Founder of the Musée de l’Homme in 1937, Paul Rivet was an anthropologist. Threats of an arrest targeting opponents to the regime forced him into exile in February 1941.
Paul Rivet, an anthropologist and the founder of the Musée de l’Homme in 1937, was a committed personality even before the start of World War II. For him, the role of scientists was to alert people to the dangers that threaten society and raise awareness about them. In 1933, Rivet travelled to Berlin where he witnessed the rise of Nazism and anti-semitism. From then on, he welcomed Jewish German exiles and Russian émigrés to the Trocadero Ethnography Museum, some of whom would join the research teams and later transition to the Musée de l’Homme. Among them were Boris Vildé and Anatole Lewitsky, who would become the leaders of the Musée de l’Homme resistance movement.
Paul Rivet learned of the war’s outbreak while he was on mission in South America. Returning to Paris in October 1939, he continued to head the Musée de l’Homme, surrounded by a team that had been reduced due to the draft. On 14 June 1940, even before Marshal Pétain’s speech advocating the armistice and surrender to the enemy, Rivet opened the doors to the Musée de l’Homme and plastered a French translation of Rudyard Kipling’s poem If (…you’ll be a man my son), a poem that calls on people to hold their head high and fight.
Paul Rivet’s anti-Petainist political engagement put him in danger. Together with Marcel Mauss, Henri Bergson and Jules Romains, he was listed by the Rockefeller foundation on 21 June as an influential scientific personality to be evacuated. Yet Rivet did not wish to leave France. Then the situation took a turn for the worse.
On 14 July 1940, Rivet wrote the first of four letters to Marshal Pétain, virulently criticizing the Vichy Régime: “Marshal, the country is not with you, France is no longer with you.” On 19 November, he was relieved of his functions by the Minister of Education, Georges Ripert. Threats that opponents of the regime were to be arrested forced him into exile in February, 1941. He reached Colombia, where he remained in contact with Free France and embodied the intellectual resistance to Nazism.
As the Musée de l’Homme’s director, Paul Rivet provided infallible moral support to the members of his team who were involved in acts of resistance from the summer of 1940 and had founded of one of the earliest French Resistance movements, the Musée de l’Homme network.