Germaine Tillion


Saturday, April 19, 2008 - 22:30
AFP News Briefs List
French feminist anthropologist Germaine Tillion dies aged 100

French anthropologist, feminist, resistance fighter, concentration camp survivor, Algeria peacemaker and writer Germaine Tillion died Saturday aged 100, the chairman of the foundation named after her announced.

Her acts were an inspiration to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who told her in a letter marking her centenary in May 2007 of his wish to bestow on her "the affection of the entire nation".

"Anthropology, feminism, of course, the Resistance, deportation, the fight for social justice, the war in Algeria, but also so many books, so many research works ... It is not possible for me to evoke here every aspect of such a beautiful and important life," Sarkozy added.

Born to a prosperous family in mountainous central France on May 30, 1907, Tillion trained as an anthropologist in the 1930s and cultivated a life-long interest in Algeria.

"Anthropology gave me lucidity," she wrote in later life. "It taught me from the very beginning to be respectful of other cultures."

Between 1934 and 1940, she made four trips to Algeria, travelling on horseback and camping with Berber nomads as she gathered her firsthand observations.

But it was her wartime experiences that first brought her to wider public attention as a founding member of the "Museum of Mankind" intellectual resistance network at the start of German Occupation during World War II.

In 1942 she was betrayed by a priest working for the Gestapo and arrested at the Paris' Gare de Lyon station.

At the same time her mother -- also in the group -- was picked up for hiding a British airman, and the two were sent to the all-woman concentration camp of Ravensbruck in late 1943.

Tillion used her academic training as a tool for survival, treating the camp as a case-study for observation -- and after the war bringing out two definitive books on Ravensbruck.

Some 50,000 out of 132,000 inmates died from fatigue and disease as well as lethal injection and gassing -- with Tillion's own mother sent to the gas chamber in 1945.

She was also the author of an operetta, "Le Verfugbar aux Enfers" (The Camp-Worker goes to Hell).

Written in October 1944, it lay forgotten in a drawer for some 60 years before being premiered to thousands of people to mark her centenary.

After the war, Tillion returned to Algeria and at the request of the French government mediated during the years of crisis and war.

She created social centres for displaced rural Muslims, and in 1957, at the height of the battle of Algiers -- which led to the country's independence from France -- negotiated a ceasefire during one secret meeting with the regional military commander.

Tillion was one of France's most decorated people, being one of just five women awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion d'honneur.

She was also honoured with her country's wartime cross and Resistance medals, and Germany granted her the title of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic in 2004.

In nominating her, Germany said Tillion was "a great European" and "an exceptional person."

Amongst many more honours, she received the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca for her lifetime's work.

Tillion also wrote two autobiographies, but her seminal work remains "The Republic of Cousins: Women's Oppression in Mediterranean Society," in which she examined the social position of women across North Africa and along much of the Mediterranean's eastern shore.

She revealed to readers in France and beyond of how the "crime of honour" -- in which a woman suspected of having violated a stringent code of sexual behaviour was murdered by members of her own family -- was rarely punished severely.


Claire Devarrieux “Germaine Tillion, dernier combat”
Françoise Dargent “Germaine Tillion, une vie en éternelle résistance”