1940-1944

Occupation and Resistance

Hitler met Vichy France’s 80-year-old head of state on October 24 1940
German motorbikes travelling up the Champs Elysée in a victory parade in 1940
The politics of Liberation in August 1944. This map in Matthew Cobb’s Eleven Days in August’ (2013) showshow nearly all of Paris’ 600 barricades were built in left-leaning and working class areas of the city

Occupation, Collaboration, Resistance, Liberation, De Gaulle, Communist Party – in progress

Rue Saint-Jacques

Arrondissement 5

Numbers: 2, 10, 44-46, 54, 115-123, 158, 176, 216, 241, 260, 272, 277, 278

One of Paris’ oldest streets the road was the main north-south route through Paris under the Romans, who paved it and widened it (to half its present 20 metre width).

Use of St Jacques in the road’s name dates from the 1218 founding of a monastery of Dominican ‘brother preachers’ with a Saint-Jacques chapel. The location of the Jacobin brothers’ monastery was approximately around No. 158. It was closed in 1790 and its building gradually demolished over the first half ot the 19th century. In the early 17th century a second monastery for ‘reformed Jacobins’ was built on the Rue Saint-Honoré.

Pre-revolutonary Paris showing the Rue St Jacques from left to right with the College de Plessis, the Sorbonne University and the Jacobin monastery

The road was definitively named the Rue Saint-Jacques in 1806 and variously widened and extended out to the Boulevard de Port Royal in the 1860s and 1900s.

No. 2 used to stand with other houses and shops in front of the Saint-Sevérin church was finally pulled down in 1907 for the last road-widening.

Saint Sevérin church with about-to-be demolished houses and shops in front of it in 1907 before the road’s definitive widening at its northern end close to the Seine (and the tourists).

But on June 23 1848 workers resisting the closure of the world’s first workshops for the unemployed took shelter in the novelty shop No. 2 (not unlike the one I photographed in 2017 in the Rue des Petits Ponts a few metres away and shown here). The bourgeois armed guard entered the shop after them and massacred all of them.

A small narrow shop like this one a few metres to the north of the Rue St Jacques was the scene of a summary execution of those fighting to defend the first ever unemployment pay system.

The Saint-Sevérin church itself at No. 10 witnessed the summary execution of Communard supporters within the Church’s domed apse on May 24 1871. Many had been defending the barricade across the street at No 54 that was helping protect the Versaillais troops from attacking the Panthéon further up the hill.

Another barricade across the road at No. 195 was bypassed by the Versaillais troops and all its defenders killed on that same day during the ‘bloody week’ of the Commune.

The first student demonstration against the German occupation took place on 8 November 1940, when students gathered at the cross roads of the Rue des Écoles and Nos. 44-46 Rue St Jacques to protest against the arrest of Paul Langevin.

The Jesuit-origin Lycée Louis-le-Grand  at No 123 has helped train French ruling elites since the 17th century now includes the site of the old Collège du Plessis at No. 115.

From 1792 to 1799 the Collège de Louis-le-Grand was renamed the Collège de l’Égalité. Its alumini included Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre, but also before the Revolution, Moliere, Voltaire, Sade and after Victor Hugo, Delacroix and Marc Bloch.

Part of the Plessis college was used as a prison, initially keeping those sent to Paris to be tried or executed by provincial towns lacking a guillotine, and then as an overflow. It was here that Babeuf met and influenced Buonarroti, Joseph Bodson (or William Bodson), Claude Fiquet, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lefranc, Morel, Claude Menessier, Jean-Baptiste Cazin, Guillaume Massart and Mathurin Bouin and other future members of Babeuf’s “conspiracy”. They were rounded up as Robespierre’s supporters in the summer of 1794 but used the months together to develop a more radical, communistic revolutionary politics.

The Academie d’ Absinthe café used by Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine was situated at No. 176. Absinthe was banned in 1914 in France but it remained the only European country not to allow the name to be used when it was approved by the European Union in 1988.

In 1888 Verlaine restarted his Wednesday literary meetings at the Grand Hôtel des Nations at No 216 where he was living. Later, in 1891, he lived at the dancer Eugénie Krantz’s flat at No 272 before moving to No. 187, which was where in 1893 he asked her to come and live with him.

When she came back to France in October 1910, the Bolshevik Inessa Armand first lived at No. 241 before moving to a flat next to Lenin’s in the Rue Marie-Rose.

Half a century earlier, No. 241 had also been one of the addresses where the teenage Emile Zola had stayed in 1859-1860 soon after arriving in Paris.

Zola moved to the sixth floor of No. 278 in 1864-1865 when he was 24 and worked in a bookshop. This was where his first novel, Contes à Ninon (Stories for Ninon), was published.

The school for deaf children founded by Charles-Michel de L’Épée at No 254 became a centre for revolutionary republican clubs in 1848. Those based here included: the Club des Intérêts du Peuple, the Club démocratique Ibérique and the Comité électoral démocratique du 11ème arrondissement.

The plaque at No 254 recalls the Institute’s history of welcoming pilgrims on their way to St Jacques de Compostelle in the Middle Ages, but not its revolutionary credentials in 1848.

Further south down the street is a plaque outside No 260/262. This honours Emile Durkheim, the ‘founder of sociology’, who lived there from 1902 to 1912.

The military hospital, Val de Grâce, at 277bis, now houses an interesting museum. During the First World War Apollinaire was a patient there, while Louis Aragon and André Breton first met when they were stationed there.

In 1979 the military teaching hospital in the old abbey was moved to a new building with an entrance in the Boulevard de Port-Royal. It was finally closed in 2016, after having treated people like Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and the Algerian president from 1999 to 2019, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Marc Blondel died there in 2014.

Today outside the Val de Grace hospital the authorities have hung a copy of De Gaulle’s 18 June 1940 proclamation calling for the French to fight together to ‘Save France’.

Plus d’informations

PLACES

Rue de Sèvres

Arrondissments 6, 7, 15

Number: 11, 17, 22, 24

As early as the 14th century the 1.5km-long road from central Paris towards the village of Sèvres six miles away (nearly 10km) got its name. The name was later made famous by the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres (the porcelain factory) moved there in 1756 at the demand of Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, and then bought by the king three years later.

One of the largest underground newspapers circulating in the Northern Zone, Défense de la France, during the German Occupation was printed at No. 11. It was printing 450,000 in January 1944. The niece of Charles de Gaulle, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz, was one of its supporters. One of those involved in the printing, Jacques Grou-Radenez, was arrested and died in deportation on November 12 1943.

Marc Bloch the Left historian who founded the Economic and Social History Annales lived in a flat at No. 17, above the then Lutetia swimming pool, from 1936 to 1940. Initially used exclusively by the adjoining hotel it was requisitioned by the Gestapo in 1940. In 1945 it became a centre for returning concentration camp inmates and then a public swimming pool. until it was closed in the 1970s. The Lutetia swimming pool is now a Hermes shop.

A rare plaque for the Leftist was put on the first floor wall of the building because of his wartime role leading the resistance in Lyon, after he was sacked from his job as Professor at the Sorbonne University for being a Jew.

On the right, above the Hermes shop at No. 17, a plaque remembers Marc Bloch

The huge establishment at No. 22-24, Le Bon Marche, the French equivalent of Harrods, has been catering to wealthy French Parisians and tourists since 1852, just 11 months after the December 1851 coup d’état when Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte seized power.

Jacques Prévert worked as a salesman there in March 1916, before being fired for having ‘turned a salewoman from the right path’.

PLACES

Sorbonne

Arrondissement 5

1, rue Victor Cousin 

The best-known Paris university was not just an added extra to the city. In many ways it and the growth of a complex of partly-religious partly-educational buildings actually created the city. Throughout the Middle Ages the Sorbonne and nearby religious institutions drew the sons of young wealthy people towards Paris from across Europe.

The university was the principal motor of the city’s growth before the Court years. It was founded by Robert de Sorbon in 1257. Richelieu ordered its rebuilding and had doubled its size by 1642.

For nearly eight centuries its students have included many of the most radical thinkers and activists – often ready to challenge the status quo that was more often than not represented by the university’s teachers.

Among the left students who passed through the Sorbonne were Lenin’s younger sister – a few years after he had been invited to lecture there on the Russian agrarian question. Lucie Aubrac, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre also studied there.

One exception to the dominant anti-radical teachers at the Sorbonne was Marc Bloch, who taught there from 1936 to 1940 when he was dismissed for being Jewish.

In May 1968 the Sorbonne was at the centre of the student demonstrations that had begun at Nanterre. Partly as a result it was divided in 1970 into several different institutions and several now include the word ‘Sorbonne’ in their titles.

More info

PLACES

Rue d’Ulm

Arrondissement 5

Number: 45,

The Ecole Normal Superieure in 1905

The Rue d’Ulm, going south from the Panthéon, was opened on January 6 1807. It was named after the crushing defeat of the Austrian army by Napoléon at the Battle of Ulm between October 15 and 20 1805.

It is largely known because since November 4 1847 it hosted France’s most prestigious higher education selective university, the École normale supérieure (ENS) at No. 45. This special institution was initiated by Napoléon on March 17 1808 when he created a ‘standard boarding school’ (Pensionnat normal) within Paris university to train arts and science teachers. The students had to follow military rules and wear uniforms and were chosen from those who performed best in the secondary schools.

Louis Pasteur‘s laboratory was based there from 1864 to 1888, and was where he discovered a vaccine for rabies. The photgraph above shows the ENS in 1905.

From 1888 to 1926 the socialist Lucien Herr was the director of the ENS general library, with one of the students he influenced being Léon Blum. Herr also convinced Jaures there in 1898 of the innocence of Captain Dreyfus.

Students who studied at ENS included Maurice Halbwachs (who died at Buchenwald), Marc Bloch (executed by the Gestapo on June 16 1944), Raymond Aron, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone Weil, Georges Pompidou, Aimé Césaire, and Alain Touraine.

Perhaps the ENS’ most well-known left resident was Louis Althusser. He entered the ENS in 1945. Having passed the final exams with the highest marks, he began to work there from 1948, living in a staff flat provided by the ENS. This was where in 1980 in a fit of manic depression Althusser strangled his partner of 54 years.

In the aftermath of 1968 the Maoist group, La Gauche Prolétarienne (The Proletarian Left), held regular meetings in the Cavaillès lecture theatre. Among their leaders was Benny Levy. On October 21 1970 they used the ENS building to make Molotov cocktails.

PLACES

Literature

Twenty 19th century French writers, including George Sand, Victor Hugo, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine and Émile Zola

Those referenced will include 20th century leftist writers (novelists, poets, song-writers, philosophers such as: Aimé Césaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, Victor Serge, Ernest Hemingway, Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Brassens, Marc Bloch, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Andre Gorz, Daniel Bensaid, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Benoite Groult, Andre Malraux as well as many 19th century republicans and socialists such as Victor Hugo, Daniel Stern, George Sand, Flora Tristan, Alphonse de Lamartine, Emile Zola, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarme

Poems from the left