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With the others, Aubrac was arrested and imprisoned at the notorious Fort Montluc. Shortly after, while he was being transferred to a military hospital, Aubrac was rescued by a commando operation led by Lucie Aubrac, who was then several months pregnant with the couple’s second child. A few months later, the family reached London, the child was born and the couple continued their work on behalf of the Resistance. Aubrac’s parents and a brother were taken to Auschwitz, where they died.
Aubrac’s work continued until his death. A fellow traveler of the French Communist Party, Aubrac explained his belated recognition of communism’s horrors as the result of his wartime experience: Communists played a central role in the Resistance. Moreover, Aubrac, like many others who believed that resistance must lead to revolution, was enamored of the utopian future offered by communism, or what were then known (with a straight face) as “the tomorrows that sing.”
Though the scales concerning the Soviet Union and communism eventually fell from his eyes, Aubrac never swung, unlike so many others from his generation, into the ranks of reaction. Instead, he and his wife remained committed to the revolutionary promise of liberty, equality and fraternity. To this end, they were ardent defenders of the sans papiers, or illegal immigrants in France. Lucie Aubrac once noted dryly that they, too, had once been sans papiers. In 2003, Raymond Aubrac signed the manifesto “Une Autre Voix Juive” (“Another Jewish Voice”), which denounced Israel’s settlement policy and invasion of Lebanon. Not surprisingly, the French Jewish group CRIF overlooked this engagement in its obituary of Aubrac.
Finally, in 2004, Raymond and Lucie Aubrac joined several other grand résistants to mark the 60th anniversary of France’s liberation. These remarkable men and women called on France’s youth to keep alive the spirit of the Resistance, codified in the charter of the National Council of the Resistance. The “three humanistic gestures” they asked the young to embrace were to safeguard hard-won social and economic rights, to fight against social injustices and racism, and to reject the frantic consumerism of our age. Make this battle yours, Aubrac declared, so that the “torch of the Resistance never dies.”
Raymond Aubrac had earned the right to exhort the rest of us; time will tell if we will earn the right to his dogged optimism.
Robert Zaretsky is a professor of history at the Honors College at the University of Houston and a contributor to “The Occupy Handbook” (Little, Brown).