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TIME Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ is Executed

TIME Magazine dated 4 January 1932; Pierre Laval as “Man of the Year.” Oil painting by Harris Rodvogin. Author’s collection.
TIME Magazine dated 4 January 1932; Pierre Laval as “Man of the Year.” Oil painting by Harris Rodvogin. Author’s collection.

Each year since 1927, TIME Magazine names its “Man of the Year” (now called “Person of the Year”). Individual women have been named five times (e.g., Wallis Simpson, Soong Mei-ling, Queen Elizabeth II, Corazon Aquino, and Angela Merkel), thirteen groups have been named (e.g., “U.S. Scientists,” “American Women,” and “The Whistleblowers”), an inanimate object once (the computer), and in several instances, very controversial selections were made (e.g., Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin). The editorial board uses the following criteria for making its decision: the selection must profile a person, group, an idea, or an object that “for better or worse . . . has done the most to influence the events of the year.”

Although some of their selections ultimately met their end by assassination (e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Anwar Sadat), I’m not aware of anyone who was executed. That is, except for Pierre Laval the 1931 ”Man of the Year”.


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On the morning of his scheduled execution at Fresnes Prison south of Paris, Pierre Laval (1883−15 October 1945) laid down on his prison cot, pulled the sheets over his head, and bit down on a cyanide capsule. The poison was too old to finish him off. The doctors pumped his stomach along with other efforts to keep him alive. Charles de Gaulle declared that Laval would have to be shot while laying on a stretcher but his orders were refused because French code would not allow it. Laval had to be standing on his own in order to be executed by a firing squad. By 11:30 A.M., Laval regained consciousness and the process began. After being dressed, he was escorted to the police car which drove him to the execution site. Tied to the stake but not blindfolded, Laval stood straight. His body was deposited in a graveyard reserved for disgraced individuals. Eventually, his family was allowed to remove his remains and bury him at Montparnasse Cemetery (we will visit his grave in my future book Where Did They Bury Jim Morrison, the Lizard King? A Walking Tour of Curious Paris Cemeteries.

Let’s Meet Pierre Laval

Pierre Laval, former Vice Premier of France under Marshal Pétain, was shot today as he attended an anti-communist demonstration at German-occupied Versailles and was reported tonight to have been seriously wounded. Photo by APWirePhoto (c. August 1941). Author’s collection.
Pierre Laval, former Vice Premier of France under Marshal Pétain, was shot today as he attended an anti-communist demonstration at German-occupied Versailles and was reported tonight to have been seriously wounded. Photo by APWirePhoto (c. August 1941). Author’s collection.

Laval was born in the Auvergne region of France and never forgot his roots in the working-class region or as mayor of Aubervilliers, a north-eastern Paris suburb. By 1914, Laval had entered politics as an elected extreme left-wing deputy from Aubervilliers. Nine years later, he was elected mayor of Aubervilliers and did not relinquish that role until shortly before his arrest in 1944 by the Nazis.

Between 1914 and 1940, Laval would hold dozens of political jobs. He was a cunning politician (the polite word might be “pragmatic”) who over time, moved across the political spectrum as an extreme leftist to the far right serving under a diverse number of presidents and premiers. Despite supporting the Russian Revolution, Laval never distinguished between the ideologies of Communism and Socialism (his party split into the two factions in 1920). Along the way through ambition and greed, Laval became a multi-millionaire.

Laval married Marguerite Claussat (1888−1959) from his native village. His marriage (and family) was marked by devotion, harmony, and simplicity—the exact opposite of his political career. Their only child, Josée, married René de Chambrun (1906−2002). Her husband was the great-great-grandson of Lafayette and the nephew of Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter. De Chambrun would act as Laval’s legal counsel in addition to being Coco Chanel’s attorney. He was chairman of Baccarat, the crystal company, for more than thirty years. De Chambrun was given an honorary U.S. citizenship but this was ultimately questioned—although never revoked—in the midst of war due to his relationship with Laval (and the Germans).

Mlle. Josée Laval and her fiancé, René de Chambrun. Photo by International News (c. 1935). Author’s collection.
Mlle. Josée Laval and her fiancé, René de Chambrun. Photo by International News (c. 1935). Author’s collection.

Marguerite Claussat was never active in her husband’s political career. During the 1930s, it was Josée who accompanied her father on his political trips. Josée and René remained close to the Nazis during the Occupation when they would frequently attend events held at the German Embassy in Paris. After the war (and the execution), both would be Laval’s strongest supporters arguing his innocence. Josée actually got General Dwight Eisenhower to alter his war-time memoirs because she didn’t like the way he described her father.  Learn more about Pierre Laval.

The Third Republic

Except for the four years of the Occupation, Laval’s political career was centered in the latter half of The Third Republic. So, I thought a brief discussion of this era might be helpful. The Third Republic was formed after 1870 to be the government of France. It was structured with a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate (the legislative branch) and a President of the Council. Initially, The Third Republic struggled with the idea of returning the country to a monarchy. However, by 1883, any support for the restoration of the monarchy had died out.

The Third Republic was defined by France’s period of colonization, polarized political parties, secularization of the government and education, corruption, scandals, anti-Semitism (displayed by the Dreyfus Affair), the Belle Époch era, and having to move from crisis-to-crisis. It was also this government and its foreign policy that were blamed for France’s entrance into World War I. Throughout its seventy-year existence, The Third Republic was very unpopular. It was dissolved on 10 June 1940 when Marshal Philippe Pétain (1856−1951) was given full powers and the Vichy government was formed to act as the legitimate French government under the Nazi Occupation of France.

Pre-War Career

There really isn’t enough time or paper to describe Laval’s pre-war career and his many positions within The Third Republic. The period between the two world wars in France was marked by ever-changing political landscapes and instability with multiple governments, presidents, and ministers. It’s no wonder that Laval held so many different positions between 1914 and 1940—he successfully changed his political stripes whenever it suited him and supported politicians who would promote and protect him. His financial investments in newspapers—backed by French banks—didn’t hurt his career either.

Pierre Laval walking to the Chamber of Deputies. Photo by ACME (6 January 1936). Author’s collection.
Pierre Laval walking to the Chamber of Deputies. Photo by ACME (6 January 1936). Author’s collection.

Laval was President of the Council twice before Vichy was formed: 1931 to 1932 and 1935 to 1936. He undertook a world tour in late 1931 and met with representatives of the U.S., London, and Berlin. Laval’s meeting with President Herbert Hoover would elevate his profile with both the Americans and the French. It was this trip that influenced TIME Magazine and its editors to name him as “Man of the Year” on 4 January 1932. The economic depression had not yet affected France but it soon would catch up to them albeit on a far less damaging basis than America experienced.

Pierre Laval hailing his car after leaving a meeting with his cabinet at the Élysées Palace. Photo by ACME (3 December 1935). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Author’s collection.
Pierre Laval hailing his car after leaving a meeting with his cabinet at the Élysées Palace. Photo by ACME (3 December 1935). Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Author’s collection.

By the time of Laval’s second term as president, he had positioned himself as an opponent to Germany. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and immediately began to dismantle the Weimar Republic in favor of his Nazi party. Within six years, Hitler abandoned the World War I reparations program, began the annexation of contingent territories, and resumed the rearmament of Germany. Before being forced to resign in early 1936, Laval had signed a treaty with Italy as well as one with the Soviet Union. It was his intent to keep these two countries from aligning themselves with Hitler.

World War II And Vichy

One of the legacies of The Third Republic was its right-wing political faction. The public face of this ideology was the organization Action Française founded by the virulent writer, Charles Maurras. Their political positions were nationalistic, anti-Semitic, monarchist, pro-Catholic, fascist, and reactionary in every way. While the party lost favor after the Catholic Church condemned it, Action Française and many of its members would re-surface within the Vichy government in leadership roles. It laid the foundation for French collaboration during the Occupation. Many of the collaborationist writers, intellectuals, and anti-Semitics found their inspiration from Maurras and Action Française. While there is no evidence that Laval supported Action Française or its platform, he was publically supporting Germany and fascism by mid-1940.

Marshal Philippe Pétain (left) and Pierre Laval (right) walking in the gardens after a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Vichy. Photo by Associated Press Photo (24 April 1942). Author’s collection.
Marshal Philippe Pétain (left) and Pierre Laval (right) walking in the gardens after a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Vichy. Photo by Associated Press Photo (24 April 1942). Author’s collection.

Immediately after having the new government turned over to him, Marshal Pétain named his cabinet with Pierre Laval as the Minister of Foreign Policy. It was a role Laval coveted since it would put him close to the Germans who he was convinced would win the war (as did many of his fellow citizens at that time). Pétain did not particularly like Laval (Laval blew cigarette smoke in the Marshal’s face) and there was internal opposition to him serving in the cabinet. Laval made single handed decisions to hand over copper mines and gold reserves to the Germans. Pétain removed Laval from the cabinet and had him arrested before the end of 1940. However, Pétain was forced by Hitler to bring Laval back in 1942 and he served as President of the Council, Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Interior, and Information until 1944 when the Nazis arrested Laval and detained Vichy officials.

Collaboration

Before returning to power in 1942, Laval supported French collaborationist organizations such as the Légion des Volontaires Français, a fascist militia. Shortly after re-joining Vichy, Laval gave a speech in which he expressed his “desire to establish normal and trusting relations with Germany and Italy.” He also spoke about “wishing for a German victory.”

Right about this time, Germany needed more laborers and Laval agreed to a plan to provide three French workers in return for the release of one French POW (Germany was holding between one and two million French soldiers as prisoners). His agreement was in direct opposition to the terms of the French/German Armistice which prohibited using forced French labor.

The infamous La Grande Rafle (aka Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup) occurred under Laval’s watch. Over a two-day period in July 1942, the French police in Paris arrested and detained more than thirteen thousand men, women, and children. This was in direct response to the Nazi order to begin the mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps. The Nazi order specifically said that children under the age of sixteen were exempt. However, Laval gave the orders to include all children regardless of their age. Approximately four thousand children from this roundup died at Auschwitz.

Pierre Laval became the leader of the notorious French paramilitary organization called the Milice français (aka Milice). The French Resistance considered the Milice to be more dangerous than the Gestapo. Members of the Milice were French and as such, spoke perfect French, knew the country and its culture, and could infiltrate resistance networks easier than the Germans. Their primary responsibility was to roundup Jews and résistants for deportation. They became increasingly active in hunting down and executing members of the Maquis—bands of guerilla fighters specializing in sabotage against the Germans. The brutality of the Milice matched or exceeded the Gestapo tactics.

As Minister of the Interior, Laval was ultimately responsible for the actions of the French police. He appointed Réne Bousquet as General Secretary of the Vichy Police. Bousquet was one of the officials directly responsible for the roundups of the Jews in Paris and other French cities with their ultimate deportation to the concentration and labor camps. He worked directly with General Karl Oberg, the head of the Gestapo in France as the fist of the Nazis tightened around France’s throat.

Post Normandy Invasion and Liberation

Laval’s speech to the nation immediately after D-Day implored the French not to fight. He called the résistants “enemies of our country.” By August 1944, Laval had been arrested by the Germans and in early September, the remaining members of the Vichy government were relocated to the Hohenzollern family’s castle in Sigmaringen, Germany.

Laval was able to reach Spain in the spring of 1945 but three months later, Charles de Gaulle was successful in getting the Spanish government to expel Laval. He and his wife flew to Austria where they were immediately arrested and turned over to the Free French. They were imprisoned in Fresnes Prison but Mrs. Laval was ultimately released.

Marshal Pétain, at the age of 89, went on trial first with Laval as one of the witnesses. Convicted of treason, Pétain faced the death penalty but the sentence was commuted to life by de Gaulle. Pétain was stripped of all military honors and medals except for the title of “Marshal of France” (legally, this could not be taken away). Five years later, the “Lion of Verdun” died in captivity and was buried near the prison.

Pierre Laval’s Trial

Laval’s trial began on the afternoon of 4 October 1945 and lasted until 8 October when the next day the jury went into deliberations. The verdict of guilty with a sentence of death was reached quickly.

The trial was a sham. Despite what one thinks of Pierre Laval and whether he was a collaborationist, traitor, or mass murderer, no one could mistake his trial as one that resembled any modern day due process of law. The verdict was a foregone conclusion. It became so bad that Laval made the decision not to attend the remainder of his trial or further defend himself.

His brief attempt to present a defense during the first days of the trial was to portray himself as a savior of the French. In his view, he had to collaborate with the Nazis or else the consequences for France and its citizens would have been much harsher. As history points out, Laval’s decisions in many situations actually called for greater measures or quotas than the Nazis demanded; going so far as to implement policies in the absence of any Nazi decrees. Learn more about the trial.

Epilogue

I believe that had World War II and the Nazi Occupation of France not occurred, Pierre Laval might have gone down in history as one of its greatest French politicians. Unfortunately for many innocent (and not-so-innocent) victims, history marched down a different path after which Laval along with some of his former Vichy colleagues marched down the path to face the firing squad as traitors to France.

Laval’s grave is usually never void of flowers. Unfortunately, the families of the victims of his decisions will never know the location of their relatives’ graves, let alone be able to place flowers.

Recommended Reading

If you’d like to dig a little deeper into the history of Pierre Laval, the Vichy government, The Third Republic, and Laval’s trial, I recommend the following books:

Paxton, Robert O., Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order 1944−1944. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.

Brody, J. Kenneth. The Trial of Pierre Laval: Defining Treason, Collaboration and Patriotism in World War II France. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2010.

Shirer, William L. The Collapse of the Third Republic. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969.

Luce, Henry−Editor. TIME The Weekly Magazine. January 4, 1932, Number One, Page 12.

Robert Paxton’s book Vichy France was considered a ground-breaking book when published in 1972. It is an exposé of France’s collaboration role with the Nazis during the Occupation. It pushed the country and its politicians into uncomfortable but serious discussions about the extent of its involvement. On 16 July 1995, reversing previous administrations’ refusals to apologize, President Jacques Chirac acknowledged the French State’s role in the persecution of French Jews and others during the Occupation. Ken Brody’s book The Trial of Pierre Laval exposes the kangaroo court scene that was Laval’s trial. Regardless of your position on Laval’s innocence or guilt and if you truly believe in a fair process of a justice system, you’ll walk away wondering why they even pretended to have his trial. William Shirer’s 1969 tome The Collapse of the Third Republic argued The Third Republic was morally weak and its leaders were cowards. He described Pierre Laval as a “crooked crypto-fascist.”

What’s New With Sandy and Stew?

As you read this blog, Sandy and I are beginning our second week in Paris. Today and tomorrow mark the Journées du Patrimoine or European Heritage Days.  Learn more.

It is the one time during the year when European governments choose which cultural or historical events to highlight. In Paris, the government opens “closed to the public” sites (typically government buildings), offers behind the scene tours, and free entrance to other public attractions/sites.

This weekend, there are more than sixty sites available for the public to visit. These include Palais Luxembourg, the Musée de la Légion d’Honneur, and the Palais Bourbon, site of the National Assembly.

Today, we will be visiting many sites with our friend Raphaelle. The two at the top of our list are Hôtel Beauharnais (the former German Embassy during the Occupation) and the Ministry of the Interior (site of the former Gestapo headquarters).

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Statuemania

So you read the title of this blog and automatically assumed I was going to share my opinion with you concerning recent events around our country. You were interested to know what I thought about the desire and the movements to destroy or relocate certain statues, paintings, or other memorials that certain people might find offensive.

No, I wanted to talk with you today about the deliberate destruction of approximately 1,750 bronze statues throughout France during the German Occupation of World War II. Not since the French Revolution had so many statues been destroyed (albeit for different reasons).

The Victor Hugo monument in Paris. Photo by anonymous (1908). Georges Lafenestre, L’œuvre de Ernest Barrias, Paris, Renouard, 1908. PD-70+. Wikimedia Commons.
The Victor Hugo monument in Paris. Photo by anonymous (1908). Georges Lafenestre, L’œuvre de Ernest Barrias, Paris, Renouard, 1908. PD-70+. Wikimedia Commons.

During the latter part of the 19th-century, the French government known as The Third Republic began a wide-spread campaign to erect bronze statues. These men (Joan of Arc being the lone woman) were considered heroes of France but in the minds of the citizens, they were closely associated with a widely considered corrupt government. This period of time was sarcastically dubbed “Statuemania.”  Learn more.

What Happened?

Well, first of all, the Nazis invaded France on 14 June 1940 and began a four-year occupation. Hitler created two zones in France: The Occupied and Unoccupied (Paris was in the Occupied Zone). After seventy years in existence, The Third Republic was replaced by the Vichy government headed by Marshal Pétain and Pierre Laval.

Pétain’s collaborationist government was located in the small spa town of Vichy—the Unoccupied Zone. By November 1942 with the Allied successes in North Africa, all pretenses of a separate government were gone when the Germans eliminated the Unoccupied Zone and began to increase their direct role in running occupied France including higher demands for agricultural products and other resources (including non-ferrous metals) to feed the Nazi military machine. Learn more about the Vichy government here.

After France was liberated in August 1944, it became clear that Pétain and Laval had sanctioned laws, decrees, and actions that far exceeded Nazi expectations (including quotas for the deportation of Jews). During their separate trials, Pétain and Laval tried to argue in their defense that they were only trying to keep the Nazis happy and so avoid greater hardships for the French—at least as long as you weren’t a Jew, Freemason, communist, gypsy, homosexual, political opponent or any other type of untermensch (inferior person).

Reparations

The terms of the Armistice of 22 June 1940 were harsh. The French were required to cede three-fifths of France for German occupation. All occupation costs were to be paid by the French. Additionally, a daily fee of 400 million French francs was to be paid to the Germans. As time went on, the Germans confiscated more and more of the food to send back to the fronts as well as demanding higher payments in gold and other supplies.

Bronze statue of Camille Desmoulins located in the gardens of the Palais Royal, Paris. Postcard photo by anonymous (c. 1906). Author’s collection.
Bronze statue of Camille Desmoulins located in the gardens of the Palais Royal, Paris. Postcard photo by anonymous (c. 1906). Author’s collection.

Early in the Occupation, the Germans threatened to confiscate every church bell in France for the purpose of melting them down to make bullets (much like they did in all the other occupied countries). The Vichy government was very close to the Catholic Church and Pétain’s ministers countered with a plan to destroy and melt bronze statues instead of the bells. There was an immediate uproar by the citizens (as there would have been over the church bells). The Germans accepted this alternate option albeit with increased quotas for metal.

Vichy told its citizens the statue metal would be used for the national agricultural industry (the French knew better). In fact, the metal was always earmarked by Vichy to be shipped direct to Germany for the manufacture of German bullets and other munitions. It all counted towards satisfying the reparation fee.

Mobilization of Statues

Most people believe or assume this was a German initiative when in fact, there is no evidence to support this. Mobilization of the statues was strictly a French decision and was only one component in the overall metal recovery program.

One of the actions that Vichy took in October 1941 was to pass a law calling for the destruction of any statue which the Nazis might find offensive. These were any statues that symbolized democracy, liberal policies, religion (including persons of the Jewish faith), avant-garde, and generally, any idea or philosophy which was anti-Nazi.

French communities vigorously opposed this policy—Paris did not. Hundreds of towns went to great lengths to protest, condemn, and even hide the statues. Most of the statues were of local men who were considered heroes to the townspeople. Parisians did not have the same attachment to their statues. Almost all the statues in Paris were put up by The Third Republic and as previously discussed, represented a decadent time (also remember that Baron Haussmann had created a lot of open space by 1870 which needed to be filled). Statues erected during “Statuemania” included Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and revolutionaries such as Camille Desmoulins, Marquis de Condorcet, Georges-Jacques Danto, and Jean-Paul Marat. Politicians and icons of The Third Republic such as Léon Gambetta and Victor Hugo were immortalized. Other than Danton, none of the previously named statues made it. Victor Hugo’s granddaughter was unsuccessful in trying to save Victor’s statue and less than one week after its destruction, she died.

What was the criteria for selection? It was determined that if a statue was privately held or located in a cemetery, it would be saved. Statues of kings, queens, and saints were off limits. If a statue was considered to be of historical significance or “indisputable national glories,” it would be saved. Four statues were classified as historically significant: King Henri IV (Pont Neuf), Joan of Arc (Place des Pyramides), Louis XIV (Versailles), and Napoléon (Place Vendôme).

The Gambetta Monument originally located in the Carousel du Louvre. Notice the building on the left. This is the Richelieu Pavilion of the Louvre. The trees in the background have been replaced by the I.M. Pei Pyramid. Photo by anonymous (c. 1900). Author’s collection.
The Gambetta Monument originally located in the Carousel du Louvre. Notice the building on the left. This is the Richelieu Pavilion of the Louvre. The trees in the background have been replaced by the I.M. Pei Pyramid. Photo by anonymous (c. 1900). Author’s collection.
Fragment of the enormous monument to Léon Gambetta. This was part of the stone base. Now located in Square Edouard Vaillant−Paris (20e). Photo by Pyb (March 2011). PD-GNU Free Documentation License v.1.2. Wikimedia Commons.
Fragment of the enormous monument to Léon Gambetta. This was part of the stone base. Now located in Square Edouard Vaillant−Paris (20e). Photo by Pyb (March 2011). PD-GNU Free Documentation License v.1.2. Wikimedia Commons.

There were actually two waves of statue mobilization: October 1941 to May 1942 and the summer 1942 to August 1944. The first wave was controlled by the French and it was the period of greatest destruction. The second wave was controlled by the Germans and coincided with the elimination of the Unoccupied Zone and increasing control of the occupied country by the Nazis. The second wave was less damaging because there weren’t as many statues left to choose from and by early 1943, the German war effort was consuming more resources including manpower. Although the second wave coincided with the return of Pierre Laval in April 1942 to run Vichy and by extension, an increase in its collaboration efforts, the Nazis were more interested in exploiting French natural resources than they were of collaboration.

The mobilization peaked in October 1942. During the second wave, the Germans were ruthless with respect to their selection of statues. The final say belonged to the German Kunstschutz (the Wehrmacht art protection division—is this an oxymoron?). Statues previously safe (privately owned, cemeteries, and war memorials) were now fair game. By 1943, the Nazis were going after statues in the universities, lycées (high schools), and French administrative offices. Only two statues in Paris were saved by the Germans during this period: the Saint-Michel statue and fountain and the Medici fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Marie de Medicis Fountain

Destroyed Statues

Once the statues were identified for destruction, they were removed from their pedestals and taken to a scrap metal warehouse located at 112 Avenue du Général Michel Bizot (12e)—the building no longer exists. There they were disassembled, crushed, and melted down. Clandestine photos of the statues were taken by Pierre Jahan before being melted. These photos have been preserved in a book La Mort et les Statues (Death and the Statues).

Some statues had sections removed while the core statue was left standing. A great example of this is The Grand Fountain in the middle of the Place de la Nation. It was once a shallow circular water basin with the main sculpture in the middle. Surrounding the center island were sculptures of lizards and alligators. These represented the enemies of democracy and so they were removed and destroyed. Other statues had their heads removed and were hidden from the authorities. After the war, these were remounted on the pedestals as busts.

The Triumph of Republic (1899), Place de la Nation. Notice the alligators and serpents in the basin. Sculpture by Jules Dalou. Postcard photo by anonymous (c. 1910). PD-70+. Wikimedia Commons.
The Triumph of Republic (1899), Place de la Nation. Notice the alligators and serpents in the basin. Sculpture by Jules Dalou. Postcard photo by anonymous (c. 1910). PD-70+. Wikimedia Commons.
Place de la Nation. Notice the dry grassy area surrounding the statue. This was once the water basin. Photo by Tim Adams (September 2014). PD-CCA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.
Place de la Nation. Notice the dry grassy area surrounding the statue. This was once the water basin. Photo by Tim Adams (September 2014). PD-CCA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

The Statue of Danton

Statue of Georges-Jacques Danton. Sculpture by Auguste Paris (1891). Photo by anonymous (c. 2006). PD-GNU Free Documentation License. Wikimedia Commons.
Statue of Georges-Jacques Danton. Sculpture by Auguste Paris (1891). Photo by anonymous (c. 2006). PD-GNU Free Documentation License. Wikimedia Commons.

When Sandy and I were in Paris doing the final research for the French Revolution books (Where Did They Put the Guillotine?), I happened to mention to her how surprised I was that we didn’t see statues of the leaders, martyrs, or principals of the French Revolution. Where were statues of Voltaire and Rousseau? The only bronze statue we found was Georges-Jacques Danton standing in the Place Henri Mondor next to the entrance of the Odéon Métro. A small statue of the Marquis de Condorcet had been erected rather recently on the Quai de Condi. That was it (there may have been more but we never saw any).

Now we know why there aren’t any of those statues. The only one I know that was replaced (at least in its original size and pose) was Condorcet. Why was the Danton statue saved when other revolutionaries’ statues were not (e.g., Jean-Paul Marat and Camille Desmoulins)? Was Danton considered to be of historical significance or “indisputable national glories?”

Marquis de Condorcet replacement statue. Recast in 1989. Photo by Henry Salomé (September 2006). PD-GNU Free Documentation License. Wikimedia Commons.
Marquis de Condorcet replacement statue. Recast in 1989. Photo by Henry Salomé (September 2006). PD-GNU Free Documentation License. Wikimedia Commons.

Decapitated Pedestals

Pedestal where the statue of François Arago once stood. Photo by Scott Dexter (April 2012). PD-CCA-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. Wikimedia Commons.
Pedestal where the statue of François Arago once stood. Photo by Scott Dexter (April 2012). PD-CCA-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. Wikimedia Commons.

So you pull down a statue from its pedestal. You know what will happen to the statue but what do you do with the pedestal? Three options: demolish it, leave as is, or replace the statue. The original plan was to demolish the pedestals but a lack of manpower and transportation made the destruction a very low priority to Vichy. After the war, all three options were exercised by local officials. Some towns kept the pedestals to be used as a soapbox for speeches.

Many of the pedestals in Paris were eventually demolished. The recast statue of the Marquis de Condorcet stands on the original pedestal. The statue of François Arago was never replaced and his pedestal remains unadorned near the Place Denfert-Rochereau.

For several French generations, the sight of empty pedestals was a constant reminder of the collaboration by Vichy France. I wonder how many of those passing by Arago’s pedestal today know the story behind the missing statue.

Paris Statues Today

As we walk around Paris, it becomes clear the relative number of free standing bronze statues in Paris is very small especially compared to other major European cities. There are many statues in the Luxembourg Gardens, in the exterior alcoves of the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), and the cemeteries (e.g., Père Lachaise) but most are chiseled out of stone. See the Statues of Paris.

Left: General Charles de Gaulle leads the Victory Parade down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on Liberation Day. Photo by anonymous (26 August 1944). National Archives and Records Administration. PD-US Gov. Wikimedia Commons. Right:Statue of Charles de Gaulle in the Place Clemenceau, Paris. Photo by BKP (April 2010). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.
Left: General Charles de Gaulle leads the Victory Parade down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on Liberation Day. Photo by anonymous (26 August 1944). National Archives and Records Administration. PD-US Gov. Wikimedia Commons.
Right:Statue of Charles de Gaulle in the Place Clemenceau, Paris. Photo by BKP (April 2010). PD-CCA-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

In volume two of our new book Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters? we take you to an area where commemorative statues stand. Here you will find General Charles de Gaulle simulating his victorious walk down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on 26 August 1944. General de Gaulle did not get his statue until 2000, thirty years after his death.

Paris seems to have two primary methods for memorializing its heroes: naming streets after them and putting plaques on the front of buildings that held some significance to the individual being honored.

I like historical plaques. I just need to learn French to fully enjoy them.

Historical Footnote

In the context of World War II, the Occupation of France (and other countries), and the overall suffering, our topic today is really quite minor. I would dare say that if you asked Parisians today about their knowledge of the statues, only a handful would have any idea of this historical footnote.

The mobilization of statues was neither cultural or historical revisionism. It was driven strictly by economic and collaborationist forces.

Recommended Reading

If you’d like to dig a little deeper into the history of Paris statues and their destruction during World War II and the Occupation, I recommend the following book:

Freeman, Kirrily. Bronzes to Bullets: Vichy and the Destruction of French Public Statuary, 1941−1944. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009.

Kirrily Freeman’s book Bronzes to Bullets is a very detailed account of the mobilization of statues in France. It reads like a PhD thesis—not surprising as this was the author’s thesis. It is well researched and Dr. Freeman presents a well-documented foundation based on economics, cultural, historical, and political events. She did a very good job of explaining the cultural and patrimony mindset of the French and its effect on their psyche towards the statue removals and destruction. I do wish she had commented on why the Danton statue was saved.

What’s New With Sandy and Stew?

This is our last blog before we go to Paris. Sandy and I will be in Paris for two weeks beginning 9 September 2017. We’re looking forward to seeing Raphaelle again. She will be our guide for three days while we visit several sites outside Paris. Our good friend Annette has business in Rotterdam and will take the train to see us on the second weekend—looking forward to closing down a bistro with her.

Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter as we will post each day. If nothing else, we’ll tell you about a good restaurant we’ve experienced that day.

Someone Is Commenting On Our Blogs

Thank you to Patti H. for her comments on our last blog Puttin’ on the Ritz. Hope you enjoy this one as well Patti!

Our next blog will be on TIME Magazine’s “Man of the Year.” Spoiler Alert: He was the only “Man of the Year” executed and he’s mentioned in this blog.

If there is a topic you’d like to see a blog written about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love hearing from you so keep those comments coming.

Why Would You Want To Buy Our “Walks Through History” Books?

Simple.

You like to travel and experience history and historical events. You like to see original buildings that had a significant impact on the people and events of the history you’re engaged with. You want to know the stories behind the brick and mortar in front of you.

The walking tour books are meticulously researched so you can go directly to those sites and learn about the building’s history as well as an introduction to some of the more interesting people associated with it.

Thank You

Sandy and I appreciate you visiting with us. We have some exciting things on the horizon and we’ll keep you updated as we go along.

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