“Resistance!”  In Paris, a poignant exhibition on resistant women

“Resistance!” In Paris, a poignant exhibition on resistant women

A very moving exhibition recounts the resistance on the women’s side thanks to numerous objects and documents which bear witness to their multiple heroic commitments, in the difficult daily life of the years of Occupation.

Smiling or serious, shrouded in studio light or slightly blurred in an amateur snapshot, they are very present and looking at us: fifty-six women emerging from the shadows. Fifty-six resistance fighters, most of them unknown, exhibited on a wall of the Museum of the Order of the Liberation, in Paris. “And they only represent a sample of the thousands who took action against the Occupation,” explains Vladimir Trouplin, curator of the museum. We realized, when putting together this exhibition, that the Resistance was a fairly egalitarian movement. But in the national memory, the resistance remained invisible. Thus, out of 1038 people distinguished as companions of the Liberation by General de Gaulle, only six were women! »

This remarkable exhibition which takes up the entrance and four rooms of the museum, intends to finally do them justice, by retracing the roots of their commitment and deciphering the reasons and modalities of what was then perceived as “a major transgression of order established by the Germans and Vichy, but also by a society that was still very patriarchal,” explains Catherine Lacour-Astol, scientific commissioner. Each time, moving objects are placed alongside the subject: double-walled bag from Lise London, head of the Women’s Committees of Paris-Sud; detailed identity cards of hidden Jewish children, established by the hand of Gilberte Nissim-Steg, responsible for this mission within the Éclaireurs Israelites de France; silk handkerchief bearing encrypted codes to communicate with London from Brigitte Friang, agent of the Office of Air Operations…. And we discover, in fact, that women are everywhere!

In the 1930s, society began to move in favor of women: the suffragist movement gained ground, more and more of them rushed into studies and reached qualified professions. Few yet are a doctor like Jacqueline Retrouné who operated in the Auvergne maquis, or an ethnologist like the famous Germaine Tillon, or a librarian like Yvonne Oddon, the latter two having participated in the network of the Musée de l’Homme, one of the very first to be formed in the summer of 1940.

But in any case they already formed battalions of typists, telephone operators, secretaries, translators… The Great War also pushed them to take on responsibilities, in the absence of the mobilized men and then, for many, as widows. Once again, in the fall of 1940, there was a shortage of men, prisoners in Germany.

The networks will be formed spontaneously according to the different circles of sociability in which these women find themselves involved: students, colleagues, political or union comrades, friends in scout movements, in parishes, even congregations… Thus, to “Sister Mitraillette”, Marie-Louise Murat of the Pauvres Filles de Jésus, who, among other heroic acts, carried a dismantled machine gun under her dress.

Finally, and the portraits bear witness to this: the resistance fighters, like their male alter egos, are recruited from all walks of life and at all ages. And no task is foreign to them, from manufacturing false papers to hiding illegal immigrants, including supplying the maquis, to the role of liaison agent. “On the other hand, notes Catherine Lacour-Astol, very few of them used weapons. Armed struggle remains the prerogative of men. »

The route ends as a tribute to those who suffered Nazi repression in all its horror. “Unlike men, they escape immediate executions,” recalls the commissioner. “But they are, like them, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, deported and thus condemned to a slow death, in oblivion, or even executed in Germany.”

And yet, in the Ravensbrück camp, near Berlin, where the majority of deportees are sent, Germaine Tillon writes an operetta, others draw, embroider… a way of resisting, this time, dehumanization.

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