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France

Hollande to name two women resistants for France's gender-imbalanced Pantheon

media Resitance fighter, concentration camp survivor, peace campaigner Germaine Tillion DR

French President François Hollande is to announce the transfer to the Pantheon of the remains of four victims of the Nazi occupation in World War II, according to reports. Two of them are women, which would bring the total number of women honoured in the national mausoleum to four, out of 75.

The president has neither confirmed or denied media reports that he is to announce that two men and two women receive the honour, reserved for French citizens who are deemed to have played a key role in the country's history or culture.

The pantheonisation of two women would be a small step in redressing an enormous gender imbalance - at present the only women among the 71 people commemorated are physicist Marie Curie and Sophie Berthelot, who is there because she was the wife of chemist Marcellin Berthelot.

An inscription on the Pantheon's neo-classical facade declares "The fatherland thankful to great men".

An official report submitted to the Elysée presidential palace last October recommended extending the honour to "20th-century women" who had shown "courage, tenacity and republican commitment".

The four tipped for the honour are:

  • Germaine Tillion: A member of one of the first resistance cells in occupied Paris at the age of 30, Tillion was betrayed, arrested and deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp, along with her mother who died there. Her book Ravensbruck was one of the first testimonies from the camps and she went on to campaign against the Russian gulag. During the Algerian war of independence she went to the country and tried to improve living conditions for the population, later working to stop torture and execution by the French and bombings and assassinations by independence fighters.
  • Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz: The niece of General Charles de Gaulle was part of the same resistance network as Tillion at the age of 20. She, too, was deported to Ravensbruck and wrote a book about her experiences. She became an anti-poverty campaigner, particularly taking up the cause of the homeless, and was the first woman to receive the Grand Croix de la Légion d'honneur.
  • Jean Zay: While education minister in the left-wing Popular Front of the 1930s, Zay introduced compulsory education up to the age of 14 and a ban on wearing political or religious symbols in schools. Denounced as a "Jewish freemason" by the far right, he became a martyr not only to the left but also to Gaullists attached to the memory of the resistance. When the Germans marched into Paris and Marshal Philippe Pétain formed his colloborationist government he fled the country along with 26 other MPs but was arrested in Morocco, imprisoned for "desertion" and murdered by three members of a far-right milice in 1944. Hollande paid tribute to Zay when he was sworn in as president.
  • Pierre Brossolette: Journalist and socialist activist Brossolette has proved the most controversial candidate for the Pantheon. Another member of the Paris resistance network, he died at the age of 41, throwing himself out of the window of Gestapo headquarters after two days of torture rather than betray his comrades. Responding to an appeal for him to be honoured last year, two journalists, Pierre Péan and Eric Conan, declared that it would be an "affront to the memory" of Jean Moulin, the man General de Gaulle sent to France to unite the resistance, who is already in the Pantheon. A jealous Brossolette refused to accept Moulin's leadership and the two got on so badly that, during a stormy encounter in an apartment in occupied Paris, Moulin dropped his trousers, telling his rival "That's what I think of you!", they wrote in an opinion piece in Le Monde.

Hollande is expected to make the announcement at the Coupole au Mont-Valérien, the site of a fort west of Paris where the Wehrmacht executed 1,007 resistants and hostages, all men because their code forbade the shooting of women.

 

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