Guy Môquet

Portrait of Guy Môquet. Source: SHD

Guy Môquet was born in Paris on 26 April 1924. Shortly after enrolling in the Lycée Carnot, he developed a passionate interest in politics and decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, the railroad workers' trade union leader and Communist deputy Prosper Môquet. A First World War veteran, Prosper Môquet (1897-1986) joined the French railways, where he became a trade union activist. He joined the French Communist Party in 1926 and was elected a deputy in 1936. Despite the party's dissolution in 1939, he continued following the party line and did not condemn the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact signed on 23 August 1939. He took part in the creation of the French Workers and Farmers Group. He was arrested with 43 other deputies from the group in October 1939, stripped of his office in January 1940 and, like his comrades, sentenced to five years' imprisonment in April. In March 1941 he and other Communist deputies were deported to the Maison-Carrée penal colony in Algeria. Prosper Môquet was released in February 1943 after General de Gaulle's arrival in Algiers, and became a deputy again after the war.

After Prosper was arrested, Guy, his mother Juliette and his little brother Serge took refuge in Bréhal, near the English Channel. He returned to Paris alone and became a fervent activist in the Communist youth movement, which had been clandestinely reorganised. He distributed pamphlets and glued stickers proclaiming the party's policy, including after the Germans' triumphant march into Paris on 14 June 1940 and the proclamation of the French State on 10 July. Meanwhile, Guy kept up a correspondence with his father and tried to obtain his release. In November he wrote Edouard Herriot, president of the National Assembly, a long poem in alexandrine. Here is an excerpt: [align=center]"I am a young Frenchman, and I love my homeland I have a Frenchman's heart, which must take a stand That you return his father, he who remained true To our beautiful France with so much virtue.[/align] On 13 October 1940, French policemen looking for Communist activists arrested 16-year-old Guy Môquet at the Gare de l'Est railway station in Paris. He was interrogated. The police wanted him to give them the names of his father's friends.

The young activist was incarcerated in Fresnes prison and indicted on the same charge as his father: 'infraction of the decree of 26 September 1939 disbanding Communist organisations". On 23 January 1941, he was acquitted by the 15th correctional chamber of Paris and set to be released on probation. But Guy Môquet was not freed. Instead, he was transferred to the Santé prison in Paris on 10 February. The teenager became impatient and wrote to the prosecutor but nothing was done. He was moved to Clairvaux prison, in the Aube, and from there to the Choisel camp in Châteaubriant, in Loire-Inférieure (Loire-Atlantique today), where other Communist activists, most of whom had been arrested between autumn 1939 and 1940, were held.

He arrived on 16 May 1941 and was in barrack 10, the young people's barrack, where he made many friends. On 20 October 1941, three Communist Resistance fighters in Nantes, Marcel Bourdarias, Gilbert Brustlein and Spartaco Guisco, killed Feldkommandant Karl Hotz, commander of the occupation troops in Loire-inférieure. The occupiers decided to shoot 50 hostages in reprisal.

The Vichy government's interior minister, Pierre Pucheu, offered a list, mainly of Communists, including 27 prisoners in the Choisel camp. Among them were Charles Michels, the General Confederation of Labour's (CGT) secretary-general for the hide and leather industries, Jean-Pierre Timbaud, director of metalworking at the CGT and Guy Môquet, son of a Communist deputy. Twenty-one other people were shot in Nantes and Paris at the same time.

Guy Môquet is going to die. A few minutes before being led to the place of execution, gathered with his comrades in barrack 6, he wrote his last letter to his family, the famous letter starting with "I am going to die!" and ending with "I kiss you with all my child's heart". Then he scribbled a last little note to a young Communist, Odette Leclan (today Odette Nilès), an activist in the Union of Young Women of France. He had met her a month earlier just after she had been interned at the Choisel camp and kept in touch with her through a wooden stockade surmounted by a fence that separated the boys' and girls' sections. The young Guy quickly fell in love and, in his last lines, wrote how sorry he was that he would never have the kiss she had promised him.

On 22 October 1941, the 27 hostages were shot in three groups in the sand quarry just outside Châteaubriand. They refused to be blindfolded. With their last breath they cried out "Long live France!" The next day, the Germans scattered the bodies of those whom General de Gaulle called "martyrs" in a radio speech on 25 October in several cemeteries. "By shooting our martyrs," de Gaulle said, "the enemy thought it could frighten France. But France will show that she is fearless."

Guy Môquet's body was later transported to Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris (square 97) and buried alongside his brother and mother. Guy Môquet was posthumously made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour and given the Croix de Guerre and Medal of the Resistance.


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