Controversary of the Aubracs

In 1945, once the war was over, she published a short history of the resistance - the first to appear - and then returned to teaching. In retirement, she saw it as her duty to ensure that the memory of the resistance lived on in the memories of younger generations of French men and women, and she would regularly visit schools to provide her own testimony as survivor and historian.

This is how Lucie's life might have ended had she and Raymond not been catapulted into controversy in 1983 after Barbie's extradition from Bolivia to stand trial in France. Before his trial, Barbie let it be known that he would reveal new facts about the resistance, including the claim that after his first arrest Raymond had turned informer and betrayed Moulin. The allegations never came to anything, but were troubling enough for Lucie to write her own memory of the affair (translated into English as Outwitting the Gestapo).

After Barbie's death in 1990, however, a document - the so-called Testament of Barbie - began circulating in newspaper offices and repeating the allegations about Aubrac. It was also at this point that Chauvy produced his book. Although distancing itself from Barbie's more extreme accusations, Chauvy's work was based on genuine archival material, and its overall effect was to cast a cloud of suspicion over the veracity of Lucie's account.

Twenty leading resistance survivors published a protest letter, but the Aubracs were deeply upset by the book, and asked to be given a chance to explain themselves before a panel of leading French historians. The newspaper Libération organised a discussion between the historians and the Aubracs.

But what had been intended by the Aubracs as a way of clearing their name turned into an acrimonious exchange in which they found themselves almost on trial. None of the historians accepted the idea that Raymond had been an informer, but they noted inconsistencies and contradictions in the various versions Lucie had given over the years. There were oddities in the case which have never been entirely elucidated: what were the exact circumstances of Raymond's first release from prison?; why was he the only resister arrested at Caluire not to have been moved to Paris (thus making it possible for Lucie to save him)?

The arrest of Moulin, in which the Aubracs were caught up, was the greatest drama of the resistance. And the Aubrac affair of the 1990s reminded people that, apart from the cases of betrayal that provide rich fodder for conspiracy theorists, the resistance was also plagued by internal conflicts of ideology and personalities. The fact that the Aubracs remained communist sympathisers long after the end of the war may have had something to do with the attacks on them.

In exasperation, at one point, Lucie protested that her memoirs - written 40 years after the events, when she was in her 70s - could not be expected to be accurate in every detail: she said she had been writing her story, not history. To which the historians present could only reply that their job was to write history, even if it meant unpicking the stories people wished to tell.

The tragedy of the situation was that Lucie, herself a historian and historical actor, was at the end of her life caught between the conflicting imperatives of historical truth and legendary memory. None of which detracts from the fact that, whatever happened in Lyon in the summer of 1943, she was a woman of great courage, character and energy, one of the last survivors of a generation that, between 1940 and 1945, helped to save the honour of France. Raymond and her three children survive her.

Source: The UK Guardian, Julian Jackson, March 16, 2007.