Show Notes for Episode 459: Jean Moulin, Standing Up to Tyranny

Category: French History


Jean MOULIN: June, 1899 Béziers– July,1943 Gare de Metz

Jean Moulin is the most well-known of the men and women who fought in the Resistance to liberate France from the Germans during WWII. Honest, politically aware, brave and charismatic, he has become the symbol of courage in the face of barbarity.

Already well known in Resistant circles during WWII and just afterward, he became the absolute example of heroism and dignity when his ashes were taken to be put in the Pantheon by President Charles de Gaulle in 1964. His name is mentioned in school books and even today he is talked about as an example of stoic heroism and intergrity. This year, 2023, has honored the 80th anniversary of his death with films, documentaries and discussions about his life and his work.


1899: Jean Moulin was born in Béziers, in June, 1899, his family traced their Occitan roots back generations. Both parents were teachers and he was brought up in a secular, republican environment devoted to the idea of a Republic. He learned to speak Occitan like his father and when his father became a member of the departmental government (Hérault) Jean decided to follow in his footsteps

1917: A political science student in Montpellier, thanks to his father’s connections he gets a job as an assistant to someone in the office of the Prefecture while continuing his studies. He is not a great student: an artist and a ladies’ man, he doesn’t take life too seriously yet.

1918: He is drafted at the very end of WW I. Sent to Metz, about to enter a combat zone, he is very lucky because just then the Armistice is signed and he is demobilized.

1919: Goes back to university and to work at the Prefecture where he excels at organization and human relations. He is so impressive in his capacities that he gives up on the law exam and stays on

1922: At the age of 23 he becomes the youngest assistant Chief of Staff of any Prefecture in France. He is sent to Savoie. By this time he clearly aligns his politics with the Front Popular and the Left wing government and is very open about his political sympathies.

1925-1930: He becomes the youngest Under Secretary (Assistant Prefet) in France. His rise in government is rapid and his reputation as being brilliant and charismatic is established.

1930: Sent to the Finistère in Brittany. As his passion is art: he is an excellent painter, and caracturist, he makes friends with the artists community there and the poets colonies in Brittany. He publishes several volumes of drawings and cartoons.

1932: Jean Moulin is appointed to the Office of Foreign Affairs under the Minister PIerre Cot who is his mentor.

1933: Promotion to become Chief Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs

1934: Sent to Paris and then to Amiens

1936: Becomes Chief of Staff for the Minister of the Air (Air Force)

1936-37: Secretly, but with the approval of the President, is responsible for sending planes and pilots to help the Spanish in their  fight against Franco. He is vociferously anti-fascist. This is his first act of subterfuge and resistance in war.

1937: Named Prefet of Aveyron. The youngest Prefet ever is France.

1939: Named Prefet of Eure and Loir (Chartres). As soon as War is Declared, he asks to be relieved of his functions so he can join the fight against the Germans but his resignation is refused! He actually goes and tries to enlist but is refused because his eyesight is not that good. He is told that his job is to help protect the civilians.

He is in Chartres when it is bombed to smithereens by the German airforce. Much of the city is destroyed and almost all of the population of 23 000 flees. But over 100 000 people fleeing Paris and the north arrive in Chartres.

He is arrested by the Germans because he refuses to sign a document they have written for him, declaring that a company of Senegalese sharp shooters are responsible for a massacre of hundreds of civilians. He knows that it was the Germans who did the massacre and that they want to blame the ‘colonial forces”. Badly beaten and tortured, he is put in a cell with a Senegalese officer for refusing to sign the document, as ¨Prefet (for the Vichy government) He tries to commit suicide by cutting his throat. Saved by his cell-mate, he is released

1940: Moulin resigns or is rather forced out for disobedience, as Prefet. He wants to fight against the Germans and the Vichy government which collaborates with them. Moulin goes south and officially goes into hiding and becomes part of the Resistance.

As a Prefet and great organizer he wants to help make a more effective Resistance. He also wants to make contact with General De Gaulle, who is in London with the self declared Free French Government

Moulin writes that he has two objectives:

1)  Assess and evaluate the how many, who and where of the different Resistant groups

2) Get to London to work with De Gaulle in fighting the Germans.

Under a false name he writes a journal ‘Free France” and as “Joseph Mercier” goes to Marseille and other cities in the Free Zone to meet up with all the different Resisant groups.

1941 : Gets to London. Impresses De Gaulle with his determination, his work, his findings, and his ability to organize. De Gaulle decides to appoint Moulin to represent him and the Free French Forces and is officially named Head of the Resistance.

His “job” is to co-ordinate all the Resistant groups and get them to work together, to share information and arms and tactics. It is a very difficult job and many of the Resistant groups resented De Gaulle taking on the ‘title of Head of Government and giving orders.

1941 : TWO secret and difficult MISSIONS

Create a Secret (well armed)  Army assisted by one of the big Resistant groups the FFI (Free French Forces of  Interior) that will answer to De Gaulle in London and not necessarily to the Allies

Make an Umbrella Organization the CNR (National Committee of Resistance) that all groups will adhere to.

The CNR is very important because the Allies wanted to work with a nationally coordinated Resistance and not have to deal with too many disparate and rival groups. Supplying arms and helping was with the condition of having a central organization and De Gaulle, who was in touch with the American and British generals knew this was very important.

1942-1943: Moulin makes several clandestine trips to London and is parachuted back. He brings back promises of arms in exchange for better cooperation among the groups. He also gives his assessment of the different Resistant groups and their abilities and their politics to DeGaulle, because the Resistant groups (and there were many) directed by the Communists didn’t always want to cooperate and had their own ideas of what to do and the Allies and De Gaulle did not always trust them.

It is during these two years that Moulin, in spite of a fake name, and a ‘cover’ as an art gallerist in Nice, is known or known about, by every Resistant group in France. But, even for those groups who listen and respect him, they don’t always want to work with each other.

June 21 to July 8, 1943:THE TRAP:  FATEFUL MEETING:  Moulin sets up a meeting of the heads of 7 of the most important groups in a village near Lyon. The meeting is planned for June 21. Six of the Resistant heads show up. And someone, another Resistant who had not been invited, René Hardy, shows up by surprise. He had been arrested by the Gestapo days before and released to the general surprise of everyone. of Before the meeting could begin, after everyone was there, the Gestapo showed up and arrested them all.

There were two Generalse  as part of the Resistant leaders, and the others were civilian heads of important groups. All of them were sent to prisons. But most importantly, the Gestapo wanted JEAN MOULIN. The head of the Gestapo was Klaus Barbie, a terrible sadistic man. He spent days torturing Moulin, who of course knew the names of all the Resistant groups and their leaders. Moulin was tortured for over two weeks then sent to Paris. He was tortured more there and then, still barely alive, was  put on a train to Berlin because Hitler wanted him “alive” so he could extract information from him and see who this person was.

Moulin never gave any names, never gave them any information. But his torture was such that he died of his wounds in the train in the station of Metz on July 8th.

His body was incinerated and returned to Paris where he was buried in Père Lachaise (plot no10137) There is today, no absolute proof that  it is his ashes but it is accepted that it is him.

The Legend of Jean Moulin began then with his martyrdom and his courage to not speak in spite of the most terrible of tortures.

Post WW II: Jean Moulin is considered a hero and is held as an example of extreme courage.

Legion of Honor in October 1945

Croix de Guerre in 1945

Endless posthumous honors.

I964: Charles de Gaulle is President. He decides that it is important that Moulin enter the Pantheon. In a huge ceremony his ashes are brought to the Pantheon

1964: Andre Malraux, minister of Culture gives a very famous speech about Jean Moulin and talks of his courage and integrity

From this time on Jean Moulin is mentioned in all the books about WW II and the

Today there are 434 schools named after him. His “story” is part of the curriculum of schools in France and  he is as close as possible to being a ‘household’ name: more known I think with younger people than De Gaulle.


Who betrayed Jean Moulin? Rene Hardy was tried twice after the end of WW II and acquitted both times for  insufficient proof. No one officially knows who betrayed Moulin and of the group, five did not survive their imprisonment.

There is much speculation. Several films have been made and books have been writen but there is no absolute proof (available to the public) Perhaps some day the records will be opened; and it will be revealed.

STRANGE DETAIL: Moulin and his red scarf

All photos and sculptures of Jean Moulin show him wearing a fedora and having a scarf around his neck. He wore the scarf  not because he was chic (which he was) but to hide the scars of his attempt at suicide in 1940. If he tried to kill himself then for fear of talking or relenting to the demands of the Germans, he proved, by his immense courage in the face of three weeks of torture in June, 1943, that his bravery was in tact!

Listen to the speech by Charles de Gaulle

Listen to the very famous speech by André Malraux

Visit the Musée Libération Leclerc Moulin (in the 14th Paris)

Visit the Musée Jean Moulin at Saint Andiol (Herault) (created by his family

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Category: French History