Philippe Collin tells the story of five women whose destiny was turned upside down

Geneviève de Gaulle gives a lecture on deportation to students in December 1945.


Retracing the destinies of five women to convey their place – first – and their role – crucial – in the Resistance during the Second World War. This was the great idea of Philippe Collin for his new podcast. Abandoning for this time the monographic stories which made the success (15 million listenings) of his series (Simone de Beauvoir, Leon Blum…), he chose to intertwine the destinies of two icons of the Resistance (Lucie AubracGeneviève de Gaulle) and the lesser known Mila Racine, Simonne Mathieu and Renée Davelly.

In order to carry out his project, Philippe Collin relied on his team, whose work he elegantly wishes to salute each time. On recognized and widely interviewed historians – Laurent Douzou, Olivier Wieviorka, Catherine Lacour-Astol in particular. And on the enlightenment that the philosopher brings Frédéric Gros, author of Disobey (Albin Michel/Flammarion, 2017)which says this: “For a long time, it was believed that monstrosity was on the side of disobedience. And the totalitarian tragedy has confronted us with monsters of obedience. »

Let us immediately salute the colossal work required to collect the archives, some of which can be heard here for the first time. Thus the moving testimony of Mila Racine’s sister, Sacha, collected in French for the Shoah Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994. Finally, let us underline the role – also crucial – played by radio during the Second World War.

Dangerous actions

But let’s start again. Episode 1: when the story begins, in 1923, the crisis is raging in Germany, and the Jews are blamed. Geneviève de Gaulle grew up without a mother (she was 5 years old when her mother died); Mila Racine and her family fled Russia in 1926. Both were unaware that they would be deported in the same convoy – the so-called “27,000” convoy, which left Compiègne (Oise) on January 31, 1944 – towards the Ravensbrück camp. , in Germany. Lucie Aubrac’s parents aspire to attend the Ecole Normale for their daughter. Simonne Mathieu is already a promising tennis player and Angevine Renée Davelly has not yet flown to Cairo, where she will pursue a singing career. What is certain, as Philippe Collin points out, is that the National Socialist movement is a masculine environment and that women must be at the service of perpetuating the Aryan race.

While Pétain settles down and collaborates, the five women join the Resistance. However, as Philippe Collin says, “this feminine commitment seems all the more remarkable because it involved a double transgression: facing the order imposed by Vichy and the occupier, on the one hand; and faced with the place igned to gender in French society of the time, on the other hand.

Note that, for a long time, women resistance fighters were largely reduced to a handful of romantic clichés – that of a young messenger on a bicycle or that of a fighter posing with her machine gun slung over her shoulder. However, in 1941, facing the Vichy regime and the Nazis, these five women initiated dangerous actions and acted with courage (episode 4).

Read the interview with Olivier Wieviorka (2023): Article reserved for our subscribers “The Second World War forced each individual to confront unprecedented moral dilemmas”

Concern for pedagogy

In the following two episodes, Laval, who has become head of the Vichy government, is ready to do anything – including handing over the Jews of France to the Nazis with the blessing of Philippe Pétain. And, while the occupiers and their collaborating allies redouble their ferocity, Lucie Aubrac and her husband, Raymond, must learn to live with the Gestapo. As for being the niece of Charles de Gaulle, that “is tantamount to a death sentence” : Geneviève will be arrested, at the age of 23 (in 1943, episode 7), and deported to Ravensbrück.

Episode 9 sees the collapse of Nazi Germany and the tragic death of Mila Racine on March 20, 1945, on a construction site near the Mauthausen camp (Austrian territory). On November 20, the Nuremberg trials opens, and we must hear the testimony of Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier in which she talks about her arrival at Auschwitz.

Online courses, evening cles, workshops: develop your skills


Moreover, giving voice, really, at length (ten episodes), by plunging into the heart of archives illuminated by historians, doing it with an obvious concern for pedagogy and not being afraid to recall certain things, that’s it. which Philippe Collin obliges himself to do. Thus, he will say in conclusion of the last episode, it is good for us to remember that, against the hegemony of Hitler’s Germany, women very early and spontaneously rose up and engaged in the Resistance. But it is to Geneviève de Gaulle (France Culture archive 1995) that he will happily leave the final words: “Testifying was an obligation. (…) This testimony is always useful: it is all the same a warning. That’s why we are a bit like night watchmen, because we know how far things go. »

Read the portrait of Marie-Josée Chombart de Lauwe (2014): The song of the resistance

The Resistance (1939-1945), documentary series by Philippe Collin, produced by Violaine Ballet and Juliette Médevielle (10 x 55 min). On France Inter and all the usual listening platforms.

Emilie Grangeray

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