Visiting Place Guy-Môquet, Paris, France: remembering evocative events in World War Two
Recalling an act of revulsion with historical consequences
Guy Môquet (1924-1941) was a seventeen-year old executed by Nazi German troops in France during World War Two. A square (Place Guy-Môquet ) is named for him in Paris, as is a street (Rue Guy-Môquet ) and a Metro station, which is accessed at the square (1).
Guy Môquet was a Communist activist, arrested in Paris for distributing anti-war literature. On October 22, 1941, he and a total of 97 other prisoners — some of them on October 24, 1941, were executed in reprisals for the killing of Karl Holz, a military engineer with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, on October 20, 1941 (1) and another German. Guy Môquet, at 17, was the youngest of the victims, and his killing thus took on a particular poignancy. He died singing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise , and his final letter to his parents, often subsequently quoted, expresses that in the broader scheme of things his death might serve an ultimately good purpose.
In contrast with his moving example, at the time that the list of hostages for execution was published, titular French head of state Marshal Philippe Pétain, who led the collaborationist Vichy régime, urged French people to cooperate with the Nazi German invaders, while not being identified with any efforts for the hostages to be spared. The episode of the killing of Guy Môquet and nearly 100 other hostages brought into sharper relief the brutality of the Nazi German oppression and the compromised nature of the Vichy régime (although numerous, other shocking examples of these were also to abound).
Even before the United States entered World War Two in opposition to Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany after the attack on Pearl Harbor, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a statement strongly condemning the execution of the French hostages, and underlining the brutal nature of Nazism.
After World War Two, the killing of Guy Môquet and the other hostages was often commemorated, especially by Communists, but this remembrance was by no means limited to Communist circles.
While differences of emphasis in these widespread commemorations still emerge, a measure of consensus surrounding the Guy Môquet commemoration in France was underlined in 2007 when President Nicolas Sarkozy — himself known for strongly conservative views — instructed that all French schoolchildren read Guy Môquet's final letter. For her part, in 2007, when the memory of Guy Môquet was evoked by Mr. Sarkozy during the French Presidential elections, Communist leader Marie-Georges Buffet sought to highlight what she saw as inconsistencies in Mr Sarkozy's profession of admiration for Guy Môquet in the light of other measures advocated by him, which she deemed illiberal. In turn, an organization of schoolteachers queried the prominence of Guy Môquet's commemoration in the light of the fact that when he was arrested, Stalin, to whom the French Communists had shown allegiance was not yet at war with Hitler.
Certainly, the lively historical discussion which surrounds the memory of this young patriot has shown no sign of abating in recent years.
The Guy-Môquet station on Metro line 13, access to which is from Place Guy-Môquet, has a permanent historical display of various documents relating to the death of this 17-year old French patriot. While visitors wishing access the area from which the display may be viewed need to purchase a Metro ticket, this is in my view eminently worthwhile and can easily be combined with other plans for travel on the Paris Metro.
January 21, 2013
(1) A plaque at 34, rue Baron , a few minutes' walk away from Guy-Môquet Metro station, also commemorates this young patriot.
(2) Holz himself was suspected of involvement in the execution of many French prisoners.
Also worth seeing
In Paris itself, Among the bewildering wealth of the city's visitor attractions are the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe , the National Assembly (French: Assemblée nationale ) at the Bourbon Palace (French: Palais Bourbon ); place de la Concorde ; the Madeleine church; and many others.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available; however, visitors to Paris may wish to explore the city via its excellent public transport system. The Métro station for the Paris Opera is called Opéra . Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
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- Visiting Cinqfontaines, Luxembourg: remembering World War Two inhumanity in the Grand Duchy
- Visiting Newhaven, England: Poignant memories of Canadian sacrifice in WW2