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Organisation of resistance Resistance in cities Symbols

Pseudonyms and false identities

When 18-year-old Madeleine Riffaud joined a resistance group in occupied Paris, she was asked to choose a cover name. She chose “Rainer” because she liked the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke. One member of her group was shocked: “It’s not possible to choose a German name!” But another replied: “Why not? We are fighting against the Nazis, not the Germans”.

A cover name, or nom de guerre, was essential if you were part of a resistance movement. Your real name was known only to a few, and you communicated with other members of your network and external contacts only under your cover name. To protect yourself and others, in case someone was arrested and tortured by the occupiers, they could not reveal the true identity of their contacts.

Names could be chosen randomly, but often had a certain pattern and meaning. All members of the French network “Alliance” chose animal names, so that the German police called the group “Noes arch”. To increase their safety, resisters often changed their cover names. Before he became “Valter”, Vladimir Perić was “Petruškin”, “Ivica” and “Popaj” (indeed, after the famous cartoon character Popeye).

 

In the Yugoslav case, “Valter” is an example of a much longer practice of using pseudonyms within the communist movement. Before becoming “Tito”, the Yugoslav communist leader and partisan commander was using the name “Valter”, probably in reference to the pistol Walther,  and under this name he maintained his war correspondence with Moscow.

Some identified so strongly with their name that they kept it after the war. Tito himself, became globally renowned under his pseudonym. Jacques Delmas, who had chosen the nom de guerre “Chaban”, became a known French politician after the war under the name Jacques Chaban-Delmas.

Nom de guerre should not be confused with a false identity. Resistance fighters often possessed false identity papers and were thus able to lead a seemingly normal life. The historian Marc Bloch, who was searched by the police, lived in Lyon in 1943 with false papers under the name Maurice Blanchard, while in his resistance network he was “Narbonne”, in reference to the beautiful medieval French city. Most resistance networks produced false identity papers, often with the help of collaborators within the state apparatus. In 1942, the Partisan commander Kosta Nađ,traveled by train in Bosnia and Herzegovina under the false identity of a railway inspector Mehmed Idrizović. His forged papers were provided by the communist associates in occupied Sarajevo.

 

Nicolas Moll and Vladan Vukliš

Sources / Further reading
  • Madeleine Riffaud, On l’appelait Rainer (1939–1945) (Paris: Julliard 1994)
  • Dane Olbina, “Vladimir Perić Valter”, in: Sarajevo u revoluciji, III (Sarajevo: IAS, 1979), pp. 798–811.
  • Kosta Nađ, Ratne uspomene: Četrdesetdruga (Beograd: Centar za kulturnu delatnost SSO, 1979)
  • Marie–Janine Calic, Tito: Der ewige Partisan (München: Beck C. H. 2020)

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