1912-2007 • France
Communist • Resistance • Anti-racist
Lucie Bernard, born in the suburbs of south-eastern Paris, was the daughter of a gardener badly wounded in the First World War. She attributed her early passionate pacifism to her hatred of the damage war brings.
In the 1930s she joined the young Communists and after 1940 became a resistance fighter in the Unoccupied Zone while working as a teacher. A film was made of the dramatic escape from the Gestapo that she organised for her husband in 1943, after which her husband adopted the pseudonym Aubrac they both changed their names to in 1950.
Lucie Bernard initially aimed to become a primary school teacher. But after securing a rare competitive scholarship she rejected the dormitory living and uniforms required and left home, drawn to studying history and wider political ideas.
She joined the International Youth Circle of Quakers in the early 1930s. It used to meet in Rue Guy-de-la-Brosse.
In 1933, after Hitler came to power in Germany, the French section of the Society of Friends set up an International Refugee Aid society in Rue Rataud to help refugees from Germany, and later from Spain.
This was probably how Bernard found out in 1935 that she could get cheap lodgings in an attic room in the same building as the Refugee Aid society, just to the south of the Sorbonne. She kept renting the room until 1939.
While still attending the Quaker Youth Circle meetings, in 1932 Bernard/Aubrac also joined the Young Communists. They appeared to her at the time as the most active and committed anti-militarists.
Bernard was a militant and courageous seller of the bi-monthly Avant-Garde young communist publication. In the 1930s its sellers were often attacked by members of the numerous fascist leagues. In 1935 she was asked by the Communist Party to sit on its Paris regional committee and invited (but declined) to go to the Lenin School in Moscow to be trained as a future leader.
In 1936 Bernard/Aubrac was helping make ends meet by working in a nursery school in Rue Victor Cousin next to the Sorbonne. She also heard a speech by the young radical politician, Jean Zay, and was so impressed that she cycled down to get involved in his re-election campaign in the Loiret in 1936.
Graduating from the Sorbonne in 1938 she was nominated to teach in a secondary school in Strasbourg. In December 1939, she married the son of wealthy Jewish shop owners, Raymond Samuel, a young engineer who had been called up into the army where he was also based in Strasbourg.
By July 1940 Raymond was a German prisoner of war but Lucie Samuel helped him escape, with both of them travelling to Lyon in the unoccupied zone of France. That autumn with Emmanuel d’Astier they created a resistance group called ‘The Last Column‘ and started producing an underground paper called Libération. It aimed to break the predominant apathy towards the German occupation shared in the Southern Zone.
In the summer of 1942 Libération Sud asked Raymond to lead its new military wing. In March 1943 he was arrested by French police, along with other local resistance leaders. Lucie then went to the prosecutor pretending to be an agent of De Gaulle. She warned him that he would be a dead man if Raymond (then François Vallet) was not released. He was let out shortly afterwards and Raymond and Lucie then organised the escape of the other resistance fighters when they were being transferred to hospital.
In June 1943 Raymond was arrested again in Lyon with Jean Moulin and eight other national resistance leaders. This time the arrest was by the Gestapo, headed at the time by Klaus Barbie.*
*Barbie, known as the ‘Butcher of Lyon’, had personally tortured French resistance fighters. The US helped him escape to Bolivia after the war, where in 1980 he was implicated in the 1979 Garcia Meza fascist coup d’état. After the Junta was forced out of power in 1982, Barbie was extradited to France, tried and convicted of crimes against humanity. His lawyer maliciously used the trial to accuse Raymond Aubrac of being the agent who had denounced Moulin, an accusation only finally declared false in the European Court of Human Rights in 2004. Barbie finally died of cancer in prison in 1991.
Courageously, Lucie Aubrac went to see Barbie personally and persuaded him that she had to marry Raymond (now Claude Ermelin) before he was executed because she was six months pregnant by him. Allowed to leave the Prison Montluc for the marriage Lucie organised an attack on prison wagon, killing five guards and rescuing Raymond and another ten resistance fighters.
After several months in hiding, on February 8 1944 the family arrived in London on one of the special planes that moved at night between France and England. Lucie gave birth to her daughter twelve days later.
In October 1944 Aubrac was nominated to the Provisional Consultative Assembly as one of just 12 women out of 248 delegates. Based in Algiers from November 1943 to July 25 1944, after the liberation of France its second series of sessions were held at the Luxembourg Palace in Rue Vaugirard from November 7 1944 to August 3 1945.
Aubrac first staying on getting back to Paris with her two children at the Hotel Pont Royal in the Rue Montalembert. Her husband Raymond Aubrac was Commissioner in charge of Marseilles, stirring up opposition by requisitioning 15 collaborationist companies between September 10 and October 5 1944.
From January 1945 until the spring of 1946, the reunited family lived in a sequestered flat in Rue Marbeuf. At this time, Raymond, sacked for his left views as Marseille Commissioner, was now responsible for the national de-mining programme, while Lucie was active in the Consultative Assembly.
Aubrac immediately launched a weekly paper Privilèges des femmes to inform French women of their new rights. After 13 issues it folded, judged too communist by the socialists and not communist enough by the PCF.
From March to July 1945 she was editor of La Femme (Woman), the weekly paper of the Femmes de la Libération (FLN) before her proximity to the PCF saw her removed.
From 1945 to 1947 Lucie Aubrac made several attempts to join the Communist Party – but despite the support of several leading Communists including André Marty each was rejected.
Despite this, In October 1946 she stood for election as a deputy in the Saône–et–Loire department on the list of Communists, republicans and resistance fighters led by the Communist Waldeck-Rochet. She was only put in third place by the PCF, with only the first two getting enough votes to be elected as deputies.
Aubrac was still considered too ‘indisciplined’ and her first book about the resistance movement was considered to have not made enough about the role of the PCF. She was criticised for not submitting everything she wrote to the Party before publishing it.
In November 1946 she was resinstated as a teacher and given a post in the Lycée Jacques-Decour in Avenue Trudaine, where she worked for most of the next ten years. It was the only lycée in France renamed in honour of a resistant after the occupation.
Despite the PCF’s reticence about Lucie, her husband was an open supporter of many Communist policies. When Ho Chi Minh came to Paris to follow the negotiations with the government, he stayed at their new house and became god-father to their daughter Elisabeth.
Campaigning against France resuming its colonial policies in IndoChina and elsewhere, In 1948 Lucie and Raymond jointly founded Le Mouvement pour la Paix (Peace Movement).
Became a major anti-racist campaigner.