Cécile Rol-Tanguy: Communist Resistance Fighter Who Liberated Paris

In May 1940, Cécile Rol-Tanguy’s father was imprisoned by the Vichy regime.

Her partner, Henri, was off fighting, far away from Paris.

Her daughter, Françoise, passed away only a few days before, just as the Nazis invaded the city.

Shortly after, she found out that her father was sent to Auschwitz, where he passed away in 1941.

Instead of sinking into the depths of depression, Cécile decided to fight.

Even before the war, she grew up as part of a proud Communist family.

Her partner Henri Rol-Tanguy, was one of the leaders of the French Communist party.

He  even fought by the Communists in the Spanish civil way, and Cécile helped the anti-fasicist cause from Paris by translating and fundraising.

But now that their own house was burning, and they were fighting for their lives.

After the war, she was asked what motivated her.

She shrugged and said, “What else could I do? What was there to stop me then?”

 

Cécile Rol-Tanguy: Early Life

Rol-Tanguy was born on April 10, 1919. in Royan, France to a committed communist family. 

Her dad, a founding member of the French Communist Party, regularly hosted communists immigrants to France from Eastern Europe.

At age 17, she joined the Communist Party herself and began working as typist in the engineer’s workers union.

It was there that she met her future husband and party leader – Henry.

Cécile Rol-Tanguy: Fighting in the French Resistance

After France was occupied to Nazi Germany, various factions formed the loosely held together French Resistance.

In the Resistance French Nationalists, such as Charles De Gaulle, fought alongside liberal and communists, like Rol-Tanguy.

Many artists from Paris, such as Juliette Greco, joined the resistance, as did Rol-Tanguy.

After joining the resistance, she began to write and translate fliers for the Communist Resistance and to distribute them throughout the city.

She was also the liaison between the underground fighters and maintained communication between the different fractions.

She found replacements for anyone who was caught and arrested. 

Henri returned from the front lines in 1943 and quickly became the leader of the Communist Resistance in Paris. Cécile became his deputy.

On August 14th, she risked her life when she moved machine guns and other fighting equipment inside Paris and hung up posters calling on the Paris residents to revolt. 

On August 19th, 1944, Henri led a civil uprising against what was left of the Vichy regime.

The revolt paved the way for the French forces to overthrow the Vichy rule and pave the way for Paris’s liberation. 

At the end of August, Charles de Gaulle, the Free French Forces leader, threw a party to celebrate their victory.

He invited key players in the fight to liberate France. Cécile was the only woman invited.

Still, she wasn’t impressed by the celebration.

She complained that the party was too small and “there wasn’t even a glass of wine to fend the evening with.” Indeed, a French tragedy. 

Cécile Rol-Tanguy: Life After World War Two

After the war, de Gaulle changed drastically.

He began to systematically erase the contributions of the Communist Resistance to the fight to liberate Paris and France.

De Gaulle, who aspired to create a centralized government, didn’t approve of the contribution of other fractions to France’s liberation – especially that of the Communists.  

Cécile wasn’t willing to take this lying down.

She criticized the French authorities for the systematic erasure of Communists from the French history books.

She once interrupted the then-mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac (who later became the President of France) in a memorial service.

She claimed that the erasure of the contributions of Communists was “a crime against French history.” 

Luckily, the public atmosphere began to change in the past few years, and Rol-Tanguy and the Communist Resistance began to receive the honor they deserved.

Cécile became a sought-after speaker, and in 2017 she became the Grand Officer of the Legion d’Honneur – the highest award granted to a French citizen. 

She died at the age of 101 on May 8th, 2020.

Fittingly, it was the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany to Allied forces.

Rol-Tanguy in 2009 at the 65 year celebration for the Liberation of Paris

For further reading:

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler 

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France. 

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