PARIS (AP) — France is honoring four people who resisted the Nazis during World War II by inducting them into Paris’ Pantheon mausoleum, in a rare and highly symbolic ceremony aimed at uniting the French against extremism and anti-Semitism.
Though the names were designated last year, the ceremony and its emphasis on France’s fundamental values of liberty, equality and fraternity takes on special meaning in a country still shaken by deadly attacks in January on a newspaper and kosher market.
French president Francois Hollande made the link between ancient and new hatreds in a solemn speech at the Pantheon, a resting place for heroes of the French Republic.
“The French stood up on January 11 because they are never afraid of defending freedom,” Hollande said in a reference to the more than a million people who gathered in the streets of Paris and other French cities following the attacks. “Every generation has a duty to remain vigilant, a duty to resist.”
The lives of the four honored figures symbolize “steadiness, commitment and courage,” Hollande said.
Coffins representing the two women and two men — Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Germaine Tillion, Pierre Brossolette and Jean Zay — were escorted through Paris streets for public viewing Tuesday, and will be interred Thursday after a sound-and-light show Wednesday night.
The women’s induction is purely symbolic: Their coffins contain only soil from their gravesites, because their families didn’t want the bodies exhumed.
Their inclusion is meant to send a message that women, too, made French history, in the context of a government push to promote gender equality.
Previously, only one woman was honored in the Pantheon: Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist whose ashes were interred there in 1995. Another woman was buried there, Sophie Berthelot, but only as the wife of politician Marcellin Berthelot.
The induction will bring those honored in the Pantheon to three women and 74 men. The writer Victor Hugo was the first person so honored, in 1885.
Hollande has chosen to honor people who had “exemplary lives,” said Constance Riviere, the president’s adviser on the matter. “They all stood up extremely young (against the Nazis)… they all represent France’s pride.”
De Gaulle-Anthonioz — a niece of Gen. Charles de Gaulle— and Tillion joined the Resistance shortly after Nazi occupation in 1940. Both were active in a Resistance unit based in the Musee de l’Homme, a Paris anthropology museum. Eventually both were captured and shipped to a concentration camp in Ravensbrueck, Germany.
After the war, De Gaulle-Anthonioz dedicated her life to fighting poverty and died in 2002 aged 81. Tillion became a renowned ethnologist and died in 2008 at the age of 100.
Brossolette, also based at the museum, led several missions as an intelligence agent for de Gaulle’s Free France, and became a Resistance spokesman on the BBC. Arrested and tortured in 1944, he threw himself out of a window and died of his wounds, to avoid disclosing information.
Zay was France’s education minister before the war. He went to Morocco in 1940, intending to form a resistance government in North Africa. He was arrested but continued his resistance efforts from prison. He was assassinated by the French militia, a paramilitary force of the collaborationist Vichy regime, in 1944.