Pierre Brossolette was born in Paris on June 25, 1903. His family was politically active and deeply involved in the fight for laic schools. After graduating from Louis-le-Grand, among the country’s most prestigious high schools, Brossolette entered Ecole Normale Superieure in 1922 and graduated from the school in 1925 with an agrégation in history.
Instead of pursuing an academic career, he decided to enter journalism. He quickly became a noted specialist in international relations. Brossolette, at first a resolute pacifist who adhered to Aristide Briand’s idealism, slowly became a forceful denunciator of Nazism and communism. A freemason and a member of the League for Human Rights and the International League Against Anti-Semitism, Brossolette joined the Socialist Party in 1930. He violently opposed the Munich Accords in 1938, and was fired from the state-owned Radio-PTT when he publicly denounced them on air in 1939.
On August 23, 1939, Brossolette was mobilized as a lieutenant in the 5th Infantry Regiment. By March 1940, he reached the rank of captain, and won a Croix de Guerre for having successfully retreated his battalion in an orderly way during the German invasion of France later that spring. The Vichy regime prevented him from returning to teaching after the Armistice, and Brossolette then took over a Paris bookstore which soon became an intelligence hub of the local resistance.
In 1949, Brossolette joined the resistance network at the Museum of Man, and soon made contact with the Socialist Action Committee and the Libération-Nord groups. In November 1941, Brossolette became the head of the press and propaganda section at Confrérie-Notre-Dame, a large resistance network led by the charismatic Colonel Rémy.
In that capacity, he wrote several report to the Free French leaders in London on the evolution of French public opinion and the state of the resistance. Assuming a key role in the heart of occupied France, Brossolette also coordinated contacts between Free France and several resistance groups such as Libération-Nord, Organisation Civile et Militaire, Combat, and Libération-Sud.
De Gaulle was impressed with Brossolette, and arranged for him to come to London, where they met in April 1942. Brossolette became the deputy head of the Free French intelligence agency and created its civilian arm, the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action, Brossolette was by then a member of de Gaulle’s inner circle, but nevertheless still had occasional disagreements with the leader of Free France. “There are a number of topics,” Brossolette wrote de Gaulle, “on which you tolerate no contradiction, no debate.”
From June 1942 to March 1944, Pierre Brossolette was sent to France for three clandestine missions. On June 4th, 1942, he was parachuted onto Chalon-sur-Saone and successfully organized the escape of two members of the resistance, André Philip and Louis Vallon. On the same mission, he successfully convinced Charles Vallin, a Deputy to the French National Asembly, to rally Free France. Brossolette returned to Britain on September 14, 1942, but was sent back to France on January 27, 1943, to coordinate the Resistance’s civilian actions in the occupied zone. On April 16, 1943, he returned to Britain. In London, he often replaced Maurice Schumann as anchor of the Free French radio chronicles on multiple occasions, delivering rousing speeches to the “army of shadows” of the French Resistance, the “stokers of glory.” He tirelessly denounced collaboration and called for all members of the French Resistance to unite behind de Gaulle’s banner.
On September 19, 1943, despite de Gaulle’s reluctance to appoint him the substitute head of French Resistance following the capture of Jean Moulin, Brossolette returned to Paris for a third mission, aimed at reorganizing Parisian Resistance. A few months later, he was recalled to London along with Bollaert. Brossolette at first refused to leave. He changed his mind in December, 1943 but the bad weather cancelled many exfiltration attempts, so the two men decided to return to England by sea. The plan failed when their ship was hit by a storm on February 3, 1944 and wrecked near Pointe du Raz. That same day, although they had managed to reach the coast, Brossolette and Bollaert were betrayed by a local woman at a checkpoint, and were arrested. But he wasn’t immediately identified, and was kept imprisoned in Rennes for weeks, under the name of Boutet. On March 16, his cover was blown when the Germans intercepted a resistance report to London, and he was interrogated by the Rennes Gestapo on March 19, before his transfer to the Gestapo’s Parisian headquarter that evening. Despite enduring severe torture, Brossolette did not speak to the Germans, and on March 22, 1944, threw himself through the window of the garret room on the sixth floor of the building. He died around 10pm that evening at La Pitié hospital, without having betrayed a single secret.
By the time of his death, Brossolette was a Knight of the Legion of Honor and a Companion of the Liberation, and had received a Croix de Guerre and a Medal of the Resistance.
“I only knew two men who had a sense of what History was: de Gaulle and Brossolette,” Passy, a former BCRA chief, later declared. A pioneer of the Resistance and the main architect of its unification, Brossolette chose to kill himself rather than to reveal its secrets. He was a true hero of the Resistance, who sacrificed his life for the liberty and honor of his country. He embodied thinking and action, loyalty, dignity, and an undying hope for the future. His moral strength could never be broken, even by the horrors of German torture.
His tombstone reads:
“His mouth has remained shut. His example speaks to us. His sacrifice commands us”
See a five-part documentary on Pierre Brossolette and the Resistance:
- Part 1 : 1903-1938 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOZ80eHzF2Y
- Part 2 : 1938- juin 1942 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vvNeVPVXB4
- Part 3 : juin 1942- décembre 1942
- Part 4 : janvier 1943-février 1944 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTjsy4Yjtyo
- Part 5 : mars 1944 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PNwtFyNEh0
(by Margaux MIGNARD)