During the Nazi occupation of France in World War II, thousands of French men and women aided the Allies through the broad “French Resistance.” And while many of them were fearless ordinary citizens, a few were (or went on to become) quite famous writers, actors, and performers. Since counterintelligence and high profiles don’t typically go hand in hand, we highlighted five of the most noteworthy examples. If you’re wondering why Hollywood hasn’t made 15 movies about Josephine Baker, vaudeville spy, trust us: you’re not alone.
Beginning in 1944, Albert Camus wrote for the underground resistance newspaper Combat. Eventually, the existential author served as editor-in-chief of the publication. His pieces were translated and collected into a book called Camus at Combat in 2007, but if you can’t track down a copy, here’s one of his most quoted passages: “Paris is firing all its ammunition into the August night. Against a vast backdrop of water and stone, on both sides of a river awash with history, freedom's barricades are once again being erected. Once again justice must be redeemed with men's blood.”
The world-famous mime Marcel Marceau was actually born Marcel Mangel. When the Germans invaded Strasbourg, he changed his last name to Marceau to hide his Jewish heritage and fled to Limoges with his brother Alain. But despite this precautionary move, Marceau repeatedly risked his life through his work with the resistance. He forged identity cards for several local children so the Nazis would think they were too young to be deported and even helped smuggle kids across the border by posing as a Boy Scout leader. The tragedy Marceau witnessed and experienced firsthand -- his father later died in Auschwitz -- would inform much of his later work. He elaborates in this 2001 acceptance speech for the Wallenberg Medal, a humanitarian award named in honor of Raoul Wallenberg.
Louis Jourdan was just beginning his film career in Paris when the Nazis invaded. His father, who ran a hotel in Cannes, was arrested by the Gestapo, but managed to escape. So the entire family fled south. Once they were safe, Jourdan and his brothers became members of the resistance. They printed and distributed underground leaflets, and Louis eventually married a fellow freedom fighter, Berthe Frédérique. He wouldn’t resume his acting career until the war ended, but he quickly became a hot commodity in his home country -- as The Guardian noted, fans clamored around Jourdan, who had not only refused to star in pro-Nazi propaganda films but actively fought against the Germans. This was a huge deal, since major French stars like Maurice Chevalier were branded collaborators in the postwar era.
“Undercover cabaret spy” sounds like a cheesy TV show, but it was actually Josephine Baker’s (very unofficial) title. The singer and dancer was already incredibly famous in Europe when Jacques Abtey, the head of the French intelligence agency Le Deuxième Bureau, recruited her to serve as a secret informer. She soon began relaying information she overheard from German officers at her shows to British and American agents, as well as French Resistance fighters. She also outed several French officials aiding the Nazis and, in the most badass move of them all, smuggled classified messages written in invisible ink on her music sheets. The French government later gave her the Croix de Guerre and Medal of Resistance. Today, she has a spot in the International Spy Museum.
True to form, Ernest Hemingway’s big French Resistance story involves a bar. In 1944, he was embedded with American troops -- specifically, the 4th Division soldiers who had landed on Normandy. While he was ostensibly there as a Collier’s war correspondent, Hemingway quickly became much more than a silent observer. First he ran “paramilitary intelligence operations” for a few days out in Rambouillet. Then, he became fixated on the idea of liberating the bar at Paris’s Ritz Hotel. Himself. When the official commanders denied him any aid in this mission, Papa Hemingway rounded up some French Resistance men, stole a Jeep, and stormed into the bar, demanding to know where the Germans were. But the Nazis had apparently already left. So naturally, Hemingway proceeded to order an absurd amount of martinis to celebrate his “victory.”
Feature image via Wikicommons