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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”.

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. Read More TIME Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ is Executed

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The White Mouse

While it’s not hard researching the Nazi occupation of Paris, sometimes it can be difficult reading about it. There are so many stories of the Nazis’ brutality, viciousness, and policies that you sit back and wonder how human beings could turn into such monsters (and for many, taking pride and pleasure in their actions). Yet just when you don’t want to continue that line of research, you run across stories of people who, despite knowing death awaited them if caught, acted with kindness, bravery, and unselfishness.

This is one of those stories.

 

Nancy Wake wearing British Army uniform. Photo by anonymous (c. 1945). Australian War Memorial. PD-Copyright Expiration. Wikimedia Commons.
Nancy Wake wearing British Army uniform. Photo by anonymous (c. 1945). Australian War Memorial. PD-Copyright Expiration. Wikimedia Commons.

Nancy Wake (1912–2011) was one of the most remarkable women during World War II. The French Resistance primarily used women as couriers or perhaps radio operators but not Nancy Wake. She wanted and demanded a role beyond those duties. Nancy would eventually become the leader of more than 7,000 maquisards (Le Maquis) and that was during her second phase of resistance activities (more on that later). Her reputation was built during the early years of the occupation based on her exploits, which earned her a Gestapo code name and a sizeable bounty on her head.

Watch her story here.

The White Mouse

Nancy and Henri Fiocci. Photo by anonymous (c. late 1930s). Source unknown. Wikimedia.
Nancy and Henri Fiocci. Photo by anonymous (c. late 1930s). Source unknown. Wikimedia.

Nancy began her resistance activities almost immediately after the Germans began their occupation of France. She had moved to Paris from New Zealand (via New York and London) during the 1930s. By 1937, she had met and would eventually marry Henri Fiocca (1893–1943), a wealthy French industrialist living in Marseille, France. Read More The White Mouse