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Signes National Cemetery

Cérémonie du 18 juillet 2012. Collection ONACVG

 

Click here to view the cemetery's information panel vignette Signes

 

Purchased for the symbolic price of one franc, the land in the hamlet of Vallon des Martyrs, in the commune of Signes, became a national cemetery in 1996. Officially opened on 25 June that year by the Minister for Veterans and Victims of War, it remembers the 38 members of the Resistance who were executed on the site in July-August 1944. Covering 1.33 acres, this cemetery does not contain bodies as such, but an ossuary and 38 individual tombstones.

The Resistance in the southern zone

In the summer of 1940, individuals and small groups protested against the Occupation and criticised the political orientations of the newly established French State. Gradually, movements and networks of resistance developed in unoccupied Provence, as in the rest of the country.

In November 1942, the Germans crossed the demarcation line and invaded the Free Zone. The Resistance was reinforced with new members and developed armed operations against the Occupier.

On 26 January 1943, on the initiative of Jean Moulin, the three main movements in the southern zone (Combat, Libération Sud and Franc Tireur) joined forces to become Mouvements Unis de la Résistance (MUR). They established a highly structured underground organisation comprising various different branches, including the Armée Secrète (AS), Noyautage des Administrations Publiques (NAP), Recrutement-Organisation-Propagande (ROP) and Organisation Universitaire (OU). In mountainous areas, where many took refuge from compulsory labour service (STO), maquis (rural resistance groups) were formed, issuing from the MUR, FTP (Francs-Tireurs et Partisans) or ORA (Organisation de Résistance de l’Armée). Between December 1943 and February 1944, the various armed forces of the Resistance came together to form the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (FFI).

In 1944, the Resistance in the southern zone prepared to liberate the territory. Departmental Liberation Committees (CDLs) were set up. Following the Allied landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944, repression by the German Army, the Gestapo and the Milice was stepped up, particularly against the maquis founded in June in the Provence region.

 

The executions of July and August 1944

In summer 1944, a betrayal led to the arrest by the Gestapo of large numbers of Resistance members in the R2 region (present-day Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur). These included, on 16 July 1944, the vast majority of members of the Comité Départemental de Libération des Basses-Alpes, who were gathered in Oraison. Others were called in for questioning or paid a visit at their homes. After being subjected to interrogation and torture at the Gestapo headquarters in Marseille, 425 rue Paradis, they were transferred to Les Baumettes prison.


On 18 July, after a sham trial, 29 of these men were killed by firing squad in an isolated valley in the Signes woods. On 12 August, nine others were executed on the same site. The bodies were buried where they lay.


The discovery of this mass grave in September 1944 revealed the brutality of the executions: some were buried alive and quicklime was scattered on the bodies, making some of them unrecognisable. Among the victims, it was possible to identify members of the various Resistance movements and organisations, including the chairman of the Basses-Alpes Departmental Liberation Committee (CDL), several members of the Mouvements Unis de Résistance (MUR), Organisation Universitaire (OU) and Noyautage des Administrations Publiques (NAP), the head of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) for Region 2, the Regional Military Delegate (DMR), young officers of the Free French Forces (FFL), a member of the British Special Operations Executive and a US officer.


In the Signes woods, the Nazis inflicted heavy losses on the Provençal Resistance, depriving it, on the eve of the Provence landings, of a number of its leaders.

On 21 September 1944, a national funeral was held at Saint Pierre cemetery in Marseille, presided over by Raymond Aubrac, then regional Commissioner of the Republic, and attended by civilian, military and religious leaders. Since then, on 18 July each year, a ceremony has been held in this “Valley of the Martyrs” turned national cemetery, in memory of those 38 members of the Resistance who were executed here.

 

Cérémonie du 18 juillet 1945

Ceremony of 18 July 1945. Chiny collection

 

Those executed at Signes

  • Marcel ANDRÉ

44, headmaster – CDL Basses-Alpes

  • André AUNE

45, broker– departmental head, AS Bouches-du-Rhône

  • Georges BARTHÉLEMY

37 ans – Lieutenant FFI

  • Lucien BARTHÉLEMY

40, sales representative – France au Combat

  • Charles BOYER

59, lawyer – France au Combat

  • Albert CHABANON

29, teacher – regional head, OU

  • Henri CHANAY

30, French officer – head of inter-Allied mission (acting DMR)

  • Roger CHAUDON

36, head of farming cooperative – SAP Basses-Alpes

  • Georges CISSON

34, highways authority engineer – regional head, NAP

  • Paul CODACCIONI

55, inspector-general, PTT – regional head, NAP-PTT

  • François CUZIN

29, philosophy teacher – CDL Basses-Alpes

  • André DAUMAS

44, doctor – doctor, FFI Basses-Alpes

  • Jean-Pierre DUBOIS

49, decorator – MLN

  • Léon DULCY

32, doctor – British SOE

  • Guy FABRE

19, student – OU

  • Maurice FAVIER

27, town hall secretary – CDL Basses-Alpes

  • Paul KOHLER

44, head mechanic – NAP SNCF

  • Pierre-Jean LAFFORGUE

29, French officer – ORA

  • Émile LATIL

41, painter – CDL Basses-Alpes

  • Jean-Louis LESTRADE

20, student – OU

  • Maurice LEVY

32, adman – intelligence agent, OSS

  • Jean LIBERT

20 – head of MLN liaison service

  • René MARIANI

22, student – OU

  • Louis MARTIN-BRET

46, head of cooperative – leader, MLN, and chairman, CDL Basses-Alpes

  • Jules MOULET

45, entrepreneur – head, NAP Bouches-du-Rhône

  • Jean M. MUTHULAR

34, US officer – Inter-Allied Mission, OSS

  • Francis NINCK

30, French officer – sector commander, AS Marseille

  • Léon PACAUD

31, French officer – FFL

  • François PELLETIER

23, French officer – BCRA, FFL

  • Jean PIQUEMAL

39, nurse – CDL Basses-Alpes

  • Terce ROSSI

28, mechanic – agent, FTP Basses-Alpes

  • Robert ROSSI

31, French officer – regional head, FFI

  • Georges SAINT-MARTIN

20, student – FFI (Robert Rossi’s secretary)

  • Robert SALOM

18, student – agent, FTP Basses-Alpes

  • André WOLFF

44, notary – OU

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