The Musée de l’Homme Resistance network was one of the earliest underground organizations of the French Resistance. It arose spontaneously following General de Gaulle’s famous appeal and Pétain’s pronouncement of the armistice in June 1940. The history of the network is intrinsically linked to the anti-Pétain political commitment of Paul Rivet, founder of the Musée de l’Homme in 1937, and his team.
Birth and organization of the network: June 1940
As early as June 1940, Yvonne Oddon (librarian), Boris Vildé and Anatole Lewitsky (ethnologists of Russian origin) formed a group opposing the Vichy Regime and Nazism on the premises of the Musée de l’Homme. This movement transformed into a clandestine sector headed by Boris Vildé which was solidly structured by October 1940. A hundred members divided into eight groups with dedicated activities including escape (using false medical certificates and recruiting smugglers to help refugees reach safety), propaganda (the papers Résistance and Vérité français were created respectively in September and December, 1940), and intelligence (collecting data and transferring to London).
In the late autumn of 1940, Boris Vildé’s group began working more closely with a group run by Maurice Dutheil de La Rochère (50 members) and another by Paul Hauet and Germaine Tillion (80 members). All three worked across the occupied areas of France, as well as in certain cities in the Free Zone (Bordeaux, Perpignan, Toulouse, Lyon, Vichy).
The early founding of the Musée de l’Homme resistance network explains the early arrests.
Repression of the network beginning 1941
In Paris, German intelligence (the Abwehr) made their headquarters at the Hotel Lutetia in the 6th district, where they processed information provided by infiltrators and private individuals. Among them was Albert Gaveau, a mechanic, liaison and Boris Vildé’s right-hand-man, who denounced the existence of a Resistance network at the Musée de l’Homme to the Abwehr. The first arrests took place in February, 1941.
Following a year-long investigation, 19 people were charged with espionage on the behalf of an enemy power. On 8 January 1942, a trial was held before a German court. The verdict: ten capital punishments, three prison terms and six dismissed. The women condemned to the death penalty were eventually deported to German concentration camps.
On 23 February, Jules Andrieu, Georges Ithier, Anatole Lewitsky, Léon Nordmann, René Sénéchal, Boris Vildé and Pierre Walter were led before the firing squad at Mont Valerian.
On 13 August, Germaine Tillion was arrested at the Gare de Lyon in Paris and sent first to the Santé and Fresnes prisons in Paris and Fresnes respectively, then deported to the Ravenbrück concentration camp.
At the end of the war, on her return from Ravensbrück, Germaine Tillion was put in charge of organizing voluntary resistance fighter pensions and registering the network under the name “Réseau du Musée de l’Homme-Hauet-Vildé”.