Jean Moulin was one of those who would have made history even if he lived an ordinary life. The youngest prefect in France at the age of 37, the leftist firebrand was thrown in the chaotic annals of history by the German invasion of France in 1940. As prefect of Eure-et-Loir, he attempted to guarantee the safety of his citizens by meeting with German officers. The officers asked him to sign a document confirming alleged atrocities committed by Senegalese French soldiers in the area, which he refused to do without evidence.
Arrested and tortured as a suspected communist, Moulin tried to commit suicide by cutting his own throat but a guard found him and he was taken to hospital, where he recovered. He was released and later joined the Resistance movement. Arrested again, this time he was tortured by notorious Klaus Barbie. A man of acidic wit and iron will until the very last moments of his life, Moulin drew a caricature of Barbie instead of writing down the names of his fellow Resistance men. Klaus ordered Moulin to be scalded, Moulin died outside Frankfurt, and buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Charles de Gaulle called him the Resistance’s primary leader and as President, transferred his remains to The Panthéon. The speech given by André Malraux, writer and minister of the Republic, upon the transfer of his ashes is one of the most famous speeches in French history. A homage of Moulin is held annually at the Panthéon.
Moulin was well-known to the French from the above emblematic photo of “The Man Who Didn’t Talk”. The epithet was a nod to his refusal to betray his friends at the risk of his own death. The photo was taken by a childhood friend, Marcel Bernard, near the Peyrou promenade in the arches at Montpellier and according to Laure Moulin, his sister, it dates from December 1940 — after he slit his throat. (Some said it was taken in late 1939.) After he slit his throat, Moulin would almost always wore a scarf to hide the scar he had given himself. (I saw the yellowed original print in the Musée Jean Moulin. The photo was reversed so that Moulin would look towards the left. Printed during the Resistance for propaganda purposes, it was lengthened to enhance his stature and darkened to accentuate the sombre dangers of the underground.)