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FRENCH HISTORY

French resistance hero Hubert Germain to be honoured on Armistice day

The coffin of French resistance fighter Hubert Germain will be paraded along the Champs Elysées in a tank on Thursday in a special tribute to the World War II fighter, who died last month.

President Macron stands to attention next to the coffin of late French resistance leader, Hubert Germain
President Macron stands to attention next to the coffin of late French resistance leader, Hubert Germain (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

Born in Paris in 1920, Hubert Germain travelled much of the world as a child, following his father who was stationed as a soldier in the Middle East and Hanoi. He returned to Paris as a teenager to study and had been preparing to join the French navy when war broke out in 1939. 

By the time Germain was sitting his final exam at naval college, France had capitulated to Germany. Rather than graduate and serve in a navy effectively taking orders from the Nazis, he handed in a blank exam paper – much to the bemusement of the college instructors. 

At around this time, Germain heard the call from Charles de Gaulle, broadcasting over the radio from London, for the French to fight on. He boarded a cargo ship to Britain with hundreds of Polish soldiers who had managed to escape westward. 

Germain was sent to Syria in 1941 to take part in the fight between French Vichy forces and the Free French Gaullists – the battle was personal as his father was a senior general in the Vichy regime. During the fighting, casualties from both sides were sent to the same field hospital in Damascus and often attempted to kill each other in the wards. 

After a successful campaign in Syria, Germain saw fighting in Cairo and Libya where he was among the French troops who held off a German offensive at the Battle of Bir Hakeim for two whole weeks despite being outnumbered 10 to one. The French forces were eventually forced to flee after running out of ammunition and water. 

With the tide of the war turning in favour of the allies, Germain was sent northwards to Italy where he was wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino in a particularly bloody advance. “As the Italians said, the poppies were redder than usual,” he recounted in later years. His bravery during the fighting won Germain an Order of the Liberation medal. 

He was not out of action for long and soon landed with the Free French in the southern city of Toulon. The atmosphere as the city was reconquered was jubilant – although Germain was disappointed to see that many of his fellow countrymen refused to join the soldiers as they pressed further towards Paris. “I fought for France, not the French,” he said after the war. 

Germain eventually reconciled with his father after the war and went on to have three children with his wife, Simone Millon. He pursued a career in politics serving as the mayor of Saint-Chéron from 1953-1965, as an MP intermittently from the late 1950s to the 1970s, and as a government minister from 1972-74. During his time as Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, he was instrumental in equipping France with the most modern telephone system in Europe. 

Germain came out as a freemason after retiring from politics created the first Grand Lodge in France. He quickly rose to the rank of grand master. 

When Germain died last month, aged 101, France lost the of its last Compagnons de la Libération – those 1,138 men and  decorated for their role in resisting Nazism. President Macron will honour his legacy with a speech at the Arc de Triomphe tomorrow morning and again at a special burial in Mont-Valérien – a site where many members of the French resistance were cruelly executed by the Nazis. 

“With his brothers in arms, he defended our freedom,” said Emmanuel Macron at an even surely after Germain’s passing. “On this day, the thousand-year-old spirit of the French resistance goes with you.”

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FRENCH HISTORY

After 60 years, France struggles to come to terms with its Algerian past

Friday marks 60 years since the end of the Algerian war of independence from France, but the ghosts of the brutal conflict still haunt both countries.

After 60 years, France struggles to come to terms with its Algerian past

France has made tentative attempts to heal the wounds but refuses to “apologise or repent” for its 132 years of often brutal colonial rule.

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Evian accords that ended the bloodshed signed on March 18th, 1962, France’s struggle with its legacy in Algeria continues.

Independence

Algeria, which Paris regarded as an integral part of France, became independent on July 5th, 1962, after a devastating eight-year war.

So bitter was the divide in France over Algeria that the decision to pull out led some top generals to attempt a coup.

French historians say half a million civilians and combatants, the vast majority Algerian, were killed in the war, while the Algerian authorities insist the actual figure is three times higher.

It took France nearly 40 years to officially acknowledge that “the events in North Africa” constituted a war.

Exodus

In the space of a few months of independence, one million pieds-noirs, settlers of European extraction, fled to France.

Ironically, they often ended up living alongside Algerian immigrants. Many would later become the backbone of the French far right.

Some Algerians who fought for the French, known as Harkis, were executed or tortured in Algeria, but their numbers are highly contested.

Another 60,000 ended up in squalid internment camps in France.

Presidents’ takes on France’s recent past

Valery Giscard d’Estaing was the first French president to visit independent Algeria in April 1975.

His successor Francois Mitterrand said “France and Algeria are capable of getting over the trauma of the past” during a visit in November 1981.

Nicolas Sarkozy admitted the “colonial system was profoundly unjust”.

François Hollande called it “brutal” and in 2016 became the first president to mark the end of the war – causing uproar among his opponents.

Emmanuel Macron, the first French president born after the war, infuriated the right by calling the colonisation of Algeria “a crime against humanity” during his election campaign in 2017.

He said it was time France “looked our past in the face”.

‘Symbolic gestures’

After he was elected president, Macron apologised to the widow of a young French supporter of Algerian independence, a communist who had been tortured to death by the French army in 1957.

Macron also admitted Algerian lawyer Ali Boumendjel was tortured and killed the same year, a murder French authorities had long denied.

After the January 2021 publication of a state-commissioned report on colonisation by Algerian-born French historian Benjamin Stora, Macron said “symbolic gestures” could help reconcile the two countries.

He also begged forgiveness from Harkis who had been “abandoned” by France.

History ‘rewritten’

But Macron has rejected calls for France to “apologise or repent” for its time in Algeria.

He sparked a major rift in late 2021 after he accused Algeria’s post-independence “political-military system… (of) totally rewriting” the country’s history.

Two weeks later he described the 1961 massacre of scores of Algerian protesters in Paris by French police as “an inexcusable crime”.

In January 2022 he also recognised two 1962 massacres of pieds-noirs who opposed Algerian independence by French forces, as well as the deaths of anti-war protesters killed by Paris police the same year.

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