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Early resistance Repression Young people

Young, Communist and Resistance fighter: Guy Môquet’s goodbye letter to his family

My darling little mum, my beloved little brother, my beloved little dad,

I’m going to die! […] Of course, I would have liked to live. But what I want with all my heart is for my death to serve some purpose. […] 17 and a half years, my life has been short, I have no regrets, except to leave you all. […]

 

These were Guy Môquet’s last words, before his execution on 22th October 1941.

 

He was born in Paris in 1924. His father, a Communist member of parliament, had been arrested in October 1939 after the French Communist Party was dissolved following the attack on Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union. Active member of the Communist Youth, Guy joined the Resistance very early in the summer of 1940. He printed and distributed leaflets. On 13 October, he was arrested by the French police and imprisoned. He was detained at the Choisel camp in Châteaubriant in autumn 1941, when Karl Hotz, regional commander of the German occupation troops, was shot dead in Nantes by Communists.

 

In accordance with the “hostage policy” put in place by the occupying forces to organize reprisals, a list was drawn up by the Vichy police and completed by the German authorities. 48 men were selected in Paris, Nantes and Châteaubriant, almost all of them communists or trade unionists. Guy Môquet was the youngest of them and was shot at Châteaubriant. His name was added to the list by the Nazis, who wanted to show their determination against “terrorists” of any age, and to tell French society that their enemies were the Communists – and the Jews too.

 

But the young man’s death, and the silence of Marshal Pétain, head of the Vichy government, shocked French and international opinion, making Guy Môquet a “hero” almost immediately. Resistance groups took his name. After the liberation, he was posthumously honoured by the nation and many public places were named after him. But the memory of Guy Môquet soon became an issue between the Communists and the Gaullists. Even in 2007, it divided society, when Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative candidate in the presidential election and soon to be President of the Republic, wanted to make it compulsory to read Guy Môquet’s letter in schools. While some denounced this as “political recuperation”, others hailed it as a gesture of remembrance. The matter subsequently calmed down, but the memory of Guy Môquet, young, communist and resistant fighter, no doubt overshadows that of the 47 other “fusillés” (killed by firing squad) from 22 October 1941.

 

Corine Defrance

Sources / Further reading
  • Pierre-Louis Basse, Guy Môquet. Une enfance fusillée, Stock, Paris, 2000.
  • Jean-Pierre Azéma, « Guy Môquet, Sarkozy et le roman national », L’Histoire,  no 323,‎ septembre 2007, p. 6-11.
  • Film  made by Volker Schlöndorff: La Mer à l’aube, 2011 [Das Meer am Morgen ; Calm at Sea], trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhS7lijncQk

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