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* Culture and arts Non-violent resistance Women

A mysterious “Soldier with No Name”

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and Marcel Moore (1892-1972) were two artists linked to the avant-garde movements between the First and the Second World War. They were writers, designers, actresses, decorators and photographers, and produced together numerous works combining photomontage and writing, exploring the staging of the self through the motifs of the double, the mask, the mirror… But it is on the British island of Jersey in 1940 that their double became multiple, as the British island was invaded by the German army. Members of the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists (AEAR), Claude and Marcel entered into resistance.

 

On the Underwood typewriter, Claude Cahun typed slogans on colored papers, translated into German by Marcel Moore and signed The Soldier with No Name. They then inserted these leaflets between the pages of newspapers, slipped them into the bags, pockets and ashtrays of soldiers and officers, or stuck them to windscreens. The idea was original: slipping into the shoes of German soldiers, they sought to demoralize the troops by hammering home the horrors of war, even in victory, and the imminence of German defeat. They wrote around 6,000 leaflets they produced over 4 years in many languages. They deliberately introduced errors that could have been made by German-speaking authors, to accentuate the confusion by making people believe that Germans were behind the papers and that the organization was international. The Soldier with No Name multiplied actions, giving the impression that the movement was widespread. This caused panic and confusion in the German army, which was unable to identify this ghostly enemy.

 

“Hitler guides us, Goebbels speaks for us, Goering eats for us, Himmler murders in our name, but nobody dies for us… Please spread the word”.

 

They were finally denounced in July 1944 and the Gestapo found it hard to believe that these two respectable-looking women were behind the rebellion. At the trial, their homosexuality was deemed degrading and weighed against them. They were sentenced to death and to hard labor. With humor, they asked in what order they should carry out the sentences. Finally forgotten in their cell with other prisoners, they were released in 1945 when the island was liberated. “Everything has proved to me that anti-Nazi defeatist propaganda – my literary work of those years – was effective”, Claude Cahun wrote to a friend in August 1948.

 

Marie-Edith Agostini

Sources /Further reading
  • Jeffrey H. Jackson, Paper Bullets: Two Artists Who Risked Their Lives to Defy the Nazis, Algonquin Books, 2020.
  • Gavin James Bower, Claude Cahun: The Soldier with No Name, Zero Books, 2013
  • Rupert Thomson, Never Anyone but You, (novel) Blackstone Audio, 2018 ; Jamais d’autre que toi, French translation by Christine le Bœuf, Actes Sud, 2019
  • Tirza True Latimer et al., Claude Cahun et ses doubles, Bibliothèque municipale de Nantes, Musée des Beaux-arts de Nantes et les Éditions MeMo, 2010

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