Who walks up Rua Nova do Almada, towards the elegance of Chiado in fashion, perhaps ignore that he lived there. There is no longer even the Pensão Algarve, which hosted him, nor the Livraria Barateira, in Trindade, where he also stayed. And the city is so forgotten that a little while ago there wasn’t even a plaque marking all this, reminding younger generations than 80 years ago, at the end of 1941, the Second World War that passed here, Paris in Lisbon. In a stay of five weeks, a young man, with a cinematic air, incarnated her, who would later pay with his life for the boldness of his gesture, the courage of resistance.
“On ne naît pas femme, on le deviant” (“We are not born women, we become women”), a famous phrase by Beauvoir can be applied to heroes, of our own and of any time. Nobody comes into the world with the genes of heroism, it is the circumstances of life and the hazards of history that make some stand out for the bravery of their actions, for the way they face death in a vertigo that to us, common mortals, seems insane , almost suicidal. The first time he was arrested, in June 1940, Jean Moulin tried to commit suicide, trying to cut his throat with the glass in his cell. The scars on the neck, covered with the famous scarf, would later give him the credentials to lead the resistance to the Nazi invader. In the dark environment of occupied France, immersed in so many betrayals and conspiracies, torn apart by the vile collaboration with the enemy, those scars on his skin were unmistakable proof that he, Jeanlin, was neither a traitor nor a double agent and therefore deserved the greatest of earthly fortunes, the trust of others.
Young mayor of Eure-et-Loir in Chartres, the Germans had demanded that he sign a document falsely claiming that the atrocities committed on Gallic soil were not the work of the Hitler occupiers, but of the African corps of Senegalese military serving the army of France. In the name of the honor of his country, and of his troops, Moulin refused, said no. After he was tortured, the Nazis tried to humiliate him further, telling him that if he was such a friend of the Senegalese, he would share a cell with one of them (for German racists, sharing space with an African was the ultimate reproach). Moulin will recall the hours he lived then, when he tried to kill himself: “I know that the only human being who can hold me accountable, because he gave me life, my mother will forgive me.” He added, in a combative tone: “I accomplished my mission.” Then he cut his neck, bled, but was saved in extreminis by their jailers.
The episode encapsulates everything that makes someone a hero: the unshakable firmness of convictions; the duty of conscience; the audacity of refusal, even in the most adverse circumstances; physical and moral courage, taken to the ultimate limit, that of contempt for one’s own life. In many times and in many places, others have behaved like this, but only a few have achieved the glory of being celebrated for their heroism. In the case of Jean Moulin – and none of this belittles, in any way, the value of his gesture and the greatness of his dignity – the heroicization process was not immediate or clear, arising in very precise political policies. In 1964, twenty years after his death at the hands of the Gestapo, De Gaulle was preparing to run as presidential candidates for the following year. Generally speaking, celebrating the martyr of the Resistance era would, from the outset, evoke his own role as leader of the Free France during World War II. The left, in turn, was encouraged by the good results of the 1962 legislatives and would present a single candidate for the Elisha, François Mitterrand, long one of the top names of the Jean Moulin club, a civic and political grouping that had fought for De Gaulle appointed Mendès France as Prime Minister. The heroicization of Jean Moulin, which culminated in the transfer of his remains to the Pantheon in December 1964, was a tribute that França paid to one of his most beloved sons, but it was also, or perhaps mainly, a skilful political gesture of De Gaulle, who forced him to capitalize on the memory of the Resistance in his favor and, at the same time, surpass on the left those who claimed for themselves the exclusive inheritance of the man of the scarf.
Politics, politics besides, was no stranger to this hero who had fallen in combat, a man from a young age linked to the socialist radicals and, later, to the Front Populaire, being, in addition to being mayor, chief of staff to Pierre Cot, minister of the Air in the government of Albert Lebrun. His trajectory in the Resistance can only be explained, moreover, by an extreme political acumen and an unquestionable ambition for power. That’s what led him to bet on De Gaulle, even against the left-wing comrades, who always suspected that the general could be a new Boulanger, a condottiere that, once the war was won, he would establish a right-wing conservative government in France. Moreover, before coming to Lisbon, bound for London, where he was going to see De Gaulle, Jean Moulin had the foresight to get rid of uncomfortable friendships, breaking up permanently with two route compagnons (Louis Dolivet and Pierre Cot) who, because of their leftist sympathies, were suspect in the eyes of the general and the English secret services, who considered them too close to Moscow.
In Jean Moulin’s perspective, de Gaulle was the smallest of the males, the one who could federate the resisters disagreeing with fratricidal struggles, but also the one who, on the one hand, would prevent the communists from achieving the hegemony of internal resistance and, on the other, that it would prevent the English from having the desire, once the Nazis were defeated, to keep Pétain ahead of the destinies of France. For Charles de Gaulle, on the other hand, Moulin was a blessing from heaven, as he brought into his orbit the “left” and the legacy of the Popular Front, that is, an entire political current hitherto hostile to the general, but to the people. without which the latter could hardly establish himself as the supreme leader of the Resistance. When you are in London, coup de foudre for both, they sign a pragmatic agreement: Moulin accepts the general’s criticisms of the excesses of the III Republic; De Gaulle, on the other hand, agrees to register liberté, égalite, fraternité in the emblem of Free France and, in a speech given at the Albert Hall, on 15 November 1941, he made a 180-degree turn, adopting a republican register (until then, he only spoke of honneur et patrie) in which trade, for the first time, the word democracy. In a sense, Moulin democratized Charles de Gaulle in what was perhaps the most important and lasting contribution of his political legacy. He did so, however, out of sheer pragmatism, without fully believing in the general’s virtues, confiding in some close friends that de Gaulle was a provisional solution, of compromise, but essential for victory. After the triumph over the Nazis, actually, told the comrades.
Charles de Gaulle will have given in to Moulin because he desperately needed someone like him, from the scars on his neck, a sign that he had been a sincere resister, over whom suspicions of collaborationism could never hover. With the entry of the Americans into the war, after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, De Gaulle urgently needed a “diplomatic” representative in the interior of France, to show the Allies that, despite the Nazi occupation, there was still a remnant of sovereignty worth fighting for (he, De Gaulle, being the obvious protagonist of the fight). Contrary to what many believe today, the position of the general at this stage was more than precarious in the eyes of the Allies: especially after the successes in North Africa, the victory in El-Alamein and the Darlan Deal De Gaulle had become expendable for the English, and especially for the Americans, who never found his panache and unbearable nature. Hence, for De Gaulle, the “internal resistance”, developed within the territory of France, through actions of propaganda and sabotage, was absolutely vital to stay afloat in a very delicate political and diplomatic chessboard, and when Roosevelt thought in names to replace as leader of the Free France and interlocutor of the Allies.
Moulin’s mission, prepared by him in Lisbon and agreed with De Gaulle in London, was thus a fundamental, absolutely fundamental element for the future of France in the post-war period. If Jean Moulin had not returned to his country and coordinated the three arms of the Resistance there, until then divided, if he had not managed with great prudence as clandestine networks of credit to the Nazis, it would be difficult for General De Gaulle to have triumphantly descended the Champs Elysées on the day of the liberation of Paris. The story would have been different, very different, and perhaps France has not achieved the prodigy of emerging as the winner of a war in which, in the rigor of the facts, she is militarily defeated and shamefully invaded by the enemy.
However, Moulin had been captured, tortured, killed by the Gestapo (in one of the many ironies of history, his tormentor, Klaus Barbie, would be recruited by the postwar American secret services). In what was another service of Moulin to the motherland, his example of the resistant fallen in combat was extolled to the four winds, propagated by France and the world, his name was given to hundreds of schools, streets, squares, thus allowing to forget the black stain of the collaboration of many with the Nazi invader, which made, for example, at number 84 Avenue Foch, in Paris, headquarters of the Gestapo, all French citizens carrying out torture, with the Germans as the sole responsibility of directing interrogations, without touching the prisoners in their custody with a finger. The hands that tortured Jean Moulin were French.
In 1964, in the speech that signaled the entry of his ashes into the Pantheon, considered one of the most brilliant oratory pieces in the history of the French Republic, André Malraux greeted him and “those who died in dungeons without having spoken, like you”. But he also greeted those who, “which was far more atrocious,” spoke in prison under the Nazi yoke. As writer Mário de Carvalho once said, “a man in prison is not a man, he is a man in prison”, and let no one dare to condemn those who spoke in prison, those who denounced comrades in circumstances that, for us, are unimaginable.
Jean Moulin was a hero because he died without speaking, but also because we heroized him as such, omitting, in the process, other darker aspects of his path. A few years ago, the revelation that, as prefect in Chartres, he handed over to the Nazis, at their request, lists of executions living in the region, many of whom would end up slaughtered in Auschwitz, caused a scandal. It is strange, very strange, that a man who refused to falsely accuse Senegalese soldiers was the same man who, later on, gave the enemy names to render assistance to certain death. The strangeness, however, only arises because we have heroicized Jean Moulin to an extreme, attributing to him a fiber and a different nature from ours, the common mortals. We forget that he was an ordinary man, just like others, like us, and that is precisely what makes him a hero, a human hero, all too human.
Historian. Write according to the old spelling