World and Nation

Raymond Aubrac, leader of the French resistance, dies at 97

Raymond Aubrac, who took that nom de guerre as a storied leader of the resistance effort in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, died Tuesday in a military hospital in Paris. He was 97

His daughter Catherine announced the death.

Aubrac and his wife, Lucie, became exalted symbols of heroism in their country’s fight against the Germans, who defeated France in 1940. Their story of valor and love was told in movies and books, some written by them, and they were showered with national honors. Lucie Aubrac died in 2007 at 94.

President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday that the Aubracs and their colleagues had “operated behind the scenes and saved the honor of France, at a moment when it seemed lost.”

The couple were at the center of one of the most dramatic episodes in wartime France. Aubrac had been captured in June 1943 with Jean Moulin, a revered Resistance leader, and six other operatives. Tortured by Klaus Barbie, the notorious Gestapo officer known as the Butcher of Lyon, Aubrac was sentenced to death.

Lucie Aubrac, who was pregnant, appealed to Barbie for mercy, saying she wanted to marry Aubrac to make their child legitimate — even though, unbeknown to Barbie, they were already married. After he rebuffed her, she bribed another Nazi officer to allow the couple to have a marriage ceremony. As they met to sign a marriage certificate, she whispered to her husband that colleagues were planning his rescue.

That happened as a truck was transporting Aubrac and a dozen other prisoners from one jail to another. Suddenly four cars appeared, their occupants brandishing machine guns. Five German guards were killed, and the prisoners escaped.

For the Aubracs, it was the end of a long underground battle that began with writing anti-Nazi graffiti and escalated into sabotage. Along the way they had together and individually used false names, including Vallet, Ermelin, Balmont and Aubrac, which they made their legal one.

After hearing the coded signal “Ils partiront dans l’ivresse” — “They will leave joyfully” — on BBC radio, the Aubracs were evacuated by a Royal Air Force plane to London in February 1944. In London they worked in Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s government in exile.

Aubrac was born Raymond Samuel on July 31, 1914, to shopkeepers in Vesoul, France. He studied engineering and law in France and received a scholarship to continue his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard for a year.

He met Lucie Bernard while participating in left-wing politics in Paris. They married on Dec. 14, 1939, in Dijon, after he warned her that it might be dangerous for her to marry a Jew.

“That just made me even more keen,” she said.