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French History: Pierre Guéguin, one of the Châteaubriant Hostages Executed by the Nazis in 1941.

Translated Thursday 10 January 2008, by Gene Zbikowski

On October 22, 1941, Pierre Pucheu, Maréchal Philippe Pétain’s Minister of the Interior, handed over 27 patriots to the Nazi firing squads in Châteaubriant.

(Editor’s note: this article, which appeared in l’Humanité in 2003, has become a historic document as it is referenced by Wikipedia in French at http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Gu%C3%A9guin. It was therefore deemed important to make an English translation available to the general public.)

On October 19, at 2 p.m., in the quarry of Châteaubriant, the annual ceremony will be held in memory of the 27 hostages executed by the Nazis on October 22, 1941 (1). This will be the 62nd anniversary of their deaths. Since then, a lot of research has been done on the Châteaubriant martyrs.

Today (in 2003 — Ed.) we know that the list of 27 was carefully drawn up by Pierre Pucheu, the Minister of the Interior under the Pétain régime, and that it represented people from every walk of life (except company directors and shareholders!). There were students (Guy Môquet and Claude Lalet), factory workers (Jean-Pierre Timbaud, a metalworker and Désiré Granet, the secretary of the CGT trade union federation in the paper and cardboard industries), and a doctor (Maurice Ténine). Today, we know that there were veterans of the First World War (notably Jules Vercruysse, who had been wounded in the face and had been awarded the croix de guerre and the médaille militaire), former elected officials (Charles Michels, the secretary of the CGT trade union federation in the fur industry, who had been elected deputy of the 15th arrondissement of Paris in 1936; and Jean Grandel, a former secretary of the CGT trade union federation of postal workers and a former mayor of Gennevilliers). Today, we know that among the designated victims there was even a “representative” of France’s vast colonial empire (Huynh-Khuong An). We know that there were also Jean Poulmarc’h, the secretary of the trade union in the Paris metropolitan chemical industry, Raymond Tellier, a printer, Titus Bartoli, a retired elementary school teacher, and Henri Barthélémy, a retired rail worker. Today, we know about Guy Môquet’s last, short-lived love, and about the gifts that were made at the very jaws of death, in particular the doll that Timbaud made for his daughter. We know their last letters and messages...

Again, they came from every walk of life, and were of all ages. Bartoli and Barthélémy were 58, David Emile, the dental technician, was 19, and Claude Lalet was 21. The youngest, Guy Môquet, was just 17 years old. He was the son of Prosper Môquet, a former communist deputy from the 17th arrondissement of Paris, who, like 26 other communist legislators, had been deported to Algeria. The German-Soviet Pact – but in fact, any other pretext would have been just as good (the USSR’s every attempt at an alliance against Hitler’s Germany had failed, and in France the leading circles held that Hitler was preferable to the Popular Front) – had triggered an unusually violent wave of repression... It would, in fact, be fitting to list the 27, one by one. What they had in common was their trade union commitment, and for most of them, their commitment to communism. They had been sentenced in the “spirit” of a law that was dated August 14, 1941, which set up a special jurisdiction, but which was probably promulgated following following Pierre George’s assassination of a German naval officer at the Barbès métro station in Paris on August 21, 1941. But the Nazis had begun their executions before the assassination carried out by Pierre George, who is better known as Colonel Fabien and who was a veteran of the International Brigades in Spain. We have learned a great deal about the hostages executed in Châteaubriant. Today, everyone knows that the commander of the Châteaubriant camp, sub-lieutenant Touya, had previously exercised his talents in the infamous Gurs camp, and that he openly boasted about it.

And yet, in the past year (2002-2003 — Ed.), we have learned even more about one of Pucheu’s victims. In fact, up until a year ago, we thought that Pétain’s Minister of the Interior had added two Trotskyists to the “batch” of trade unionists and members of the French Communist Party (PCF): Marc Bourhis, a schoolteacher, and ... Pierre Guéguin, a former mayor of Concarneau. It turns out that Pierre Guéguin had a son, also named Pierre, who today is still a member of the PCF. With his help, Marc Morlet, a Breton teacher, has written a very interesting book entitled Filets bleus et grèves rouges (2). The book’s subtitle is "Concarneau, from the First World War to the Popular Front." The book discusses the second socialist city council in the French département of Finistère (1911-1919) and Alphonse Duot (1875-1964), the owner and skipper of the fishing boat Lenin (one of whose crew was, so they say, Charles Tillon, a leader of the Black Sea mutiny in the French navy and the future head of the Francs Tireurs et Partisans, the communist resistance organization during World War II). Alphonse Duot was the founder and secretary of the CGTU fishermen’s trade union local from 1918 to 1939, and was mayor of Concarneau from 1918 to 1919 and then again from 1944 to 1945. In his book, Marc Morlec discusses the struggle of the “red bloc” against the “white bloc,” the “growing strength of the Communist Party,” which he dates to the period 1925-1929 - the June, 1925 failed attempt to set up a trade union in the food processing sector, the protest issued on July 21, 1925, by Dubessy, the founder of the Concarneau Communist Party Cell, against the occupation of the Ruhr and the Rif War, the strike by workers in the building trades (from January 2 to February 6, 1929), and the emergence in political life of Pierre Guéguin, “a mathematics teacher at the Concarneau primary school beginning in 1926.”

To put it briefly, Pierre Guéguin was what we would call a “critical communist” today. He was born to a family of primary school teachers in Quimerc’h, in the middle of Finistère, on August 18, 1896. He had a brother, who was also a primary school teacher, and a sister. He held the rank of lieutenant at the end of the First World War, and got married on January 7, 1918, to a young typist at the Navy general staff in Brest, Joséphine Naour, with whom he had two children (Pierre, born in 1919, and Mado, born in 1926). According to Marc Morlec, Guéguin had opposed the “common front” policy. In the struggle on the ground, he had backed the action led by Marie Ferrec and the food processing trade union in March, 1929. A few photos show us what he looked like, in the way old photos do – if you look beyond the old-fashioned spectacles and the little mustache, which make him look a little austere and severe, what you see is a young, cheerful young man with regular features. Wearing a suit and tie, he poses between Marcel Cachin and a Breton woman in traditional dress at the Festival of Worker, Peasant and Seaman Brittany on August 1, 1937. A year earlier, he appears in a group photo next to Tanguy Prigent, the youngest Socialist Party deputy in France. One year before that, on May 19, 1935, Pierre Guéguin had been elected mayor of Concarneau. Other photos show us how he looked in Châteaubriant. The spectacles and the little mustache are still there. The suit has been replaced by a light-colored, rather worn pullover and trousers. The tie has disappeared. In one of the photos he clasps some documents, a sort of file, against his left hip.

In the period between the two sets of photos, Pierre Guéguin opposed the German-Soviet Pact. According to Marc Morlec, he was “the only communist elected official in Finistère” to have done so, “causing a split in the city council.” Beginning in 1935, one of his deputies at city hall was Marc Bourhis, a primary school teacher in Trégunc and activist in the Ecole émancipée organization. Bourhis had broken with the PCF in 1933 and had joined Marceau Pivert’s Workers and Peasants Socialist Party (PSOP) in 1939.

On September 5, 1939, Pierre Guéguin called up for military service; four days before that, he disowned the mayor, Alphonse Duot. “Despite his declaration against the German-Soviet Pact, and in accordance with the decisions of the Daladier government, Guéguin also lost his seat as general councillor” — like every other PCF elected official, “he was stripped of all his elected positions on March 11, 1940.” Guéguin was demobilized on July 31, 1940 and was arrested, at the same time as Alain Le Lay (“who was to die in Auschwitz”) by the Concarneau gendarmes (the French national police) on July 2, 1941, after the Nazis broke the German-Soviet Pact by invading the USSR. According to Pierre Guéguin, junior, the news of the Soviet Union’s entry in the war changed the way both his father and Marc Bourhis, who had also been demobilized, saw things. The two men celebrated the change on June 23 at an improvised “meeting” at the Chez Arthur café at Trévignon point. The rest of the story goes practically without saying. Guéguin and Bourhis found themselves interned in the camp for political prisoners in Choisel, in the French département of Loire-Atlantique. Charles Michels, Fernand Grenier, Léon Mauvais, Eugène Kerbaul, Jean Poulmarc’h, Eugène Hénaff, and the others were also being held there. According to Marc Morlec, Guégun and Bourhis were kept “at a distance” by the other inmates, who gave them a chilly reception. And yet, Morlec adds, Guéguin gave the other inmates mathematics lessons and participated in the soccer games organized in the camp. Morlec adds that, having been contacted by Eugène Kerbaul, Guéguin “regained the trust of his Party comrades.” However that might be, Marc Morlec writes that the Trotskyist, Marc Bourhis, who had “a real and safe opportunity to escape,” preferred to go to death with Pierre Guéguin.

Death came at 4 p.m. on October 22. The murderers’ first salvo echoed at 3:55 p.m., and the third one at 4:10 p.m. Marc Morlec adds that Pierre Guéguin’s spectacles were found “at the foot of the execution posts” and were restored to his family, which learned of his death when they read a German statement that appeared in the Dépêche de Brest newspaper. What did Pierre Guéguin “see” when his hour came, he who had never resigned? ...

(1) This year (2003 — Editor), the ceremony will be presided over by Odette Niles, president of the Amicale de Châteaubriant-Voves-Rouillé and by Alain Hunault, the mayor of Châteaubriant, with the participation of Patrick Le Hyaric, a member of the executive bureau of the national committee of the French Communist Party, Raymond Saulnier, a member of the national bureau of the Association des Anciens Combattants de la Résistance (the Association of Veterans of the French Resistance), and a member of the French government.

(2) The book was published by Éditions Skol Ureizh (Breton School), Motroules/Morlaix, 2003.


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