The founding of the Musée de l’Homme would be the realization Paul Rivet’s vision: an institution where multi-disciplinary research and education went hand in hand. With support from the French Popular Front, the project would become a reality on the occasion of the 1937 World’s Fair (Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques).

1937: Founding of the Musée de l’Homme

The Musée de l’Homme saw the day in a political climate marked by upheavals within the Popular Front, nationalist exacerbation and signs of mounting Fascism. Inaugurated 20 June, 1938 by French president Albert Lebrun, Minister of Education Jean Zay, Minister of Interior Albert Sarraut and Minister of Colonies Georges Mandel, the Musée de l’Homme sought to curb racism, as expressed by its founder.

“By creating this title, I meant to indicate that everything that concerns the human being, in all his many aspects, should and could find a place within the collections […] This involved gathering in one vast summary all of the results acquired by the specialists, forcing them to compare their conclusions, to verify them and to back them up with the findings of their colleagues. Humanity is one and indivisible, not only in terms of space, but also in terms of time,” explained Paul Rivet.

The Musée de l’Homme integrated a large share of the collections of the Trocadero Ethnography Museum, and received the MNHN’s anthropological collections. Within just a few years, the museum became a leading research facility, where great names in science set up their laboratories. Among them: Claude Lévi-Strauss, Marcel Griaule, Michel Leiris, Robert Gessain, André Schaeffner, Thérèse Rivière, André Leroi-Gourhan, Germaine Tillion, Jean Rouch, and others.

1940-1942: The Musée de l’Homme French Resistance network

On 18 June, 1940, General de Gaulle made his famous speech and resistance movements began to emerge in France. The “Musée de l’Homme network” was one of the very first, founded in the summer of 1940 by the young linguist Boris Vildé, the anthropologist Anatole Lewitsy and the museum librarian Yvonne Oddon. Their activities consisted primarily of creating escape routes, getting critical military intelligence to London, and producing and distributing the journal Résistance, five issues of which circulated secretly between December 1940 and March 1941.

Anatole Lewitsky, Yvonne Oddon and Boris Vildé were arrested by the Gestapo on 10 February and 26 March, 1941. On 23 February, Boris Vildé, Anatole Lewitsky and five other members of the network were executed at Fort Mont-Valérien. The women of the group were deported to prisons and German concentration camps. Germain Tillion took over the network, whose activities continued until 13 August, 1942, when she too was arrested and deported with her mother to Ravensbrück, where she remained until the end of the war in April 1945. A major figure in modern ethnology and an ardent defender of human rights, Germaine Tillion died on 19 April, 2008, at the age of 101. On 27 May, 2015, she was interred at the Pantheon.