Jean Pierre-Bloch, 93, Resistance Fighter for France

 

By Richard Goldstein,, March 20, 1999

 

Jean Pierre-Bloch, a French Resistance figure, high-ranking member of de Gaulle's Free French movement during World War II and spokesman for human rights causes, died Wednesday, March 17, 1999 at a hospital in Paris. He was 93.

Pierre-Bloch, a Socialist member of the prewar French Parliament, was captured while fighting against the Germans at the outset of World War II. He escaped from a prisoner of war camp in 1940, the year France fell to the Nazis.

In 1941 he and his wife, Gaby, began organizing Resistance activities and helped arrange some of the first parachute drops into France of agents, arms and equipment sent by de Gaulle's headquarters in London.

When Pierre-Bloch and his wife went to Marseilles in October 1941 to distribute money that had been parachuted in for Resistance leaders, the French police arrested them. Mrs. Pierre-Bloch had two lists of names of Resistance figures in the area, but she swallowed one piece of paper and managed to destroy the other.

The Pierre-Blochs were imprisoned on treason charges, but Mrs. Pierre-Bloch was released after three months to care for their three children. Over the next five months, she hid money, keys and saws in parcels of food she took to her husband, and in July 1942 Pierre-Bloch escaped along with five British officers.

He became a key official in de Gaulle's military intelligence operation in London, the unit that dropped agents into France and orchestrated sabotage of German installations.

Pierre-Bloch also served as undersecretary of the interior on the French Committee of National Liberation, the government in exile that de Gaulle set up after transferring his headquarters to Algiers in the summer of 1943.

He served in the committee's consultative assembly, an 84-member body set up in November 1943 as the first French deliberative council since the legislature was dissolved in 1940.

Mrs. Pierre-Bloch joined her husband in July 1943, having escaped from France after learning that she had been sentenced to a 20-year prison term in absentia for aiding Allied airmen who had been shot down.

Pierre-Bloch was among 24 jurors -- all formerly members of the French Parliament or the Resistance -- who in August 1945 found Marshal Henri Philippe Petain guilty of treason for collaborating with the Germans as the head of the wartime Vichy-based regime.

Although imposing a death sentence on the 89-year-old Petain, the jurors and three judges recommended that it not be carried out because of his age. De Gaulle spared Petain, who died in prison in 1951. Pierre-Bloch was the last surviving member of the Petain jury, according to Agence-France Presse.

Pierre-Bloch, the son of an industrialist, received a law degree from the Sorbonne. He wrote for French newspapers and then, in 1936, at 31, became the youngest member of Parliament in Prime Minister Leon Blum's leftist Popular Front government.

After World War II, Pierre-Bloch became president of the National Press Corp., formed by the French government to liquidate the property of newspapers and advertising agencies that had collaborated with the Germans.

Pierre-Bloch, president of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism from 1968 to 1992 and its honorary president at his death, was known for his writings denouncing racism and oppression of minorities around the world. He was the author of "Charles de Gaulle" (1944); "The Causes of Anti-Semitism in France" (1956), and "London, the Capital of Free France" (1985).

French President Jacques Chirac paid tribute to Pierre-Bloch, a member of the Legion of Honor, citing his "passion for freedom." Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said that Pierre-Bloch's campaigns against racism "incarnated the values of the French Republic."

Pierre-Bloch's wife died in 1996. He is survived by their three children.

 


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© 1999 by Neil Mishalov