Cousteau racism revealed in letter
Friday 18 June 1999
On the day the late captain Cousteau was to be eulogised at the Academie Francaise, a French newspaper published the text of a letter he wrote to a friend on 1 May 1941.
Cousteau, then a 31-year-old naval officer, wrote that he and his family could find nowhere suitable to live in Marseilles and that "there will be no decent apartment available until we have kicked out all these ignoble yids who are burdening us".
At the time, the pro-Nazi Vichy government was in power in part of France and beginning the persecution of Jews which led to mass arrests and tens of thousands of deaths in concentration camps.
The letter was discovered by Cousteau's biographer, Bernard Violet, who says that the explorer, television pioneer and inventor of the aqualung often made racist remarks in private.
Cousteau, who died two years ago, was eulogised at the Academie Francaise yesterday by the writer Erik Orsenna, who took his seat-for-life in the citadel of French culture last year.
Mr Orsenna told the newspaper Le Monde that the letter was "clearly ignoble" but reflected its times. If all French correspondence from the era were to be re-read today, "one would find a great deal of anti-semitism of this kind" he said.
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