Thursday, September 3, 2015
Marie-Claude Vogel Vaillant-Couturier (1912-1996)
She chose to be a photographic reporter, at the time when the trade was uniquely male, and earned herself the nickname of “the lady in Rolleiflex”.
In 1934 she joined the Communist Youth Movement of France. That year she married Paul Vaillant-Couturier, founder of the Republican Association of Ex-servicemen, a communist and chief editor of L'Humanité. She entered into it's photo service and later took responsibility for it after Paul's mysterious disappearance in 1937.
Attached to the magazine's Vu team, she went to Germany where she took part in an investigation into the rise of Nazism. It was two months after the accession of Adolf Hitler to power when she reported on the stereotypes of the concentration camps of Oranienburg and Dachau.
The Hitler-Stalin Pact in September 1939 resulted in prohibitions on L'Humanité and influenced her change of activities. She joined the Resistance and participated in the publication of leaflets such as l'Université Libre, Georges Politzer's pamphlet Sang et Or (Blood and Gold) and a clandestine edition of L'Humanité with Pierre Villon, who she married in 1949. She strengthened the connection between the Committee of National Front Intellectuals and the military resistance (OS, later the FTPF).
On 9 February 1942 Marie-Claude was arrested in a trap set by Marshal Pétain's police with many of her companions, all of whom were shot at Fort Mont-Valérien. She was interned until 15 February at the Dépôt de la Préfecture and La Santé Prison from March 20 to August, when she was transferred to Romainville, an internment camp under German authority. From there she was sent to an internment camp in Compiègne before deporting to Auschwitz-Birkenau via the Convoi des 31000 of 24 January 1943. Singular by its composition, this covoy inincluded 230 female Resistance members, communists and Gaullist wives of Resistance members. Only 49 of the 230 women would return from the camps after the war.
For 18 months, Marie-Claude was kept in Auschwitz where she witnessed the genocide of Jews and Gypsies and took part in the international clandestine resistance committee of the camp. In August 1944, she was transferred to the Ravensbrück where she was assigned to earthworks before being transferred to Revier (the camp infirmary) because of her knowledge of the German language.
Though Ravensbrück was liberated on 30 April 1945 by the Red Army, she didn't return to France until 25 June 1945. During that time, she devoted herself to the patients' repatriation. An article in Le Monde on 16 Jun 1943 read, “Each day, this magnificent Frenchwoman makes the rounds, uplifting courage, giving hope where it is often but illusion. The word 'holiness' comes to mind when one sees this grand sister of charity near these men and these women who are dying every day."
A leading member of the National Federation of Resistant Deportees and Internees and Patriots since its creation in 1945, Marie-Claude became its vice-president, then co-president in 1978. She was also one of the first presenters of l'Amicale d’Auschwitz. A witness at the Nuremberg Trials, she said later, “by telling of the sufferings of those who could not speak any more, I had the feeling that, through my voice, those who they had tortured and exterminated, accused their torturers.” However, she returned from the trials “shocked, worried,” “exasperated by the procedure,” dissatisfied, in particular denouncing the absence, on the dock, of the leaders of the firms Krupp, Siemens, IG Farben, firms which had largely taken part in the economic exploitation of the deportees. But in spite of these insufficiencies, she underlined later how much the definition crimes against humanity was “progress for the human conscience”.
In 1964 Paul Rassinier, a holocaust survivor and critic of the trial verdicts, accused her of having survived only by dispossessing her companions. Marie-Claude took action against these accusations and the lawsuit against Rassinier made justice of the charges. Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz declared to the bar of witnesses, “We entered the infirmary buildings not to hide, but because we needed courageous German speaking comrades. … When we gave back this ration of bread deducted from our own ration, this bulb, we knew that she would give it well to those who needed it most and without any political appreciation … I know few women as courageous as Marie-Claude, who always gave the feeling that her own life was nothing if she wasn't with the company of her comrades.”
The manager of the extreme-right magazine Rivarol and Rassinier were condemned. During December of the same year, she defended in front of the French National Assembly the concept of imprescriptibility of the crimes against humanity, thus opening the way with the ratification, by France in 1968, of the Convention of United Nations on the imprescriptibility of these crimes.
In 1987, she called all the civil parties to testify against Klaus Barbie. During the creation of the Foundation for the Memory of the Deportation. In 1990, she was unanimously designated President, then President d' Honneur until her death on 11 December 1996.