Obituary: Pierre Meunier

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The Independent Online
In June 1987 Pierre Meunier appeared as a witness in the trial of Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo officer who had been accused of crimes against humanity during the German occupation of France.

He appeared at the request of the National Association of Resistance Fighters and was hailed as the right hand of Jean Moulin, the man who had been chosen by General de Gaulle to unite the internal resistance to the movement of Free France in London. Before the presiding judge claimed that his evidence with regard to Barbie was irrelevant, he was able to affirm that, from his intimate knowledge of Moulin, he could state that he did not carry with him a cyanide pill to commit suicide were he to be caught by the Germans, and that there were no Resistance leaders who had conspired against Moulin.

Moulin was the greatest figure of the Resistance movement (his remains were placed in the Pantheon in Paris), and Meunier, as his chief assistant, shared a part of this glory.

But in 1993 an important attempt to revise history was launched. An historian who had worked in the archives now available for consultation in Moscow claimed that Moulin had been a Soviet agent, and that he had been such an agent before 1939. There had been several Soviet intelligence workers active in France during the 1930s and 1940s, and it was said that Moulin had been in touch with them.

Naturally these allegations were rejected, particularly by Moulin's former assistant and biographer, Daniel Cordier. But the weak link in the arguments in favour of Moulin was Pierre Meunier. It was claimed, with a certain assurance, that he had always been a Communist.

Meunier was a civil servant, working in the Ministry of Finance from 1930 onwards. In 1936, with the coming to power of the Popular Front government, Meunier was selected by the new Minister for Air, Pierre Cot, to be head of his secretariat. It was said that Cot had known Meunier through various left-wing contacts (and Cot himself has been accused of having suspiciously close relations with the Soviet Union). At all events it was in these governmental organisations that Meunier became a friend of Moulin, who had also been summoned by Cot. Together they were involved in sending arms to the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.

There was no doubting their friendship. In September 1940, after the French defeat, Meunier called on Moulin in Chartres and they discussed future action. Meunier went on to join the largely Communist resistance in Northern France, until Moulin summoned him in 1941 to join him. As Moulin endeavoured to bring together all the resistance movements, it was Meunier who negotiated with the Communists. It was Meunier who organised the first meeting in Paris of the Conseil National de la Resistance, and he became the organisation's secretary. It is noticeable that on some occasions Meunier showed a certain hesitation about de Gaulle, quarrelling with his representatives and suggesting that he should only be the joint leader of the new France, with General Giraud.

For many the real proof of Meunier's innate Communism came after the war when he became the head of Maurice Thorez's private office. Lots of official Communists would have wished for this post but it was said that Meunier was essential at the time, not only because of his administrative experience, but also for reasons that were "politiques". Did this mean that through Meunier Thorez hoped to win wider support amongst ex-resistance organisations, or was he thinking of Moscow?

We do not know. From 1993 Meunier broke off relations with those who were writing the history of the period and threatened to take legal action if statements were made about him and his relations with the Soviet Union. Only on one occasion did he say that there were lots of men called "Meunier" and that he should not be confused with them.

Between 1946 and 1958 Meunier was "progressive" deputy for the Cote d'Or department, which designation suggested that he was close to the Communist Party but not a member. From then on, during the period of the Fifth Republic, he was active in local politics. One is anxious to know whether he has left any evidence which might help us to understand the relations between the French Resistance and the Soviet Union.

Douglas Johnson

Pierre Meunier, wartime resister, politician, civil servant: born Dijon 15 August 1908; died Arnay-le-Duc (Cote d'Or) 16 April 1996.

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