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Irène Giron and the Resistance press

In July 1951, André François-Poncet, the French High Commissioner in Germany (HCRFA), recommended Irène Giron for nomination as a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (Chevalier of the Legion of Honour) in recognition of her commitment to the Resistance.

 

This 40-year-old woman, responsible since 1945 alongside Raymond Schmittlein for the denazification and democratisation of Germany through culture and education, founded  in May 1941 the newspaper Combat (Struggle), Algiers edition. Within the eponymous movement, led by René Capitant, supporting General de Gaulle to gain a foothold in North Africa, she was in charge of propaganda. At that time, propaganda was the main activity of the Resistance against Nazi Germany and the Vichy regime.

 

Born in Hamburg in 1910 to a German mother and English father, Irene Roman, a graduated translator and interpreter, left Nazi Germany in 1937 in solidarity with her mother and stepfather – a German Jew threatened by anti-Semitic persecution. In South Africa, she worked as a journalist for two magazines. In autumn 1939, she joined her fiancé, Charles Giron, in France and worked as a translator for the French government. She symbolically resigned on the day of the armistice, 22 June 1940. Irène was British, but became French by marriage, and in the summer the couple joined the Les Petites Ailes Resistance group in the Massif Central. She was in charge of the eponymous underground newspaper, the forerunner of Combat, the movement’s newspaper headed by Henri Frenay.

 

Wanted by the Gestapo, the Girons were exfiltrated to Algiers, where they set up a local branch of Combat (movement and newspaper). Irène took charge of editing, printing and distributing Combat, Algiers edition. Initially handwritten and later printed as a weekly, Combat remained clandestine for a long time, even after the Anglo-American landings in North Africa on 8 November 1942. Its aim was the liberation of France, “not only from the invader, but also from the tyrants who had usurped power through defeat and held on to it with the support of the enemy” (editorial, 1.12.1942). In the struggle between Giraud and De Gaulle to lead the liberation movement in North Africa, Combat was the Gaullists’ best weapon. In Algiers, from November 1943, Irène became press attaché for the Commissariat à l’Éducation nationale (National Education Commission), led by Capitant, within the Commissariat français de la Libération nationale (French Commissariat for National Liberation), headed by De Gaulle.

 

Irène Giron, who had already been awarded the Resistance medal, was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1952. She was one of the very few women whose role was recognised (8.5% of those decorated for acts of resistance in France). In 2023, her name was given to the square in front of Mainz’s Johannes Gutenberg-University, which she helped to create with Schmittlein in 1946.

 

Corine Defrance

Sources / further readings
  • Hedwig Brüchert, « Irène Giron » in : Hedwig Brüchert (ed.),  Rheinland-Pfälzerinnen. Frauen in Politik, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft und Kultur in den Anfangsjahren des Landes Rheinland-Pfalz, Mainz 2001, 157-160.
  • Corine Defrance, « Raymond Schmittlein and Irène Giron: Two crossed trajectories in the French Resistance », in: Wer ist Walter? International Perspectives on Resistance in Europe during World War II, ed. Elma Hašimbegović, Nicolas Moll and Ivo Pejaković, Sarajevo 2024

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