Memory of French Resistance Stays Strong

Museum Preserves History of Struggle in Small French Town


By Mary Jane Fine

Published July 21, 2012, issue of July 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It is difficult, if not impossible, in this town to forget World War II, and that is a matter of not-inconsequential pride. The Resistance movement was born here, and the reminders are everywhere.

The Maternity Hospital, a short walk from the city’s center, hid Jews in its basement, repelling Nazi searches with a sign that warned, falsely, of contagious diseases.

Nearby, is the bronze statue of 19th-century French statesman Léon Gambetta. One can envision it in the 1940s when he held a Resistance-made sign in his north-pointing hand, directing the occupying troops: “Nach Berlin,” or “To Berlin.

Here in the heart of the Midi-Pyrénées Lot Valley, the Musée de la Resistance, de la Deportation et de la Liberation du Lot aims to remind the world: Never forget.

“To be a Resistant was to refuse the victory of Nazism,” explains one of several informative booklets for sale at the museum in the town of 23,193 people. “It was to choose to act clandestinely in order to hasten the German defeat … . To resist was an individual decision, not easy to take: to revolt against the government of your own country, to risk your life and the security of your family.”

The Resistants were postal clerks and railway workers, shopkeepers and medical personnel, ordinary people who undertook acts of heroism, large and small – ferrying messages, intercepting letters, aiding clandestine travelers to reach their destination, sabotaging the movement of German convoys, supplying food to those who fought, hiding Jews in the back rooms and closets of their homes.

Eighty-eight-year old Marcel Michot, vice president of the museum, was one who opted for the risk. After the war, people went 50 years without speaking of the Holocaust, Michot says through his young British translator, Louise Butler, who guides tours for English-speaking museum visitors. “They were young, starting families and living their lives,” Michot says, noting that there was also a desire to forget the nation’s pain and shame. “When they retired, they decided to do something important.”

That “something” fills the museum, where each of the three floors is dedicated to Resistance members killed by the Nazis. A former barracks that faces onto the Place General de Gaulle, the museum opened on June 18, 1992, a significant anniversary.

It was on June 18, 1940, that military leader Charles de Gaulle said: “Every means in the universe will be used to crush our enemies. That which will be the flame of the resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.” His broadcasts via BBC from London spurred the Resistance movement.

For Michot, a flame was lit in 1941, when, as he recalls, a friend said to him, “Come to my house; there’s something that may interest you.” He was speaking of the Resistance unit led by his father. Even to confide such information to the then-16-year-old Marcel Michot was risky, betrayal always a possibility, death its frequent consequence. But the young Michot joined – and later married the daughter of his unit’s leader. In her teens, she played a role as a liaison agent. “When you put an arm in, you may as well put in the rest,” Michot says, delivering the French maxim with a smile and a classically French shrug.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.