Jean Moulin, who unified French Resistance, is one of the greatest heroes in France, perhaps supplanting even Joan of Arc.
Yet he is completely unknown outside France.
Even though I am not a Frenchman and came across his name only by chance, I find his legend a fascinating story on a number of different levels, and it is a shame that he is not better known in the United States.
His story of undoubted heroism and tragic fate is an inspiration for everyone in our cynical times. But as you will find in this website, stories surrounding his life and death tell much more than that.
I can only hope that this humble website will somehow serve the memory of all those who fought against tyranny of all kinds.
The Republican Background
Moulin in 1914
Moulin called to duty in April 1918
from same period
Moulin as sous-prefet in Châteaulin.
Moulin (at the center) with Pierre Cot(right), André Labarthe(left), Néna Cot (second right), and Andrée Chatain on a cycling tour in 1938.
Moulin with Andrée Chatain and Pierre Cot in the same tour of the Gorges du Tarn.
In 1939, when Jean Moulin was the youngest prefect in France at the Department of Eure-et-Loire, he made a speech expressing his pride in being "a great grandson of a Soldier of the Revolution, grandson of one who knew the prisons of the Second Empire for having dared to proclaim his support for the Republic".
Moulin came from a family where republicanism was lived like a religion. His father ANTONIN MOULIN(1875-1938), a history teacher, was an ardently anti-clerical republican, a Freemason, and the president of local chapter of League of Rights of Men(La Ligue des Droits de l'Homme). He was actively involved in the local Radical Socialist Party at a time when the Third Repubic(1871-1940) was in the throes of a crisis called the Dreyfus affair, which divided France into two warring camps of the right-wing monarchists and left-wing republicans.
Simply put, following the French Revolution, in which the bourgeoisie overthrew the monarchy with help of the proleteriat and established a republic, French history has become a series of crises and bloody conflicts between these two opposing sides.
In one of such tormoils, after the Paris Commune uprising was brutally crushed towards the end of May 1871, the Third Republic was proclaimed when Adolphe Thiers became its first President on 31 August 1871, This regime was supposed to be an interim for a monarchist government, but eventually was won over to republicanism.
It was with this background that Moulin was born on June 20, 1899 in Beziers, France.
A Civil Servant
However, there was nothing in Moulin's early life to indicate his future role in the destiny of his country. In 1917, Moulin was a year too young to be drafted for the First World War and he did not volunteer for a military service probably under his father's influence. He worked at the prefecture of the Hérault and studied law at Montpellier University. When in April 1918, he was finally drafted, he was trained as a military engineer. In the army, he served as a carpenter, a navvy, and a telephone operator. That he did not see a combat must have haunted him as he was later to say, "I was everything except a soldier."
After the war, Moulin continued his way up in the civil administration. From this point on, his life was marked by a series of rapid promotions thanks to his superb administrative abilities, which were later to become an important asset to Resistance. Moulin became the youngest under-prefect (of Albertville) at 26 in October 1925, and the youngest prefect (of the Aveyron) at 37. (A prefect, who serves as a representative of the central government, is the highest official in an administrative district, called department in France - as such, an equivalent to major general in rank.) Shortly before the war, he was transfered to the department of Eure-et-Loire, where he witnessed the fall of France and where his first act of resistance was to begin.
Moulin, perhaps still stung by his non-action in the First World War, enlisted as an air gunner. However, when Ministry of Interior discovered this, the Minister insisted on his immediate demobilization.
Spanish Civil War
While Moulin's 20-year career was almost entirely spent in the civil administration, he briefly became involved in national politics through his friendship with PIERRE COT, whom he met through their shared passion of skiing. This friendship with Cot and his colleagues was to become controversial in later years.
In October 1933, Moulin became a chief of staff to Pierre Cot when he was appointed the minister of brand-new Ministry of Air. Cot was a leader of so-called "Young Turks", who sought a foreign policy that was pacificist and pro-Soviet in a response to the threat of Nazi Germany.
Pierre Cot's political tendency is perhaps best epitomized by a following anecdote. Shortly after his appointment in 1936, Cot arrived at his new ministry, where government air factory workers were on strike. When the new minister noticed a group of strikers outside the building, he abandoned his officials, walked over to the strikers, and standing in front of them gaved the clenched-fist salute and joined them in singing the communist anthem, Internationale.
It was during this time that Moulin witnessed firsthand the precarious state of his beloved Republic brought on by one of those political crises - this time, the Stavisky scandal that implicated many politicians in a fraud involving investment bonds.
In a response to this scandal, an extreme-right movement called Action Francaise held a demonstration on February 6, 1934. This turned into uprising leaving 15 people dead and 1,435 wounded. The mob of 30,000 supporters of Action Francais attempted to storm the Chamber of Deputies.
Eventually, the mob had been dispersed. But Moulin, who was watching all this from the Chamber of Deputies, sobbed in despair. When his colleagues tried to comfort him, he would only say, "Now do you understand?"
Until the Third Republic was finally dissolved in 1940, French goverments came and went with revolving-door cabinets, and Cot was the minister of Air on again and off again. (The political disharmony of this time is perhaps best reflected in Maurice Chevalier's chanson of unity, Ça fait d'excellents français.)
The Popular Front
In April 1935, the Popular Front government was formed by a coalition of left-wing parties including the French Communist Party. Moreover, the prime minister was a Jewish socialist named LÉON BLUM. Needless to say, the right-wing factions in France were outraged. Charles Maurras, the leader of Action Française, proposed that Blum should be "shot in the back." Cot was again the minister of Air, and Moulin his chief of staff and closest advisor.
The same development follwed in Spain as the Popular Front was formed in February 1936. The response of the Spanish Right was much more violent. When the Spanish Civl War broke out shortly after with the royalist rebels led by General Francisco Franco, the French Popular Front government was naturally predisposed to aid their counterpart in Spain.
But under the pressure from Great Britain and right-wing press, Blum had to abandon such plan and officially adopt the non-intervention policy. However, unofficially, Blum authorized "elastic noninterventon" policy, which meant that government officials could give military support to the Spanish republicans as long as it was kept secret. As the chief of staff in Air Ministry, Moulin conspired with GASTON CUSIN, ANDRÉ LABARTHE, and his future eulogist ANDRÉ MALRAUX to smuggle French warplanes into Spain.
Moulin, who had been alarmed by fascist movements across Europe including France, carried it out with conviction. Under this operation, the planes that were suppsoedly sold to Finland and other countries turned up in Spain.
This was the first clandestine activity that Moulin was involved, which was to become an apprenticeship for things to come.
However, since Cot favored an understanding with the communists as long as they supported the anti-Nazi line, Air Ministry got too cozy with the communists and Comintern agents in the eyes of some people. Later in Resistance, Moulin was to work closely with his former colleagues of Air Ministry, some of whom were or eventually became communists or pro-communists.
This development and Moulin's dedicated support for the Popular Front were later to form a basis for revionists to claim that Moulin was in fact a crypto-communist or even a Soviet agent.
We will never know what was Moulin's attitude toward the communists at the time of Spanish Civil War. Cot once described Moulin as "the most left-wing member of my staff."
However, following the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, the Popular Front's hopes of pro-communist anti-fascist world campaign for peace came crashing down.
To quote Arthur Koestler, the men of the Popular Front faced the bitter truth as Jacob did in Genesis, who awoke on the morning after his wedding night to find that after seven years of struggles he had won not the beautiful Rachel but her hideous sister, Leah. Some, like Koestler, were profoundly disillusioned by the Nazi-Soviet Pact while for others the commitment to communism survived the pact.
In Moulin's case, actions speak louder than any conjecture that revionists come up with.
When France declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939 and the French Communist Party did everything it could to support its new Nazi allies and sabotage French war effort, Prefect Moulin ordered police surveillance and the repression of known communist agitators. Under Vichy regime, Moulin did his best to stall the repression of Jews and men of the Popular Front, but he showed more activity in dealing with the communists.
One can only conclude that all this controversy surrounding Moulin's supposed pro-communist tendency is just another chapter in the long history of often violent political strifes that continued since the French Revolution.