Obituary: Pierre-Henri Teitgen

Many elderly politicians must echo the sad words of Cleopatra, "And I am all forgotten", and most would protest about this injustice. None could do so more than Pierre-Henri Teitgen.

He was one of the creators of the only new political party to emerge from the war and the Resistance in France. This was the Mouvement Republicain Populaire, the Social Catholic party that was always known by its initials, the MRP, and which, having been the second party in the elections of October 1945, became the country's leading party in the elections of June 1946. It gained 28 per cent of the national vote.

Teitgen's role in the creation of this party came from his activities in the Resistance. By profession an academic lawyer, after demobilisation he chose to go to the occupied area and was appointed to the University of Montpellier. In September 1940, in co-operation with Francois de Menthon, he decided that opposition to the Vichy government should be organised, and on 25 November the first number of the clandestine newspaper Liberte appeared. In his lectures Teitgen chose to describe the police state of Napoleon III, and their anti-Vichy, anti-German relevance became well known. At the same time, mainly through personal contacts, Teitgen built up a force of some 9,000 adherents, together with two small units of volunteers, who were prepared to commit acts of sabotage. The group Liberte merged with the larger resistance movement Combat and he was one of the editors of the newspaper of the same name which was the most famous publication of the time.

He knew all the vicissitudes of the Resistance. His position was clear: he opposed Vichy and the Germans, he supported General de Gaulle and Free France in London. However some of those in Combat were anti-German but pro-Petain. There was constant insecurity, as when, towards the end of 1941 an adventurer who had strayed into the ranks of Liberte was arrested for black market activities and who then betrayed many of his associates. But Teitgen remained loyal to de Gaulle and to Jean Moulin (whom he subsequently defended against charges of being a Soviet agent). He transferred his activities to Paris in 1943, where he wanted the National Council of the Resistance to proclaim de Gaulle as the national leader. This did not prevent him from having meetings, early in 1944, with a representative of Marshal Petain, who was discussing the reconciliation of all French people.

Four days before the Allied landings in Normandy, Teitgen was arrested by the Gestapo, but he escaped from the train that was taking him to a concentration camp. He returned to Paris and in September de Gaulle made him Minister for Information. It was then that he made his first impact on the organisation of post-war France. He gave permission for the Figaro to continue to appear and he helped to found two newspapers, Le Monde and, in Rennes, Ouest-France. He was well able to assist in the appointments of editorial staff, his father, Henri Teitgen, having worked for Ouest- Eclair before the war. Le Monde became possibly the most important French newspaper and Teitgen overruled de Gaulle, ensuring that it would be independent and not semi-official. Ouest-France is the paper with the largest circulation in France.

In May 1945 he became Minister for Justice and it fell to him to see to many of the cases which had emerged from the conflicts which had taken place within France. Naturally, the sympathisers of Vichy thought him too harsh and the leaders of the Resistance thought him too lenient. But he kept his reputation as being fair-minded and just. He continued in this post after de Gaulle's resignation in January 1946 but tried to maintain relations with the General. However he did not agree that the new President had to be given extensive powers because of the imminence of war with the Soviet Union. When the General formed his new party in April 1947 Teitgen turned away from him.

The MRP had been founded in November 1944 as a non-confessional party which nevertheless saw itself as the heir to the Christian-inspired democratic parties that had existed pre-war. It was therefore a party of social reform and of liberty. Teitgen was criticised for supporting the French war in Indo-China, and he served as minister and Vice-Prime Minister in several governments which prosecuted that war. The reason was that he saw the Viet-Minh as communists. It was different in Algeria, where he thought that the excesses of torture should be avoided and where major economic and social reforms carried out. He wanted a new Algeria, but he told the 1956 MRP Congress that anyone who handed over Algeria should be impeached. As Minister for Colonies he accomplished much of the work for the Deferre law of 1957 which established assemblies in the Africa colonies.

In 1958 he opposed the return of de Gaulle. He lost his seat in the Assembly where he had represented his home department of Ille-et-Vilaine since 1946. Typically he returned to his academic career, as Professor of Law at the University of Rennes, and later Paris.

He remained an influential figure in the MRP, denouncing the dictatorial government, as he put it, of the Fifth Republic and its nuclear policy. A supporter of European federation he was appointed to the European Court for the Rights of Man in 1976. This was his final post, an appropriate recognition of his principles and career.

Pierre-Henri Teitgen, lawyer and politician: born Rennes 29 May 1908; married; died Paris 6 April 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?