A linguist and ethnologist at the Musée de l’Homme, Boris Vildé was the leader of the Resistance network at the Musée de l’Homme and one of its founding members along with his colleagues Yvonne Oddon and Anatole Lewitsky.
Before the war
Boris Vildé as born 25 June 1908 in Petrograd (Saint Petersbourg). Following the premature death of his father in 1913, he emigrated with his mother and sister to Estonia. In 1930 he went to Letonia, and later to Germany. In Berlin in 1932, he met André Gide, who had come to give a talk. André Gide advised him to leave Germany. He arrived in Summer 1932 in Paris. While studying German and Japanese in Paris, Gide introduced him to Paul Rivet, Director of the Musée de l’Homme. In July 1934, Boris Vildé married Irène Lot, the daughter of historian Ferdinand Lot, and on 5 September 1936 he obtained his French nationality. He graduated from the Sorbonne with a degree in German in 1937 and was put in charge of the Arctic civilizations department at the Musée de l’Homme.
On 1 January 1939, he was granted tenure with the Musée de l’Homme and took over as head of the Polar peoples department. He was about to undertake his third study in Sweden and Finland when war was declared. Drafted into the French army, he was taken prisoner by the Germans on 17 June 1940 in the Jura department of France. He escaped and returned to Paris in early July.
The following month, he founded one of the first resistance movements, called the Comité National de Salut Public (national committee for public safety) which would later be known as the Musée de l’Homme network. Composed of Parisian intellectuals and colleagues from the Musée de l’Homme, the group was first formed by Boris Vildé, Yvonne Oddon, the museum’s librarian, and Anatole Lewitsky, another émigré and ethnologist of Russian origin who worked at the museum where he was in charge of the collections. But the group soon grew.
The earliest tracts were published in August 1940 by the Musée de l’Homme resistance group and the first issue of the underground newspaper Résistance—the first page of which was written by Boris Vildé—was edited by Jean Cassou on 15 December 1940. The four-page paper would find considerable reach among the French who refused to submit. Between December 1940 and March 1941, five issues were circulated, with Pierre Brossolette writing the last one, released 25 March 1941 (a copy of which has never been found), right before the group was dismantled. Printed early on at the Musée de l’Homme, the paper would later be published in Aubervilliers.
Boris Vildé met a certain Ameline (Albert Gaveau, agent reporting to SS Captain Doering) whom he made his second-hand man. On 26 March 1941, Boris Vildé was arrested by the Gestapo, having been denounced by Albert Gaveau who turned out to be a double agent, while other museum staff were arrested by the French police on the denunciation of two museum employees, Fedorovsky and Erouchkovsky. The trial, which newspapers called “The Musée de l’Homme Affair,” began in January 1942 and resulted in ten death sentences, of which seven were executed, since the women were eventually deported.
Boris Vildé was led before the firing squad along with six of his fellow resistance fighters on 23 February 1942. He was buried in the Ivry cemetery along with his companions, including Anatole Lewitsky, shot the same day.