the hands of the BCRAA leader, André Pélabon. Nevertheless, on 22 July 1943 he transferred to the document to Lieutenant-Colonel Passy, leader of the BCRAL, in order to take concrete steps to enlist the general's niece (see slideshow). Unfortunately she was arrested two days later, alongside about forty of her comrades in the Défense de la France group, by the French Gestapo of Rue Lauriston (see A cart is ready and The Kurt Lischka file). Geneviève de Gaulle now began her ”journey through the night”. Deported to Ravensbrück in February 1944, she was not released until 25 April 1945.

Grégory Auda

Editor of the magazine Les Chemins de la mémoire,

author of several books on collaboration and organised crime

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Geneviève de Gaulle's individual resistance agent file is conserved with the record number GR 16 P 165201.

  • Geneviève de Gaulle, sans date. © SHD

  • Lettre autographe de Geneviève de Gaulle à son oncle, 6 mai 1943, p. 1. © SHD

  • Lettre autographe de Geneviève de Gaulle à son oncle, 6 mai 1943, p. 2. © SHD

  • Lettre autographe de Geneviève de Gaulle à son oncle, 6 mai 1943, p. 3. © SHD

  • Lettre autographe de Geneviève de Gaulle à son oncle, 6 mai 1943, p. 4. © SHD

  • Lettre autographe de Geneviève de Gaulle à son oncle, 6 mai 1943, p. 5. © SHD

  • Lettre autographe de Geneviève de Gaulle à son oncle, 6 mai 1943, p. 6. © SHD

  • Lettre autographe de Geneviève de Gaulle à son oncle, 6 mai 1943, p. 7. © SHD

  • Note manuscrite d'André Pelabon, chef du BCRAA, sans date. © SHD