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BBC's French Resistance 'hero' dies

Published 11/04/2015

Jean-Louis Cremieux-Brihlac, pictured arriving at BBC Broadcasting House in London in 2010, hailed Britain's help in freeing occupied France (AP)
Jean-Louis Cremieux-Brihlac, pictured arriving at BBC Broadcasting House in London in 2010, hailed Britain's help in freeing occupied France (AP)

Jean-Louis Cremieux-Brilhac, a Jewish member of the French Resistance who masterminded Free France wartime radio broadcasts from Britain, has died at 98.

Mr Cremieux-Brilhac died on Wednesday at his home in Paris, his son Michel Cremieux said.

In his historical writings he hailed Britain's help in freeing occupied France. President Francois Hollande's office described him as a "hero" of the French fight against Nazism.

Mr Cremieux-Brilhac lived history as a soldier and director of the Free French broadcasts and later wrote and spoke about history - helping to create La Documentation Francaise, France's state-run publishing house and recounting his wartime experiences.

He was born Jean-Louis Cremieux in the Paris suburb of Colombes, into a Jewish family that had lived in south-eastern France for centuries. His codename "Brilhac" was added after he became a resistance fighter. He joined a movement of anti-fascist intellectuals in France in the 1930s.

Captured by the Nazis and sent to Germany, Mr Cremieux-Brilhac escaped and fled to the Soviet Union, only to be held as a war prisoner. The Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941 led to Soviet co-operation with General Charles de Gaulle's expatriate Free France forces, and the resistance fighter was released to travel to London in September.

He became a liaison officer with the Resistance-supporting BBC, earning his codename.

"After 15 months without a day of freedom, he joined the Free French in London. That's when Jean-Louis Cremieux became 'Brilhac' - a name that symbolises his resistance to Nazism and would never leave him," the Defence Ministry said. The presidential palace said he was one of the first people to speak out about the Nazi gas chambers.

As a historian, Mr Cremieux-Brilhac broke with "a certain Gaullist tradition by which France freed itself by its own forces", said Laurent Theis, his publisher with Editions Perrin. "He underlined the decisive contribution of Great Britain and the debt that our country had towards it."

At a November 2012 colloquium, Mr Cremieux-Brilhac recounted his efforts in the communication campaigns out of Britain and how Resistance giant Jean Moulin called on him in 1942 to set up a secret service that regularly parachuted documents like "a little sabotage manual" - with the covers made to look like train schedules or birthday-wish books - into occupied France.

"In the tumult of history, he lived an exemplary life of commitment and duty," the presidential statement said.

Mr Cremieux-Brilhac is survived by three children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A funeral attended by Mr Hollande is planned for Wednesday at France's Invalides military museum.

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