Historical Figures

Jean Moulin - The Face of Resistance

Last updated:2022-07-25

Jean Moulin (1899-1943) is, during the Second World War, a French resistant to the German occupation of France. Arrested and tortured by the Germans in 1943, he was the face of France which continued the fight against the Nazis. Former prefect of Chartres and laid off by the Vichy government, he joined De Gaulle in London. The latter then entrusts him with the heavy task of gathering and organizing the resistance in the southern zone. There he founded the secret army and especially the National Council of the Resistance, which he chaired until his arrest in Caluire on June 23, 1943. In 1964, the ashes of this emblematic figure of the Resistance were transferred to the Pantheon, in Paris.

Jean Moulin, young prefect and republican

Jean Moulin was born in Béziers on June 20, 1899 and comes from a family of academics with a socialist tradition. He entered the administration of the Ministry of the Interior and in 1930 became the youngest sub-prefect in France. Chief of staff to Pierre Cot, Air Minister of the Popular Front government, he was one of those who tried to come to the aid of the Spanish Republicans during the Civil War. Politically close to the Radical party, he shares the anti-fascist and anti-Munich commitment of the party's “Young Turks” (Cot, Mendès France, Zay). Worship of state service, Jacobinism, visceral attachment to the Republic and anti-fascism were, on the eve of the war, the dominant features of Jean Moulin's political thought.

He was appointed prefect of Chartres in June 1940, in the midst of World War II. On June 17, 1940, shortly after the German invasion, he refused to sign, at the request of the occupier, a declaration wrongly accusing a troop of Senegalese skirmishers of having committed various abuses. Threatened, he then tried to commit suicide so as not to commit a dishonoring act. He was immediately placed on leave by the Vichy government - which considered him a suspect because of his republican convictions - and joined the free zone.

The Unifier of the Resistance

Convinced that the resistance represents an undeniable but poorly organized force, Jean Moulin dreams of becoming its unifier. He joined General de Gaulle in London in 1941 and reported to him on the state of the French Resistance. De Gaulle entrusted him with the mission of achieving the unity of all movements in the free zone. Parachuted into Provence on the night of December 31, 1941 to January 1, 1942, Jean Moulin accomplished, in a year and a half, a considerable task:placed at the head of a real administration, supervising a parachute service, an information office and press (entrusted to Georges Bidault), a general study committee (responsible for preparing the reform of France after the liberation of the territory) as well as an organization responsible for infiltrating public administrations (NAP), he succeeded, while by constantly changing places and identity, to fulfill the mission entrusted to him.

At the cost of often very heated conflicts, in particular with Henri Frenay, the founder of Combat, very concerned about his independence, he managed to impose the merger of the three major movements (Combat, Liberation-Sud and Franc-Tireur) in the United Resistance Movements (MUR), while obtaining that their military elements form a secret army subject only to the instructions of General de Gaulle.

A tireless link between Free France and the interior Resistance, he returned from a second stay in London , in February 1943, invested with a new mission, that of constituting a political body representative of all the tendencies of the Resistance:it was the National Council of the Resistance (CNR), bringing together resistance movements, trade unions and political parties, which , under the presidency of Jean Moulin, held its first session in Paris, rue du Four, on May 27, 1943. The National Council of the Resistance canceled the Vichy laws and recognized de Gaulle as head of government.

Arrest and death of Jean Moulin

However, on the following June 9, a betrayal enabled the Gestapo to arrest General Delestraint, head of the Secret Army, in Paris. On June 21, 1943, during a meeting in Caluire, near Lyon, Jean Moulin was in turn arrested by the Lyon Gestapo, led by Klaus Barbie, no doubt following a denunciation about which witnesses from the time and historians have put forward many hypotheses, in particular that of a betrayal by René Hardy.

The transfer of Jean Moulin to Germany is quickly decided. But in the meantime, the German services are trying to obtain information from their captive on the networks of the resistance. Subjected to torture, the one who bore the pseudonym “Max” stubbornly refused to speak. Dying, he succumbed to his injuries during his transfer to Germany on July 8, 1943. Brought back to Metz, then to Paris, his body was cremated and then buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery.

“The face of France”

On December 19, 1964, his ashes were transferred to the Pantheon. On this icy day, André Malraux evoked in a speech that has remained famous the personality of this “tortured king of the shadows” whose “poor shapeless face of the last day […] was the face of France”. The Minister of Culture, in the presence of President de Gaulle, pays tribute to the man who was the unifier of the French resistance and who does not enter the Pantheon alone...

He enters "With those who died in the cellars without having spoken...with all the scratched and all the shorn of the concentration camps, with the last body stumbling from the dreadful lines of Night and Fog...with the eight thousand French women who did not return from the prisons, with the last woman who died in Ravensbrück for having given asylum to one of ours."

Sometimes contested, notably by those who, like Henri Frenay, suspected him of collusion with the Communists, and accused him of having compromised the spirit of the Resistance by reintroducing the traditional political parties, Jean Moulin remains, by the extent of his action, one of the most outstanding personalities of this period. Jean Moulin will give his name to many streets or high schools in France.


- Jean Moulin. The Republic of the Catacombs, by Daniel Cordier. Gallimard, 1999.

- Jean Moulin:The politician, the rebel, the resistant, biography of Jean-Pierre Azéma. Tempus, 2006.

- Vies Et Morts De Jean Moulin by Pierre Péan. Fayard, 1998.

- History of the Resistance, by Olivier Wievorka. Perrin, 2013.