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Memorialisation Organisation of resistance Repression Resistance in cities

Colonel Fabien

Communists played a paradoxical role in the French Resistance. By the end of the war, they provided the biggest number of armed fighters and were very influential in the movement. However, they joined resistance later than other actors like General de Gaulle. Bound by instructions from Moscow and the Non-Agression-Treaty between Stalin and Hitler, most party members had avoided any action against the occupation, until Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Only after 22 June 1941, the French Communist Party (PCF) fully joined the resistance, while de Gaulle had already established a solid underground organisation.

 

Their entry into resistance was symbolised by a violent act: On 21 August 1941, Pierre Georges, later known by his nom de guerre Colonel Fabien, assassinated a German officer at the Parisian metro station Barbès-Rochechouart. It was the first time a member of the occupation troops was shot openly by a French citizen. The shooting marked a turning point in the relatively peaceful relations between the occupation troops and French citizens. The German military command declared all French political prisoners “hostages” and executed nearly 100 of them as retaliation for the killed officer. The Communist party viewed this confrontation as the beginning of an armed, popular uprising, markedly different from the Gaullist resistance, which was essentially verbal (radio speeches) and focusing on building a military force.

 

The gunshot of 21 August 1941 fits into the biography of Pierre Georges, who was precocious in his political engagements. Born in January 1919 in a Parisian worker’s neighborhood, he grew up in a communist family, joined communist youth organisations and then the International Brigades during the Spanish civil war, for what he lied about his age. He returned to France in 1938, became a party official and got arrested in 1939, because of underground activities for the now prohibited PCF. While the bulk of the party remained neutral after the armistice of June 1940, Georges organised opposition against Vichy and the occupation. After the gunshot, he went on with assassinations, sabotage, and forming armed groups, embodying the ideal partisan fighter.

 

With the liberation of Paris in August 1944, the Gaullist-communist competition intensified, and Colonel Fabien became part of this conflict. De Gaulle insisted on his exclusive leadership over the armed combat against the Germans, entrusting it into his professional exile army, while the communists, including Fabien, strove for their own contribution to liberation. Fabien founded his brigade mainly from Parisian workers, including women, foreigners, Jews, participating in pushing the Germans beyond the Rhine. On 25 December 1944, Colonel Fabien was killed when a mine exploded near his headquarters. His obsequies resembled a state funeral: His coffin was laid out in front of Paris City Hall, in front of a huge crowd. After the war, the PCF deployed a hero cult around Fabien, to foster its legitimacy as the only political force representing the legacy of the Resistance. The party headquarters, a famous building by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, is located “Place du Colonel Fabien”.

 

Matthias Waechter

Sources / further readings
  • Jean Maitron/Claude Pennetier, « Pierre Georges, dit Fredo, dit Colonel Fabien », in : Le Maitron. Dictionnaire biographique, mouvement ouvrier, mouvement social. https://maitron.fr/spip.php?article50415

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