Obituary: Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier

Like many of the Communist personalities who joined the Party before the Second World War, Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier came from a well- established bourgeois family, her father Lucien Vogel being the owner of a weekly magazine and a well-known editor and journalist. She herself worked as a journalist and a photographer, joining the party through her membership of the Communist youth movement.

From 1934, she was one of the founders and leaders of L'Union des Jeunes Filles de France, an organisation devoted to young women. The Popular Front government of Leon Blum, which was supported by the Communists, looked favourably on some of the women's claims, appointing women to junior posts in the government, although it was very far from filling all the aspirations of Marie-Claude Vogel, who by 1937 had married Paul Vaillant-Couturier (just two weeks before his death).

In the spring of 1939 she was forced to go underground when the government made the Communist Party illegal because it was not supporting the war, and Marie-Claude took part in the writing and circulating of mainly pacifist literature. This continued after the armistice into the controversial period when certain members of the Party negotiated with the Germans in order to have the right to continue publication of their official papers. From this clandestinity to the clandestinity of the Resistance was an easy step. Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier joined other women leaders, such as Daniele Casa-nova, in a cell which organised anti-German propaganda. She was arrested by the French police in February 1942 and taken to the port of Romainville. From there, in January 1943, she was transferred to Auschwitz.

In Auschwitz, and in Ravensbrook where she was transferred in August 1944, she distinguished herself, becoming one of the leaders and defenders of the women who were imprisoned. Liberated by the Soviet army, she continued her humanitarian work amongst the survivors and was proud to be amongst the last of the ex- prisoners who returned to liberated France only in June 1945.

From this period onwards she was, as a heroine, and as a leader, one of the most famous members of the Party. She became a member of the Central Committee and was regularly re-elected until 1982. She was a Communist deputy in the Consultative Assembly, and was continuously elected as deputy for the Seine, until November 1958, and then 1962-73. She gave evidence at the Nuremberg trials, was vice-president of L'Union de Femmes Francaises and vice-president of the International Democratic Federation of Women.

She was also famous for her two marriages. The first was to Paul Vaillant- Couturier, the son of wealthy Protestant parents, who was remarkably gifted as a poet, journalist and orator. His experience in the 1914 war had turned him towards pacifism and Communism, and at the time of the Popular Front he became editor of L'Humanite. He was a determined supporter of Stalin and one of the first to publicise the activities of Ho Chi Minh.

Her second husband, Pierre Villon (whose real name was Roger Salomon Ginsburger), the son of a rabbi, was said to have been a Soviet agent from 1929 onwards. He subsequently became the personal assistant to Jacques Duclos. He was prominent in the resistance and at one point jumped through a closed window in order to escape from the Gestapo. He remained faithful to Stalin and to his memory He died in 1980.

Marie-Claude Vaillant- Couturier, loyal to two such committed husbands, was discreet. She remained devoted to the party. When she resigned her party seat in 1973 it was in order to give way to Georges Marchais. She received the Legion d'Honneur and other decorations for her service during the war.

Douglas Johnson

Marie-Claude Vogel, wartime resistance leader and politician: born Paris 5 November 1912; married 1937 Paul Vaillant- Couturier (died 1937), Pierre Villon (died 1980); died 11 December 1996.