The Ex-Anti-Semite Who Risked His Life to Fight the Nazis

November 30, 2020 | Kevin Williamson
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Daniel Cordier, who recently died at the age of one hundred, was in his youth a passionate fascist and committed anti-Semite—until Nazi forces marched into his native France in the spring of 1940. Reflecting upon his life, Kevin Williamson writes:

[After the German invasion], Cordier’s family bribed the captain of a Belgian cargo ship to take him to North Africa, but he was instead redirected to the United Kingdom, where he met Charles de Gaulle, received some military training, and was sent back to France, parachuting in with documents for the Resistance leader known as “Rex.” “Rex” was, in fact, de Gaulle’s lieutenant, Jean Moulin, who immediately took Cordier on as his personal assistant. Service in the French Resistance was not very much like association with modern political tendencies that have hijacked its name and drafted on its moral stature: Moulin survived less than two months as president of the National Council of the Resistance before he was captured by the Gestapo and tortured to death by Klaus Barbie, “the Butcher of Lyon,” dying on a transport train before it crossed the border into Germany.

As the New York Times tells the story, Cordier and other refugees had been greeted in the United Kingdom by de Gaulle, who said: “I will not congratulate you for coming here. You did your duty.” Back in France, Cordier was scandalized by the sight of German soldiers posing for photographs in front of the Arc de Triomphe—and by the sight of French Jews wearing yellow stars. He described feeling “unbearable shame” at the sight, but also realizing: “I am not in Paris to care for my conscience.” There was work to be done, and some of that work fell to him to do. His politics gave way to his patriotism, and his philosophical inclinations gave way to the practical business of saving his country.

If there had been a French Resistance equivalent of “cancel culture” in the 1940s, it surely would have set upon Cordier, who as a teenager in Bordeaux had not been a passive anti-Semite and quasi-fascist but an active and positive one, establishing the Cercle Charles-Maurras, a kind of fascist fan club dedicated to the man who would later criticize Nazi policy toward French Jews as too lax.

In their pettiness and hatred, many of those who believe themselves to be the heirs to the French Resistance have come to resemble more closely the other guys, compiling blacklists and dreaming of putsches.

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