Lucie Aubrac

Lucie Aubrac

Lucie Samuel was born in France on 29th June, 1912. She studied history at university and became concerned about the activities of Adolf Hitler after visiting Nazi Germany during the 1936 Olympic Games.

Lucie began teaching history at a school in Strasbourg just before the outbreak of the Second World War. A member of the French Communist Party, she married fellow member, Raymond Samuel, in December, 1939. He was later to say that the decision he was most proud of was choosing his partner. "You know," he said, "in life there are only three or four fundamental decisions to make. The rest is just luck."

After the defeat of France in 1940, the couple moved to the unoccupied zone in Lyon. During this period his parents, Albert and Hélène Samuel, were deported and died in a Nazi Concentration Camp. In an attempt to disguise their Jewish background they took the name Aubrac. After meeting Emmanuel d'Astier, the three activists established the left-wing Libération-sud resistance group. For the next two years Lucie and Raymond, lived double lives as resistance organizers. They were also involved in the publication of the Libération newspaper.

Lucie Aubrac gave birth to her first child, Jean-Pierre, in May 1941. She often took her child to meetings with resistance leaders such as Jean Moulin, to divert the attention of the Milice. According to her own account she "delivered packages, printed propaganda and hatched and executed escape plans."

At the end of 1942 the German Army occupied the whole of France and Lyon became the headquarters of Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie. In March 1943, Raymond Aubrac was arrested. However, after two months of being interviewed he was released.

On 7th June 1943, René Hardy, an important member of the resistance in France, was arrested and tortured by Klaus Barbie and the Gestapo. They eventually obtained enough information to arrest Jean Moulin and Raymond Aubrac at an important meeting of the French Resistance at a doctor's surgery at Caluire in Lyon on 21st June, 1943. Moulin was tortured before being moved to Paris where he died from his injuries on 8th July 1943.

Raymond Aubrac was held and tortured in Montluc Prison in Lyon. Lucie Aubrac, who was pregnant with her second child, visited the prison and claimed that she was unmarried and that Raymond was the father of her expected child. She pleaded that Raymond be allowed to marry her before his execution. The Gestapo believed her story and allowed the couple to get married. While being transferred back to prison after the "marriage" armed members of the resistance attacked the lorry and freed him.

Lucie and Raymond went into hiding until a plane could take them back to London, where they arrived in February, 1944. On March, 1944, General Charles De Gaulle announced that once France was liberated, women would be given the vote. A consultative assembly was established, which Lucie joined. She therefore became the first woman to sit in a French parliamentary assembly.

After the war Lucie Aubrac was a member of the tribunal which tried the Vichy leader Henri-Philippe Petain. She also continued to teach history. The couple remained active members of the French Communist Party. She once said: "Resistance is not just something locked away in the period 1939-45. Resistance is a way of life, an intellectual and emotional reaction to anything which threatens human liberty."

In retirement she visited schools and told the students about her experiences during the war. She also wrote a couple of books about the French Resistance including Outwitting the Gestapo (1984).

In 1983 Klaus Barbie was arrested in Bolivia. Before his trial, Barbie let it be known that in court he would reveal new facts about the resistance. This included the claim that Raymond Aubrac became an informer after being arrested in March, 1943, and that he had been responsible for the arrest of Jean Moulin.

Barbie died in September, 1991. Soon afterwards the so-called "Testament of Barbie" was released that once again accused Raymond Aubrac of being an informer. In 1997 the journalist, Gerald Chauvy published a book that relied on information supplied by Barbie to suggest that Aubrac had betrayed Jean Moulin.

In 1998 she and her husband won a libel case against Chauvy. Her book, The Resistance Explained to my Grandchildren, was published in 2000.

Lucie Aubrac died on 14th March, 2007.

Primary Sources

(1) Lucie Aubrac, interviewed in The Independent (1997)

When Raymond was being taken back to the prison, we drove alongside the truck and killed the driver and the guy next to him. The truck came to a halt and the soldiers who were in the back got out and we went "Bang, bang". Raymond jumped out of the truck too quickly and was wounded, but we put him in another car and drove him off to his hiding place.

(2) Julian Jackson, The Guardian (16th March, 2007)

In 1945, once the war was over, she published a short history of the resistance - the first to appear - and then returned to teaching. In retirement, she saw it as her duty to ensure that the memory of the resistance lived on in the memories of younger generations of French men and women, and she would regularly visit schools to provide her own testimony as survivor and historian.

This is how Lucie's life might have ended had she and Raymond not been catapulted into controversy in 1983 after Barbie's extradition from Bolivia to stand trial in France. Before his trial, Barbie let it be known that he would reveal new facts about the resistance, including the claim that after his first arrest Raymond had turned informer and betrayed Moulin. The allegations never came to anything, but were troubling enough for Lucie to write her own memory of the affair (translated into English as Outwitting the Gestapo).

After Barbie's death in 1990, however, a document - the so-called Testament of Barbie - began circulating in newspaper offices and repeating the allegations about Aubrac. It was also at this point that Chauvy produced his book. Although distancing itself from Barbie's more extreme accusations, Chauvy's work was based on genuine archival material, and its overall effect was to cast a cloud of suspicion over the veracity of Lucie's account.

Twenty leading resistance survivors published a protest letter, but the Aubracs were deeply upset by the book, and asked to be given a chance to explain themselves before a panel of leading French historians. The newspaper Libération organised a discussion between the historians and the Aubracs.

But what had been intended by the Aubracs as a way of clearing their name turned into an acrimonious exchange in which they found themselves almost on trial. None of the historians accepted the idea that Raymond had been an informer, but they noted inconsistencies and contradictions in the various versions Lucie had given over the years. There were oddities in the case which have never been entirely elucidated: what were the exact circumstances of Raymond's first release from prison?; why was he the only resister arrested at Caluire not to have been moved to Paris (thus making it possible for Lucie to save him)?

The arrest of Moulin, in which the Aubracs were caught up, was the greatest drama of the resistance. And the Aubrac affair of the 1990s reminded people that, apart from the cases of betrayal that provide rich fodder for conspiracy theorists, the resistance was also plagued by internal conflicts of ideology and personalities. The fact that the Aubracs remained communist sympathisers long after the end of the war may have had something to do with the attacks on them.

In exasperation, at one point, Lucie protested that her memoirs - written 40 years after the events, when she was in her 70s - could not be expected to be accurate in every detail: she said she had been writing her story, not history. To which the historians present could only reply that their job was to write history, even if it meant unpicking the stories people wished to tell.

The tragedy of the situation was that Lucie, herself a historian and historical actor, was at the end of her life caught between the conflicting imperatives of historical truth and legendary memory. None of which detracts from the fact that, whatever happened in Lyon in the summer of 1943, she was a woman of great courage, character and energy, one of the last survivors of a generation that, between 1940 and 1945, helped to save the honour of France. Raymond and her three children survive her.

(3) Hugh Schofield, European Jewish Press (19th March, 2007)

French President Jacques Chirac has lead tributes which have poured in for wartime French Resistance heroine Lucie Aubrac, who famously rescued her husband in a daring attack on a German convoy.

She died last Wednesday in a Paris hospital at the age of 94.

Her daughter Catherine said her mother was in this hospital for more than two months.

In October 1943 Aubrac was with a group of fighters who ambushed a truck bearing Raymond Aubrac and 13 other resistance members from Gestapo headquarters in the south eastern city of Lyon.

It became one of the most celebrated Resistance exploits of WWII, and the theme of a film “Lucie Aubrac” produced in 1997 by Claude Berri, with actress Carole Bouquet.

After the Lyon attack, in February 1944 Lucie Aubrac travelled secretly to London with her husband and young child to join the administration in exile of Charles de Gaulle.

Chirac said that "From the first hours of the occupation she rose up against defeatism and surrender. She was an emblematic figure of the central role of women in the Resistance."

Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal also paid tribute to Aubrac, saying she was "one of the great figures of the Republic.

This great Resistance member embodied the French people’s struggle for freedom, and the participation of women in the combat."

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, candidate of the ruling centre-right, said that "with Aubrac’s death one of the most beautiful pages in the history of the Resistance is turned. In the name of freedom, she rejected submission, hatred and anti-Semitism."

Born Lucie Bertrand on June 29, 1912 in Macon, Burgundy, to a wine making family, Aubrac became a history and geography teacher.

She first joined in Strasbourg the Communist Youth when she married in 1939 to her husband, whose real name was Raymond Samuel.

Together they helped set up one of the first underground groups in German-occupied France. They took their nom de guerre from the Aubrac region of the Massif Central mountains.

In 1940, she met with journalist Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie who organized a small team of Resistance members called “The last column”. With his help, Lucie Aubrac published “Liberation” the clandestine newspaper of one of the first Resistance movements.

In June 1943 Raymond Aubrac was captured alongside de Gaulle’s Resistance chief Jean Moulin in a notorious raid by the Gestapo on a doctor’s house in the Lyon suburb of Caluire. Moulin’s importance was quickly discovered. He was transported to Paris and later died from torture.

Over the next weeks Lucie Aubrac - whose identity was unknown to the Germans - managed to meet Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie and other officers in Lyon, and by a trick won permission to see her husband in jail. The October 21 attack took place as he was being transported back to prison from interrogation by the Gestapo. Four German soldiers were killed and all the prisoners escaped.

After the war Aubrac was a jury member in the court which tried the Vichy leader Philippe Petain. She returned to teaching, and for the rest of her life gave talks in schools about her wartime experience. She worked to fight against discriminations, in schools, teaching children the respect of the others.

She also campaigned for progressive causes, such as Algerian independence.

In 1996, French President Jacques Chirac honoured Lucie Aubrac by declaring her Grand officer of the Legion of Honour .

In 1998 she and her husband won a libel case against a historian who raised questions over their role in the Lyon resistance.

Gerard Chauvy based his book on comments allegedly made by Barbie during his imprisonment in France from 1983 to 1991 to the effect that the Aubracs were traitors to the Resistance. The claim is not taken seriously by historians.

(4) Douglas Martin, New York Times (18th March, 2007)

Lucie Aubrac, a French schoolteacher whose melding of romance and resistance to Nazi occupation not only made her resemble Ingrid Bergman’s character in “Casablanca” but also inspired popular films based on her own life, died Wednesday in a Paris suburb. She was 94.

Her status as a hero grew as she published a somewhat fictionalized version of her wartime diaries in 1984; had her life portrayed in movies; and, in 1998, won a highly publicized libel suit against a historian who had questioned her heroism and that of her husband...

“She was an emblematic figure of the central role of women in the Resistance,” Jacques Chirac, the president of France, said Thursday in a statement.

Ms. Aubrac several times rescued her husband, Raymond, a leader of what was called the Secret Army, from prison.

Once, she confronted Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo officer known as the Butcher of Lyon. She presented herself to Mr. Barbie as a pregnant, unmarried aristocrat whose fiancé had been arrested and imprisoned by mistake.

She begged him to let them be married to make the child legitimate.

With what she described as “a queer smile” in her diary, Barbie opened his desk drawer and took out a portfolio. It contained various papers and cards pertaining to her, as well as a small snapshot of her in a bathing suit on a beach with a baby by her side.

The papers she carried identified her as unmarried, calling into question her urgent request: either she was already married and her identification was fake, or she did not care about the public appearance of virtue as much as she had claimed.

Barbie demanded to know how long she had known the prisoner, whom he called a terrorist. She stammered six weeks. He threw her out of the office.

She later bribed another Nazi officer who did not know she had seen Barbie to let the couple be married in his office. Afterward, in a blaze of gunfire, she and other Resistance members killed the driver and others in the truck taking Mr. Aubrac and 13 other Resistance fighters back to jail and freed them.

When Mr. Aubrac was jailed in 1940, she had slipped him pills containing a virus, and he escaped while being transported to a military hospital. Another time, she visited a prosecutor and calmly told him he would not live to see another sunset unless he released Mr. Aubrac.

She said in a 1997 interview with European Magazine that when she had gone to see the prosecutor, she said to herself: “This guy is a collaborator and, therefore, a coward. If I speak louder than him, I’m sure to win.”

Lucie Bernard was born on June 29, 1912, in Mâcon, in the Burgundy region of France, the daughter of a winemaker. She was a young teacher when she met Raymond Samuel in Strasbourg through mutual friends. He had just completed a year’s study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and she had a scholarship to study in the United States.

Both later adopted the surname Aubrac as one of their underground aliases. They decided to keep it.

It was love at first sight. After Ms. Aubrac’s diary, translated into English as “Outwitting the Gestapo,” was published in 1984, Mr. Aubrac said, he was pleased to read “that she had experienced an incredible love.”

He said, “I think I could say the same thing.”

They did not go to the United States, but married on Dec. 14, 1939, in Dijon. He had warned her it might be risky to marry a Jew, but she said, “That just made me even more keen.”

In October 1940, she joined the Resistance, and he joined a month later. She never had a rank but simply did all that was asked of her. She delivered packages, printed propaganda and hatched and executed escape plans...

In 1998, she and her husband won a libel case against the historian Gérard Chauvy, who suggested that her husband was an informer and that her memory was vague. Barbie said, during his 1984 trial, that Mr. Aubrac had been his informer, but historians have generally rejected that claim.

In addition to the movie “Lucie Aubrac” (1997), which was directed by Claude Berri and starred Carole Bouquet, two other movies — Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Army of Shadows” (1969) and Josée Yanne’s “Boulevard of Swallows” (1991) — were based at least in part on her life. (The highly acclaimed “Army of Shadows” had its first theatrical run in the United States last year.)

Lucie and Raymond Aubrac became lovers on May 14, 1939, The Independent reported, and conceived Catherine on that day four years later. Each year, they treated themselves to dinner on May 14 at Le Jules Verne restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower.

(5) John Lichfield, The Independent (20th March, 2007)

Lucie Aubrac was one of France's greatest Resistance heroes. She twice rescued her husband, Raymond, from German hands. On the second occasion, in June 1943, she organised and led an armed attack on a Gestapo convoy while pregnant. This was the only time during the Second World War that members of the Gestapo, the Nazi political police, were attacked on the street in France.

Aubrac's life was the subject of a number of films, most recently the internationally successful Lucie Aubrac (1997), directed by Claude Berri with Carole Bouquet in the title role.

After the war, she refused offers of a political career and returned to teaching. She protested against the French colonial war in Algeria in the 1950s. She remained an active campaigner for human rights - and a formidably courageous woman - until the end of her life. In the late 1990s, a young man tried to steal an old woman's handbag in a supermarket carpark near Paris. He had picked the wrong target. Lucie Aubrac, then in her eighties, ran him over with her supermarket trolley and raised the alarm...

Already involved in left-wing politics, she became deeply disturbed by the rise of Nazism after visiting Germany during the 1936 Olympic Games. In the winter of 1938-39, while working as a history teacher in Strasbourg, she met and married a young, Jewish engineer and army officer called Raymond Samuel. "My first impression of her was rather favourable and I guess that you could say that it was love at first sight," he said.

After the fall of France in June 1940, it was Lucie who first joined the "Resistance" which was then little more than a civil disobedience movement. Raymond, captured with the surrender of the French army, was in a military hospital in Sarrebourg. Lucie smuggled him some civilian clothes. He jumped over the hospital wall and they fled to Paris.

In 1941, the couple joined a group which produced the underground newspaper Libération. They moved to Lyons, where Raymond Samuel became a high-ranking resistance leader. He operated under various code names, including finally "Aubrac".

In June 1943, the Gestapo captured Raymond Aubrac along with Jean Moulin, the man sent by Charles de Gaulle to try to co-ordinate the squabbling underground forces. Lucie, pregnant with her second child, went to see the local Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie. She said that she was unmarried and begged permission to marry Raymond in prison so that her child would not be illegitimate.

Barbie, who was tried in the 1980s for war crimes, agreed that Lucie could meet Raymond. He was brought from his cell to the Gestapo headquarters. Lucie Aubrac took up the story in an interview with The Independent 11 years ago: