Geneviève de Gaulle

Geneviève de Gaulle
1920 - 2002

Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz (October 25, 1920-February 14, 2002) was a niece of General and President Charles de Gaulle, and a member in her own right of the French Resistance. After the early death of her mother, and that of one of her sister, she went to live in Saarland, in Germany, where her father worked as an engineer. At the young age of fourteen, she read Hitler’s Mein Kampf and became aware of the danger posed by Hitler and the Third Reich for the freedom of man. In 1935, her family left Saarland to move to Rennes, a French city in Brittany. In 1938, as the rest of her family, Geneviève opposed the Munich agreement. She graduated from high school the same year and began reading history at Rennes University.

On October 2, 1939, her father was mobilized and commissioned as a captain in Coëtquidan. He rented a home close-by, in Paimpont, for his mother and his children to live in. On June 17, 1940, she was profoundly outraged by the French capitulation announced by Marshal Pétain. The following day, as she left for Coëtquidan with her grandmother, a priest told her that a young general in London has called for continuing the struggle. This man was none other than her uncle. On June 19, Xavier de Gaulle and his men were taken as prisoners of war. Geneviève went back to her family in Paimpont, where her grandmother died in her arms on July 16.

During the first year of German occupation, Geneviève engaged in symbolic acts of resistance – only a preview of what her commitment to the cause of Free France would become in the next few years. She tore apart German posters, drew Crosses of Lorraine   the symbol of Free France – and took down a Nazi banner. In the fall of 1941, as a university student at the Sorbonne, Geneviève de Gaulle, with the help of her aunt Madeleine, joined the resistance group at the Museum of Man. In the following months, she distributed pamphlets, clandestinely spread the picture of her uncle, the leader of Free France, conducted intelligence missions, and transported mail into Spain. In the spring of 1943, taking the pseudonym of Gallia, she joined Defense of France, a resistance group created by Parisian students. As a member of the steering committee, she was tasked with ensuring distribution of their newspaper. She played a decisive role in convincing the group’s founder, Philippe Viannay, to become a Gaullist. Defense of France published, in June and July of 1943, pictures of the Général.

She was denounced to the police and arrested on July 20, 1943, in possession of compromising material, and was deported to Ravensbrück on January 31, 1944, in the same convoy as Germaine Tillion’s mother. Her famous last name spared her no suffering. Between October 1933 and February 1945, she was put to solitary confinement on Himmler’s order – the German minister hoped he could use her as a bargaining chip.

In April 1945, she was finally freed and delivered to the Swiss border where her father, now a Consul General of France, collected her.

After the war, she met Bernard Anthonioz, a resistant and friend of André Malraux. She married him on May 28, 1946. She devoted the rest of her life to the cause of the victims of Nazi atrocities. As a chairman of the Association of Deported Resistance Women

(Association des Déportées et Internées de la Résistance, ADIR), she did everything in her power to make the obligation to remember (devoir de mémoire) an absolute necessity.

As a witness at the trial of Klaus Barbie in 1987, she testified to the barbarity of the Nazi regime. Her commitments also rose above and beyond the cause of remembrance. In 1958, she joined André Malraux’s staff in the French government as a scientific adviser. In

October, she came to the slums of Noisy-le-Grand, where the suffering of the families she met reminded her of that which she and other deportees had experienced. From then on, fighting poverty became her second cause. In 1964, she became chairman of Aide à Toute Détresse (Relief for Every Distress), a nonprofit ran by Father Joseph Wresinski.

She kept that position until 1998. In 1988, she also joined the Economic and Social Council of France, where in 1995 she issued a report evaluating the effectiveness of public policies against poverty. She did not hesitate to take advantage of the peculiar political situation in 1997 to come to her ends; on July 28, 1998, a law fighting social marginalization was passed, in part thanks to her unrelenting efforts.

Geneviève de Gaulle died of illness on February 14, 2002, in Paris, at the age of 81. She was also noted as a late writer, having published La Traversée de la Nuit (“The Crossing of the Night”) in 1998 and the Secrets de l’Espérance (“the Secrets of Hope”) in 2001.

She was decorated with the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance. She was the first woman to become a Grand Cross of the French Legion of Honor, the highest honor the French Republic can bestow upon its citizens.

Her boundless courage, her steadfast commitment to the cause of justice, and her exemplary strength make Geneviève de Gaulle the embodiment of the spirit of French Resistance:

  • that of resistance against the humiliation of France, but also against barbarity, poverty, and marginalization.

A true woman of action, she ceaselessly inscribed her struggles in the absolute necessity of justice for all. As she would often recall – All mankind has inner worth.

(by Margaux MIGNARD)