Monday, April 28, 2008

Germaine Tillion - French Sage, Nazi Resistor, Anthropologist, Political Resource, Philosopher, Intellectual

Germaine Tillion. Not to be forgotten. 1907-2008. She, a sage of "moral authority and clarity of intellect," as stated by Tzvetan Todorov, philosopher, theorist, researcher (see :// This was in the context of one of the tributes to her during her life. She has indeed been among the "sung" - now, not to lapse.

She has died at age 100.

Obituary. Read the obituary and tributes at NYT Friday 4/25/08 at B7, at :// name that may be new to many, and not to be forgotten. Paste the obituary (no magnets here) to the fridge for daily inspiration - what one life can accomplish and stand for.

The obituary is by Douglas Martin. Masterfully done, because those of us who did not know of Germaine Tillion, end the reading with reverence and awe. Not an overstatement. Overview:

Awards: French Grand Cross, Legion of Honor (she is one of four women here), many tributes; honorary director School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (Paris)

Anthropology: Ran four research studies on Berbers, Sahara border, northeastern Algeria; condition of women, Mediterranean area

World War II: Helped establish the French Resistance (underground at the "Museum of Man"), fought Nazis. Was denounced by a priest. Was designated for "nacht und nebel" - the "night and fog" of Nazi capture, disappearance/death for Resistance workers. Sent to Ravensbruck, there for 3 years, concentration camp for women, eastern Germany. See :// See the photo of the "Walzkommando" there - looks like a huge concrete roller, women as punishment had to pull it until death, says article. Population - 1941 - 12,000. 1944- gas chamber added. Location: 60 miles or so north of Berlin. See other survivor stories at :// Tillion was assigned to road building, used any time available to teach other prisoners re history of mankind. Was said to have scratched into a wall her plan for reform in education. Photographed abuses in secret, with smuggled camera. Survived. Represented prisoners in some trials of camp officials.

Politics - Algeria study and advocacy. Protested French torture of Algerians.

Quote: She saw "The deepening of the abyss being dug between what reality happened and the uncertain representation we call history."

Biographer: Jean Lacouture

Unmarried, no children. A full life.

Books: 1961 "France and Algeria: Complementary Enemies." - re French obligation to its former colony "not to allow Algerians to sink into poverty." Two on Algeria.
Three versions of her book on Ravensbruck, many more works. Support for heroism of the Resistance.

Operetta: "A Camp Worker Goes to Hell" - written at Ravensbruck, kept hidden for 60 years lest people think they were "enjoying themselves" - but read this dark quote from it: a character is joking, says that camp has "all the creature comforts - water, gas, electricity - especially gas."

Thank you, Douglas Martin for introducing her to us.

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