2 French women get historic honor

Genèvieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz.
Genèvieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz.

PARIS — President François Hollande, who had been strongly urged for more than a year to add more women to those awarded the honor of burial in the Panthéon, named two women on Friday — but also two men.

In doing so, he disappointed feminist groups and others who had lobbied on behalf of an array of women and who wanted to see only women added this time.

The Panthéon, a huge building in one of the oldest parts of Paris, has been the nation’s monument to worthy historical figures since the French Revolution. Of the 73 people buried there, 71 are men and include figures like the philosophers Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as well as Louis Braille, who invented a system of reading for the blind. Marie Curie is the only woman to make it on her own merits (the other was included at her husband’s insistence).

Germaine Tillion.

The four people Hollande named Friday fought in the French Resistance to the Nazis. The two women are Germaine Tillion and Genèvieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz, activists in a resistance group called the Museum of Man. Both were captured and sent to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp in northern Germany.

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Before World War II, Tillion was an ethnographer who had done research in Algeria; after the war, she returned to Algeria to help the impoverished, and she also campaigned against the Soviet gulag. De Gaulle-Anthonioz, a niece of General Charles de Gaulle, joined the resistance at 19 and married a fellow resistance fighter. After the war she worked to fight poverty and homelessness in France.

The two men are Pierre Brossolette and Jean Zay, both of whom died in the war. Brossolette appears to have tried to kill himself to avoid being forced under torture by the Gestapo to say what he knew, and later died of his wounds. Zay was shot to death by militia members who worked with French collaborators with the Nazis.

The four nominees “incarnated the values of France when the country was beaten to the ground,” Hollande said, adding that in naming them for burial in the Panthéon, he wanted to honor all the women and men who fought in the Resistance.

Each French president has the prerogative to name entrants to the Panthéon; some have chosen to name several, while others have chosen not to name any.