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.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam