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Élisabeth de Miribel

Élisabeth de Miribel
1915 - 2005

The great-granddaughter of Marshal McMahon, a French general and politician from the 19th century, Elisabeth de Miribel was born on August 19, 1915, in a well-off aristocratic family. After graduating from high school, she studied psychology in Paris and Geneva.

At the time, she also took a keen interest in Christian social movements. In September 1939, she left for London to join the French Economic War Mission, led by diplomat and author Paul Morand.

Miribel was outraged by the French armistice in June 1940 and decided to stay in London. Her childhood friend, Geoffroy de Courcel, General de Gaulle’s aide-de-camp, contacted her on June 13 to type a copy of the General’s upcoming Appeal June 18, a speech that is often considered to be the origin of the French Resistance to Nazi occupation in World War 2. At only 24, Miribel was participating in a major historic event. “I laboriously read through this finely written text (…),” she later recalled in her 1981 book, La Liberté Souffre Violence. “I did not know it yet, but those words were to become history. Yet, I already somehow had the foreboding that I was taking part in something exceptional.” From then on, Miribel became one of de Gaulle’s closest aides.

In July 1940, de Gaulle sent her to Canada on a mission to set up a Free French committee. Miribel thought the job would be easy; but once she arrived, she found the local French elites to be quite conservative, and reluctant to oppose the Vichy government. Traveling to New York, she met with Sieyès, Maritain, and Focillon, intellectuals who had already rallied to Free France, and rekindled her spirits. In the spring of 1941, she worked with the Free French Political Mission to Canada, lead by captain Thierry d’Argenlieu, which successfully rallied support among the local French diaspora and convinced the Canadian government to grant official diplomatic accreditation to a Free French delegate to Ottawa. Strengthened by her success, Miribel then became the chief of the Free French Information Services in the Canadian capital. In this capacity, traveling all around the country, she organized lectures, wrote multiple news report, and prepared radio bulletins to muster support on behalf of Free France. Miribel proved very persuasive, and successfully rallied Canadian public opinion and the country’s government to de Gaulle’s cause.

In 1943, de Gaulle asked Miribel to join him in Algiers, where, with the help of reporter Géraud Jouve, she unsuccessfully tried to create a newspaper. Thinking she could be more useful closer to the frontlines, she traveled to Italy, where the Allied Invasion had begun, as a war correspondent. A few months after, Miribel left for Normandy, where she worked alongside General Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division, and witnessed the unforgettable welcome French citizens gave the Free French Forces returning home. In August 1944, she was among the reporters covering the 2nd Armored Division’s advance in Paris and the eventual liberation of the French capital. In the fall of that same year, she joined de Gaulle’s staff as press secretary.

After the war, Miribel embarked on a diplomatic career, which she abandoned on 1949 to take holy orders and become a Carmelite nun. But five years later, she returned to civilian life and the Foreign Affairs ministry, as a member of Pierre Mendès France’s staff. She was appointed first to Switzerland in 1955, then to Morocco from 1957 to 1961, to Chile between 1966 and 1970, to Austria between 1970 and 1977, and finally to Firenze, in Italy, from 1977 to her 1980 retirement. An effective diplomat, Miribel quickly rose through the ranks of French diplomacy, beginning her career as a mere press secretary to end up a Consul General.

Elisabeth de Miribel died in Paris on March 29, 2005. She was 89 years old, and the author of several biographies, most notably on Edith Stein (1961) and Giorgio La Pira (1992). She also published her autobiography, La Liberté Souffre Violence, in 1981. She was an officer of the Legion d’Honneur and of the National Order of Merit, a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, and held a Medal of the Resistance.

Courage, devotion, faith, and liberty were the guiding principles of her life. Her extraordinary journey, from the darkest hours of the Second World War, to the hushed corridors of diplomacy, through the spiritual calm of the Carmelite convents, was bright, passionate, and remarkable. “It is harder to resist to success than to failure; to resist to consumer societies, than to resist to harsher ones.” The words of this free woman, a privileged witness of 20th century history, ring as true today as they ever did.

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(by Margaux MIGNARD)