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Colonel Fabien, 21 August 1941: in Barbès-Rochechouart, Fabien Fires

Translated Thursday 1 September 2011, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The act of the militant communist and resistance fighter who, at age 21, had already fought fascism in Spain, gives the signal for armed resistance against the occupying power.

It is still early, this morning of 21 August 1941, in Paris. At the metro station Barbès-Rochechouart, an officer of the Kreigsmarine [1] gets ready to board the train. Two shots are fired; he falls. This is the first act of armed resistance in occupied France. The author of this act, Pierre Felix Georges, will enter history under the name of Colonel Fabien.

Born in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, he is only 21 years old, but he has already fought fascism in Spain. At the end of the year 1936 he enlisted in the international brigades, lying about his age. He is a communist. The two shots fired by Fabien will carry a clear meaning. For the nazis now know, despite the active collaboration of the Pétain government, and the aid of the French police, directed by Bousquet, that they will never again be secure. For a part of the French populace, still faithful to Pétain, this will be a sign that the war continues. Certainly, from London, General de Gaulle had said so already on 18 June 1940. But it was a question of gathering together the forces of the colonial empire and to rebuild, starting in London, a fighting force, relying on the resistance network in France for information and for putting together auxiliary forces in preparation for the big day. The act of Fabien meant that the combat even in the heart of the capital, and in the cities, would pass through armed battle. It was also a major political act. The French resistance, for the French Communist Party, will be a peoples’ battle, on French soil. The implications of this decision will be considerable. Without it, all things considered, the liberation of Paris "by itself", as in the formulation of the general, might never have happened.

"Paris is cold, Paris is hungry, there are no chestnuts to eat in the streets, Paris in cast-off clothing," wrote Paul Éluard. Not so for everyone. The collaboration has become fully active, and it does not happen without some questions by public opinion. On the 12th, Pétain declares on the radio that he feels an ill wind blowing. "Worries mount in our minds, doubts assail our souls, the authority of my government is called in question." On the 14th, Vichy decrees that the magistrates and the military must swear loyalty to the maréchal. On the 20th, the French police, at the demand of the Germans, arrest 3,447 Jews, intern them in Drancy. On the morning of the 21st an official comminique announces: "Because of activities favoring the enemy, the Jew Samuel Tyszelman and the man called Henri Gautherot, both residents of Paris, have been condemned to death. They participated in a communist demonstration directed against the German occupation troops. In respect of this decision, they have been shot." They were both friends of Fabien.

For the French communists, the trouble over the German-Soviet pact of 1939 is a thing of the past. Not only because Germany has launched, beginning in June, its attack on the Soviet Union, but also because the repression of communists, starting in July 1940, leaves no place for ambiguity. For Vichy as for the nazis, the communists are the principal enemy. In October 1940 the communists created the OS (special organizations), with the aim of acting against the occupiers. On 15 May the PCF launches an appeal for the formation of a national front for the battle to liberate France, and attacks and sabotage, particularly against the railway installations, begin to multiply. But it is necessary to do more. The nazis, in September 1940, had designated hostages who would be executed in case of trouble. They executed some patroits. Jacques Bonsergent, who had "bumped into some German soldiers", in December 1940, André Masseron, who had sung la Marseillaise, 19 July 1941, Roger Roig, the 24th, who had made insulting remarks. The first such was certainly Etienne Dechanvanne, in Rouen, as early as July 1940.

A shock was necessary. It’s not so simple. Is it a good strategy? Fabien will set the example. This young man is already a seasoned veteran, had become an officer while in Spain, was seriously injured in 1938. Returned to Paris, he is an aircraft fitter, and marries Andrée Coudrier, who will be deported to Ravensbrück. Elected to the national council of Communist Youth, and is arrested at his factory, where the workers express their solidarity, and go on strike. He escapes, and begins to organize clandestine activities of the PCF in different regions. He comes back to Paris early in 1941, at the request of the leadership of the PCF. On 21 August, he fires his shots.

Fabien then sets up the first maquis [2] in France in the Doubs, which was attacked by the gendarmerie in October. He is injured again, in the head. He crosses the Doubs, swimming, and makes his way back to Paris. Arrested by the French police, he is tortured, then turned over to the Gestapo. He escapes from the Romainville Fort, and rejoins the combat with different groups of the maquis. In 1944 he is one of the important actors in the Paris insurrection. The group he commands becomes the 151st Infantry Regiment under the orders of General Delattre de Tassigny. The latter already predicted he would become general. On the 27 of September 1944, Pierre Georges, Colonel Fabien, is blown up by a mine, under conditions that are not clear. He was 25 years old.

[1German naval forces

[2armed resistance group, usually hiding out in the countryside

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