DANIEL B. CORDIER (1920–2020) – LE MONDE OBITUARY
A pdf file (in French) of the following obituary, which appeared in Le Monde on November 20, 2020, can also be accessed here.
Former resistance fighter Daniel Cordier, secretary of Jean Moulin during World War II, is dead
By Philippe-Jean Catinchi
One of the last two Liberation companions, who was later a recognized art dealer, died on Friday at the age of 100, according to several official sources.
Daniel Cordier, a great resistant, former secretary of Jean Moulin, died Friday, November 20 in Cannes, at the age of 100, Le Monde has learned from several official sources. He was born Bouyjou-Gauthier in Bordeaux on August 10, 1920 into a family of wealthy merchants (the Bouyjou, paternal line and the Gauthier maternal line). He was 4 when his mother divorced and 6 when she remarried to Charles Cordier (he adopted his father-in-law’s surname, which he admired “without limits” as a teenager, for reasons of “orthographic convenience”, he said during his engagement in London in 1940).
From these ancestors, he inherits an astonishing cocktail of influences: the Napoleonic cult of a grandfather, the “temptation of an aesthetic anarchy” of an American grandmother, the “spells of elegance” of his mother and “The tolerance and the pleasures of classical music” of his father, finally the passion for automobiles and political fanaticism instilled in him by his mother’s second husband. Gassed in Verdun, royalist and anti-Semite, the man had a determining influence on young Daniel. The latter founded the Cercle Charles-Maurras in Bordeaux, auctioned off L’Action Française and campaigned against the Republic that his detractors call only “the pig”.
Placed very young in a boarding school run by Dominicans, the young man discovers there both the austerity and the rigor of Catholic morality and, more intimately, the torments of a sensuality which carries him towards his fellow students. The Confessions, by Augustin of Hippo, therefore compete with the discovery of the Gray Book by Roger Martin du Gard, where the friendship between adolescents is “chaste but excessive”, and that of Gide’s L’Immoraliste. A dilemma which, in his nineties, Cordier delivered the overwhelming confession in Les Feux de Saint-Elme (Gallimard, 2014).
But the adolescent, in the political field, is not wracked by doubt. He, who was the king’s hawker at 14, has no doubts that the Popular Front has sealed the bankruptcy of France. As soon as the war breaks out, he impatiently waits to fight to save, as a patriot, the honor of France. If the debacle of May 1940, in accordance with Maurras’s dark prophecies, does not surprise him, while he awaits his order of mobilization in Bayonne, Pétain’s request for an armistice on June 17, scandalizes him. He sees it as an unbearable betrayal of the patriotic ideal. And although his idol, theoretician of integral nationalism, rallies to the marshal now in command, Cordier chooses to fight.
With about fifteen comrades, he embarked on June 21 aboard a Belgian freighter, the Leopold-II, which was to reach Algeria. Finally, the boat tacked towards the United Kingdom. Disembarked in South Cornwall at Falmouth on June 25, the young men enlisted in London on the 28th in the “French Legion”, the embryo of the Free French Forces. There Cordier – he has just adopted this surname – discovers in awe that some of the patriots who share his choice are socialists or communists.
He met Raymond Aron and Stéphane Hessel, forging unwavering friendships, and later Georges Bidault, fierce opponent of Maurras, whose “brilliant mind” he recognized. He began a radical revision of his political convictions, apart from anti-Semitism, despite Aron and Hessel, since reading Lucien Rebat’s pamphlet Les Décombres, just a few days after the Vél’d’Hiv roundup, “dazzled” Cordier.
Passed by the training camps, where the exchanges with the other volunteers are as many electroshocks for the one whose far-right reflexes are struggling to fade until the letter of rupture which he sends to Maurras on December 2 1941 (“How can you continue to live after this betrayal?”), Cordier joined the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Action (BCRA) headed by Colonel Passy. There he follows an intense training to act on the ground because he dreams only of “killing Boche”. Hence his disappointment when he parachuted near Montlucon on July 25, 1942 to provide radio assistance to Georges Bidault, head of the Information and Press Office (BIP), an underground press agency.
But on July 30, in Lyon, he met the man de Gaulle had charged with unifying the internal resistance movements. Having come to give him documents, Cordier discovers a simple, direct, smiling personality who immediately invites him to dinner and tests him. The young man gives himself up unvarnished. This franchise appeals and “Rex”, alias Jean Moulin, immediately recruits as secretary this 21-year-old man with origins and primary convictions so diametrically opposed to his. No doubt he immediately discerns Cordier’s idealism, his dedication and his fidelity to his mission.
For more than ten months, they will work together on the capital mission set by London. Invaluable collaborator by his rigor and his dedication, Cordier, who chose “Alain” as an underground identity in reference to the philosopher, assists the “boss”, to set up a clandestine staff, without means and almost without staff at the start . Patiently, he manages mail and radio links, expanding the team both in Lyon and in Paris to make it more efficient, allocating subsidies when Moulin is away. What does not earn him only friends.
A privileged witness to the birth of the National Council of the Resistance (CNR) as the bitter struggles that slowed it down, Cordier knows so well the functioning of the Resistance and the links, more or less delicate, that the different currents maintain between them. , that it is essential. And despite the hostility of many who appeared from the arrest of Jean Moulin in Caluire in June 1943 (Pierre Brossolette declared him “null and imprudent” and demanded that he be recalled), Cordier remained in place and continued with Claude Bouchinet- Serreulles, interim successor of Jean Moulin, his mission in the northern zone as secretary of the General Delegation of France.
In danger as soon as he learns that the Gestapo has his photo and can identify him, he asks to be relieved. In March 1944, he intended to reach London via Marseille, then Spain. But he was arrested by the Francoists and interned in Pamplona, then in the Miranda de Ebro camp, in the province of Burgos. When he managed to reach London in mid-May, appointed head of the airdrops section of agents of the BCRA, he prepared for the physical confrontation with the enemy which was his first wish in 1940. But he had to be patient. the landing, like the parachuting on the combat zones and regains France only by boat, by Le Havre, to reach Paris at the beginning of October.
In November, he becomes a companion of the Liberation by decree of General de Gaulle and finds Colonel Passy, promoted to the head of the secret services, who takes him as chief of staff. At the General Directorate of Studies and Research (DGER), of which Jacques Soustelle took the head in November 1944, Cordier discovered the world of spies and secret agents. He was even sent to Spain to assess the solidity of Franco’s regime for de Gaulle. A report that he will keep like a treasure. But this environment is not for him. No more than the self-celebration of former resistance fighters at the time of the return to peace, which echoes in him the discourse of veterans of the Great War and with which he does not feel solidarity. In fact, he resigned from his post after General de Gaulle’s political withdrawal in January 1946.
A brief moment tempted by political commitment – he said then “almost communist” – he soon gave it up, however, to devote himself to the modern art that Jean Moulin had made him discover and appreciate, of which he finally broke through. identity without mask. While he was ignorant of contemporary creation, he learned from contact with Jean Moulin to be passionate about these aesthetic adventures which he had rejected until now. It must be said that, to thwart indiscretions, Rex had established a code which was equivalent to initiation: “When we are in the street, in a restaurant or in any place where we risk being overheard, I will start talking to you. of art so that we are not suspected. “Hence their exchanges on Cézanne and Renoir or the discovery of Kandinsky …
Thanks to a welcome inheritance – his father died in 1943 – Daniel Cordier tried his hand at painting, enrolling in a private art school, the Académie de la Grande Chaumière; bought his first work, a painting by Jean Dewasne, member of the founding committee of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, temple of abstraction; discovers the work of Nicolas de Staël whose paintings he researches and buys, and, a collector, already dreams of himself as a gallery owner.
He fulfilled this dream by opening his gallery in Paris, rue de Duras, in 1956. Address that he transferred three years later to rue de Miromesnil. Accompanying an artistic world in full revolution, he gives André Breton carte blanche for a new surrealist celebration, dialogue with the poet and writer Henri Michaux while becoming the merchant of Jean Dubuffet, the first theorist of “art brut”. Cordier imposes the first Yugoslav artist Dado and the painter and writer Bernard Réquichot, opens branches in Frankfurt and New York, is passionate about the arts that come from elsewhere than from the West and finally closes shop in 1964 when he considers that the essential is played out elsewhere and that Paris is only a secondary home. However, he continued his commitment as a collector and, thanks to an exceptional address book, organized major exhibitions.
No doubt he would have remained an “ordinary man” as he defined himself after the Liberation, when he gave up capitalizing on his epic resistance, but the media return of the Occupation in the 1970s decided otherwise. It all comes from the words of Henri Frenay, founder of the resistance movement Combat, who initiated Moulin into hiding. As early as 1973, in La Nuit finira (edited by Robert Laffont), the great resistance fighter accused Cordier’s “boss” of incompetence and megalomania. Less than ten years after Jean Moulin entered the Pantheon, the charge is severe. It became unbearable when L’Enigme Jean Moulin (ed. Robert Laffont) appeared in 1977, in which Frenay insinuated that Rex was in fact a communist agent.
When rumors and slanders smear the face of his “boss”, Cordier becomes indignant and pulls out his reserve. For Moulin. Convinced that the memory of the protagonists is not sure, more apt to recompose the past than to illuminate it, he launches headlong into an investigation where oral testimony is secondary, suspected of blurring the line and multiplying confusion. and approximations. Coming from a first-hand witness, the posture is singular as the competition for partisan memories rages on. He will stick to it, strictly, and for a very long time, at the cost of a work worthy of a monk copyist, compiling, crossing, testing every piece of information, without abdicating his approach as radical as it is austere.
In several volumes, published between 1983 and 1999 (L’Inconnu du Panthéon and La République des catacombes), all centered on the figure of Jean Moulin, it defines an essential historiographical milestone of the Resistance. If former comrades in the struggle sulk or criticize, professional historians are impressed by this work, carried out alone by a witness who distrusts only human testimony. When he resolves to write his own memories (the first volume, Alias Caracalla, published in 2009), Daniel Cordier even seduces the Académie Goncourt which registers him among the postulants for the autumn laurels, despite the atypical nature of the work.
Resolutely, like his political and artistic commitments, the legacy of historian Daniel Cordier is as singular as it is unique.
Daniel Cordier in a few dates:
August 10, 1920 Born in Bordeaux
1940 Enlistment in the “French Legion” in England
1942-1943 Secretary of Jean Moulin
1944 Companion of the Liberation
1946 Buys his first paintings (Jean Dewasne, Nicolas de Staël)
1956-1964 At the head of his own gallery in Paris, he is active in Europe and the United States
1977 Henri Frenay accuses Jean Moulin of having been a “cryptocommunist”
1983 Publishes Jean Moulin and the National Council of Resistance (CNRS ed.)
1989 Donation of part of his art collection (514 objects) to Beaubourg
1989-93 Jean Moulin – L’Inconnu du Panthéon (JCLattès, 3 vol.)
1999 Jean Moulin. The Republic of the Catacombs (Gallimard, “La suite des temps”)
2009 Alias Caracalla – Memoirs 1940-1943 (Gallimard, “Témoins”)
2013 From History to History (Gallimard, “Témoins”)
2014 The Fires of Saint-Elme (Gallimard)
November 20, 2020 Death in Cannes