Pierre Sudreau: Politician and hero of the Resistance

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The Independent Online

Pierre Sudreau was the youngest leader of a French Resistance network during the Second World War and later had ministerial roles in the governments of Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou.

However, a potentially glittering career was halted when he resigned over a proposed amendment to the constitution stipulating that future French presidents would be elected by popular vote. He was also the apparent inspiration for France's best-loved book, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince (1943).

As Minister for Building Works, Sudreau played a key role in the post-war building programme of the governments of de Gaulle and Michel Debré, supporting the RER suburban rail project, the construction of the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring road around Paris seen as the boundary between Paris and its suburbs, the development of La Défense and the airport Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle. He was the last surviving minister from de Gaulle's 1958 government, which brought back the veteran General as head of the Fifth Republic.

Born in a well-to-do suburb of Paris in 1919, Sudreau lost his father aged four and was later sent to boarding school, where he endured years of unhappiness. He took solace in adventure stories. Having read Vol de Nuit (1930), based on Saint-Exupéry's experiences as an airmail pilot in South America, Sudreau corresponded with the author. Saint-Exupéry's biography later revealed that elements of the author's curious young correspondent found their way into the character of what was to become one of France's most celebrated fictional characters.

At 21 Sudreau had finished university and was learning to fly with the French Air Force at the École de l'Air in southern France. This was cut short by the fall of France in June 1940. Many of his comrades fled to England to join de Gaulle's Free French Forces but Sudreau, married and with a son, stayed.

In 1941 he met the resistance leader André Boyer and was soon involved in the underground network "Lucas"; renamed "Brutus", it became one of the most celebrated resistance networks. Boyer was keen to extend Brutus from Vichy France to the northern occupied sector. Sudreau was given responsibility for the north and told to expand the intelligence network, as well as carrying out acts of sabotage and passing on intelligence to London about German fortifications. But following a series of arrests in April 1943 it was clear that Brutus had been compromised and there was a double-agent in their midst. Sudreau initially evaded capture but was seized in November.

Followings days of torture by the Gestapo he spent months in solitary confinement in the notorious Fresnes prison near Paris, before being deported to Buchenwald concentration camp alongside Boyer and another resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. They were liberated in May 1945 but Boyer did not survive.

After the war, Sudreau pursued apolitical career and, with his war record and his ability to connect and empathise with people, quickly won promotion within the Civil Service. In 1951 hebecame the préfet of Blois, the youngest in France, and in 1955 was madeCommissioner for Construction & Planning in Paris.

With de Gaulle as president and George Pompidou head of the government, Sudreau was appointed Minister of Education in 1962 but, withhis position untenable, resigned shortly afterwards following his opposition to the proposed constitutional change. Although asked to return to thepolitical spotlight on many occasions, he declined.

The principled and acerbic Sudreau returned to Blois and continued as a centrist MP for Loir-et-Cher until 1981, while also serving as Mayor of Blois from 1971 until 1989, when he was defeated by the Socialist Jack Lang. During his tenure, Sudreau supported many causes, including, as President of the Federation of Railway Industries, linking northern and southern France with the TGV link, which opened in 1981.

Sudreau wrote numerous booksincluding The Strategy of the Absurd (1980) and Beyond all Frontiers (1991). He was one of the founders andPresident (from 2006 to 2009) of the Fondation de la Résistance, which was established to ensure that the younger generation did not forgot the sacrifices of their forefathers.

Pierre Sudreau, French Resistance fighter and politician: born Paris 13 May 1919; Grand Croix de la Légion d'honneur 1992; married Francette (deceased; one son, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Paris 22 January 2012.