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Gabriel Péri

Gabriel Péri
1902 - 1941
Gabriel Peri was born on February 9, 1902, in Toulon, in a family of modest means. The Great War affected him deeply. Aged only twelve years old, he created a newspaper to raise funds for wounded soldiers. Despite achieving brilliant grades in high school, Gabriel Peri gave up on trying to gain admission to Ecole Normale Supérieure and started working at a young age. The First World War and the 1917 Russian Revolution explain his precocious involvement in politics.In 1917, at the age of 15, he joined the Communist Party and the Third International, quickly becoming a regional secretary of the Communist Youth. Soon afterwards, Peri was noticed by Communist party leaders. At twenty years old, he led the National Federation of the Young Communist and its newspaper, the Vanguard. Two years later, Gabriel Peri moved to Paris to become International Affairs Editor for Humanité, the Communist Party journal – a job he will hold until August 25, 1939, when the paper was forbidden in the wake of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Péri was also elected Deputy to the French National Assembly for Argenteuil in 1932, where he distinguished himself as an expert in the field of international relations and vigorously opposed fascist regimes.

He most notably spoke out against neutrality in the 1936 Spanish Civil War, and against the Munich Accords in 1938.

An independent-minded thinker, Péri often ran into disagreements with party leaders, but earned considerable prestige with the grassroots, which shared his antifascist leanings.

Bewildered by the news of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939, Peri did not want to publicly repudiate his party, but slowly became aware of the widening gap between his own positions and those of Communist Party leaders. He remained loyal to the party, but did not agree with a political orientation that was directly opposed to his own patriotic and antifascist line.

Peri was one of the rare party officials to remain in Paris when the German army paraded down the Champs-Elysées. When the Vichy government proclaimed the dissolution of political parties, Peri refused to accept the measure and immediately went to work underground at rebuilding the party clandestinely. Around the same time, Peri wrote a pamphlet to explain that “Nazism was no socialism.”

In May 1941, Peri was arrested in obscure circumstances, and condemned to five years of civil rights deprivation and five years in prison by a military tribunal in Paris for his participation in the creation of a resistance group, and spreading Communist propaganda.

He was immediately jailed at the Santé, a notorious French prison. A few months later, Peri was transferred to the Prison du Cherche-Midi, which had been placed under German control. In retaliation to communist attacks, the Germans soon decided to execute a number of communist hostages, among which Gabriel Péri. He was shot dead by firing squad on Mont-Valérien with ninety-one other comrades on December 15, 1941. Eulogized by Louis Aragon, who wrote a poem honoring his legacy, Peri soon became one of the iconic figures of the French resistance against German occupation:

“In the cemetery at Evry under an indifferent soil yet still beating for France is Gabriel Péri’s heart”. Louis Aragon in Le Crève-Coeur

The life of this brilliant intellectual was guided by concern for the fate of others and a tireless fight against injustices of all kind. Gabriel Peri never ceased to advocate for peace, social justice, and self-determination for all. In the most dignified manner, he was the living embodiment of the spirit of humanism and resistance – and paid it with his life. “Peri died for that which makes us live let us embrace each other his breast is holed but thanks to him we know each other better. Let us embrace, his hope is living still.”

Paul Eluard

(by Margaux MIGNARD)