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Eighty years ago, the Barbès metro attack: “Titi is avenged”

On August 21, 1941, the communist activist Pierre Georges (the future “Colonel Fabien”) killed a midshipman of the German navy at the Barbès metro station. This event marks the first deadly attack against the occupying troops. The repression hardens. The hostage policy is engaged.

“This morning, August 21, at 8:05 am, at the Barbès-Rochechouart station, line 4, quay direction Porte d’Orléans, a German naval officer, Mr. (Alfons) Moser, was shot twice. as he was getting into the first class car from a stationary train. (…) An individual standing at the second door of the first class car fired two shots from a gun through one of his pockets on the officer who was coming up the next door. The perpetrator and another individual hurriedly got off the train, they ran towards the exit and went outside the station afterwards. having jumped over the locked doors. “

Eighty years ago, as this prefecture report goes, a murderous attack was committed for the first time against a German soldier. The occupier does not know it yet, but it is a young communist militant, Pierre Georges dit Frédo, the future colonel Fabien, assisted by Gilbert Brustlein, who has just done the coup. “This is the first act of the Communist-inspired Resistance, Pierre Georges (Fabien) is the military commissioner of the youth battalions, an underground organization sponsored by the underground CP. Veteran of the International Brigades, it was he who thought the attack “, explains historian Gilles Ferragu of the University of Paris Nanterre, author of” Otages, une histoire “(Gallimard).

By fleeing in the streets of Paris, Frédo exclaims: “Titi is avenged”. Two days earlier, two of his comrades, Samuel Tyszelman and Henri Gautherot, arrested in Paris during a demonstration on August 13, sentenced to death on August 18, were executed. On August 14, 1941, General Otto von Stülpnagel, head of the Military Command of the German Occupation Forces (MBF), decreed that all Communist activity was henceforth punishable by the death penalty.

Poster in French and German announcing the executions of Szmul Tyszelman and Henry Gautherot, shot in Paris on August 19, 1941. © Nantes Archives

A radicalization of repression

The attack on the Barbès metro changes the situation even more. Two days later, the commander of “Grand Paris” (“Gross Paris”) announces that “all French people arrested, whether by the German authorities in France, or who are arrested by the French for the Germans , are considered hostages. In the event of a new act, a number of hostages corresponding to the seriousness of the act committed will be shot (sic), as much as possible, in the entourage of the identified or suspected perpetrators of the attacks. ” “The death of the aspiring Moser is the pretext for a radicalization of the repression, based on the hostages. Of course, the practice already exists in the German army which, since June 19, 1940, was satisfied to establish hostages to during the day, without ever shooting them. But the instructions of August 23, 1941 are more threatening “, emphasizes Gilles Ferragu.

Since the beginning of the summer of 1941, the situation has changed a lot. Following the invasion of the USSR by the Germans on June 22, repressive policies took a sharp turn. “Until then, because of the German-Soviet pact, the Communist Party had kept a low profile,” underlines historian Dominique Tantin, member of the Association for a Maitron of those shot and executed. “From the moment the USSR was invaded by the Nazis, the latter fully engaged in the Resistance and very quickly considered armed struggle, even if this encountered difficulties in terms of resources, but also in terms of motivation. It was not in its tradition to kill in isolation soldiers who could moreover potentially be communists or workers in their uniform. The trigger was the death sentences of Tyszelman and Gautherot which showed the determination of the Germans to lead extremely violent repression. Pierre Georges decided to set an example. “

The first execution of hostages took place on September 6. Three hostages were shot at Mont Valérien, five in Lille on September 15, then 20 on September 26. The gear has started. “In Berlin, the instructions from the General Staff go further: the Keitel decree of September 16 calls for ‘measures of expiation’ against what necessarily amounts to Judeo-Bolshevik terrorism – an interpretation constantly reiterated These measures are also specified from September 28 in a code of hostages “, specifies Gilles Ferragu. This directive creates a climate of terror. Failing to be able to arrest the culprits, the occupier decides to take massive reprisals, in priority against the Communists and the Jews already imprisoned, innocent of the facts, but “ideologically guilty”.

“Opinion will switch to the side of the resistance fighters”

In the fall, this code leads to mass executions. The best known is that of the 50 hostages in Nantes (in reality 48) on October 22, 1941 after the assassination of Lieutenant-Colonel Karl Hotz. “This is the first massive (execution), with in particular the 27 hostages shot from Châteaubriant, including the young Guy Môquet. In the memory of the Communist Resistance, they were the first martyrs. This caused an extremely significant shock”, says Dominique Tantin. Two days later, 50 other hostages were executed at the Souge camp in Gironde, in retaliation for an attack committed in Bordeaux against a German officer. But it was on December 15, 1941 that the daily record was reached, with 95 hostages shot. In total, between September and December 1941, 243 hostages fell under the bullets, including 154 non-Jewish Communists and 56 Jews, the majority of whom were Communists.

Eighty years ago, the Barbès metro attack: “Titi is avenged”
Opinion of the German military authorities announcing the execution of fifty hostages after the assassinations in Bordeaux and Nantes. © Nantes Archives

Faced with these attacks and the scale of the reprisals, the reactions are initially mixed. On October 23, at the microphone of the BBC, General de Gaulle affirmed that “it is absolutely justified that the Germans are killed by the French. If the Germans did not want to receive death, they had only to stay at home. them and not go to war with us. ” However, he shows his disagreement with the individual attacks in occupied territory because “at the moment it is too easy for the enemy to respond by massacring our temporarily disarmed combatants”.

The leader of Free France, on the other hand, calls on the population to symbolic strikes. In public opinion, according to Dominique Tantin, reprobation reigns initially in the face of the executions of German soldiers, “but quite quickly in spite of everything, it is the horror which wins. The attacks will achieve the intended goal which was to shake off the torpor of the French. Opinion will shift to the side of the resistance fighters and against the Germans. “

Counterproductive reprisals

This repression also engages Vichy, which collaborates in these reprisals. “When they wanted to react to the Nantes attack, the Germans asked the Pétain regime to provide a list of hostages. The Minister of the Interior, Pierre Pucheu, did so. He appointed 61 people, mainly Communists. It is from this that the victims of Châteaubriant and Nantes were chosen “, specifies Dominique Tantin. But these executions ultimately turn out to be counterproductive for the occupier and Vichy. The deterrent effect does not work. The attacks continue. On November 7, 1941, a new measure was taken, the Keitel decree, known as “Night and fog”. Resistance fighters who come under this procedure are destined to be tried in Germany and must be isolated there from the rest of the outside world. Their fate is covered by the most absolute secrecy. The repressive deportation is gaining momentum.

At the same time, to spare public opinion and not to slow down the recruitment of labor for Germany, the mass executions of hostages were finally abandoned in November 1942. This policy was reactivated after the execution, on September 28, 1943 in Paris, of Dr Ritter, an SS colonel. A few days later, 50 hostages were extracted from Fort Romainville and shot at Mont Valérien. This will be the last time.

In all, according to research carried out by Maitron, 819 hostages were shot between 1941 and 1943 in the occupied zone. Historian Dominique Tantin and the other members of his association are trying to give them a new face. For several years, they have been working on the Maitron site to write a biography for each of them, as well as for all those shot in France. “They have been forgotten in the collective memory. We must give them back their personalities and their history,” he insists.

In this sense, the Maitron perpetuates the work of Louis Aragon. In January 1942, the latter recovered from Jacques Duclos, responsible for the Communist Party, the testimonies and letters of the hostages in Châteaubriant. The poet pays homage to them in a clandestine text, “Les Martyrs”, read on the BBC, and he makes their sacrifice known: “Is it really France, you will say, where such things happen? Yes, it is France, be sure of it. For these twenty-seven men represent France better than those who designated them to the German executioners. Their blood will not have been shed in vain. “

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