France's Panthéon honours 'Four Lives in Résistance'
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Four heroes of the French wartime Résistance are being inducted on Wednesday into the legendary Panthéon, the Paris mausoleum that honours those who have made significant contributions to French society.
In February 2014, President François Hollande announced the addition of four new names to France’s legendary Panthéon, the neoclassical Paris mausoleum that serves as the final resting place for illustrious French writers, artists and scientists.
At a large and solemn ceremony on Wednesday, Hollande said the two women and two men, who opposed the wartime German occupation – Germaine Tillion, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Jean Zay and Pierre Brossolette – embodied the spirit of the Resistance.
“Faced with the occupation, with submission, they gave the same response: they said 'no', immediately, firmly, clearly,” Hollande added in an emotional speech delivered next to the four flag-draped coffins.
The ashes of Zay and Brossolette, and earth from the grave sites of de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Tillion, were then added to the Panthéon in a ceremony organized to coincide with France’s National Day of Résistance on May 27.
They joined 71 other celebrated French citizens already in the crypt, including the likes of Rousseau, Voltaire and Marie Curie.
It was the first time that female heroes of the Résistance were honoured by the Panthéon.
The mausoleum is also holding an exhibit dedicated to the lives of these Résistance fighters. "The goal is to enable visitors, who may not be very familiar with the history of the Résistance and the lives of these four heroes, to get to know them better and to better understand their journey,” said Philippe Belaval, president of the National Monuments Centre.
The legacy of resistance
Using photographs and documents from the time as well as videos, the "Four Lives in Résistance" exhibit traces the fates of these little-known heroes. Zay, then minister of education for the Popular Front (a wartime alliance aimed at resisting fascism), was assassinated in June 1944 by militiamen. Brossolette, a journalist and former head of the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Operations (or BCRA), was arrested that same year and was defenestrated when he refused to talk.
De Gaulle-Anthonioz, the niece of Résistance hero Charles de Gaulle, was deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women. She survived, and later devoted her life to helping the poor – for 30 years, she was president of the Aide Toute Détresse charity. In 1998 she became the first woman to receive France’s highest Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour award. She died in Paris on February 14, 2002, at the age of 81.
Tillion, an anthropologist and a member of the Museum of Man, was also deported to Ravensbrück (1942-45). She too survived, and in 1999 was also granted the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour. She died at home on April 19, 2008.
Each of the four embodied the spirit of resistance, in one way or another. Their life stories have been divided into four key periods: their origins, the Résistance, overcoming obstacles and their legacies. Beyond its purely historical and educational goals, the exhibition aims to encourage visitors to reflect on how ideas are transmitted across time and on the heroic actions of the new inductees.
"The resistance did not end with the surrender of Germany – it continues and transforms," Belaval explained. "Recent events show us that the defence of freedom, equality and brotherhood (liberté, égalité, fraternité) are daily fights for each of us," he said, referring to the January attacks that left 17 people dead in and around Paris.
Towards the end of the exhibit, members of the public are invited to share their thoughts on the idea of resistance, either in writing or digitally. Visitors can leave messages on video recorders that will then be integrated into the exhibition. "This is not about a ‘cold’ memory...” Belaval said. “It must be a living source of inspiration for today.”
As part of the tribute to the lost heroes, entrance to the Panthéon will be free from May 28 to 31. The public can also attend the inaugural ceremony at 5pm on Wednesday, and a sound and light show will be projected onto the monument starting at 10:15pm.
"Four Lives in Résistance", Place du Panthéon, 75005 Paris. Open daily 10-6pm until January 10, 2016. Entry €7.50, concessions €6.
This article was translated from the original in French.