A Letter to the Gestapo (Paris, October 5, 1943) from Armand Robin

Armand Robin (1912-1961)

Armand Robin (1912-1961): French anarchist poet, playwright, translator and author of La fausse parole (The False Word — his reflections on propaganda in totalitarian countries, particularly Stalin’s Soviet Union and Vichy France — having worked as a ‘foreign news’ broadcaster for Petain’s Ministry of Information from 1941 to 1943). Denounced to the Gestapo in1943 as an anti-fascist/Nazi and a member of the Resistance (possibly by his Stalinist enemies of the French CP-led Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP), he sent the following letter to the Gestapo’s Paris HQ on October 5 1943. Robin died in a Paris hospital in1961 three days after being arrested for failing to carry identity documents. Paris’s Prefect of Police at the time was Maurice Papon, a former Vichy police chief responsible for — among other repressive duties — Jewish Affairs and, later, under De Gaulle, the police official responsible for the Paris massacre of 17 October 1961 in which upward of 200 Algerian demonstrators were murdered by the French police:

A Letter to the Gestapo (Paris, October 5, 1943) — “Word has reached me, you somewhat overweight testimonials to human degeneracy, that the odd French citizen has denounced me to you as not at all to be counted among those who approve of you. Gentlemen, I can only confirm that message and those sad notes. It is very much the case that I disapprove of you, with a disapproval for which a suitable word cannot be found in any of the languages known to me (probably not even in the Hebrew tongue that you make me yearn to learn.) Gentlemen, you are killers: and I would even add (and this is a point of view to which I am very attached) that you are laughable killers. You cannot be unaware that I have made a specialty of tuning in to foreign radio stations; which is how I discover priceless details about your actions; but since ignorance is a characteristic of the criminal, do I really need to waste time citing the motorized gas chambers you drive around Russian towns? Or the camps where, with consummate skill, you do millions of innocents to death in Poland?

If I write directly to you, gentlemen, it is to make up for the talentlessness of my denouncers; that strain of the human race, especially commonplace under righteous regimes, lacks subtlety and expertise: I really feel that I have not been denounced to you with the sort of expertise such a vocation demands. Shall I admit to you that there is something I find shocking in that lack of expertise, something I simply have to put right? If only the sake of completeness, allow me to make good the shortcomings of those whose wish me dead.

I am weary of the vague threats, the generic dangers, the repeated words of warning, and the unrelenting unease. Gentlemen, you are conjuring into existence such a world that one cannot decide any more whether it is better to be arrested and have done with it, or to listen day in and day out to talk such as ‘Watch yourself, watch your step, watch out for your fingers, your shoulders, your toes, for everything about you is extremely dangerous!’ Gentlemen, they would have me make no move at all because – so they tell me – it might bring your wrath down upon my head. Well, gentlemen, not only is my mind made up to keep on stepping, but I have actually decided to break into a run.

Tittle-tattle, a goddess in bloom right now, has it as the talk of the town that I am out of my mind. That, no doubt, is what has stayed your hand: allow me to banish any such scruple you may feel that works to my advantage; let me give you my guarantee; I am anything but out of my mind and I am very acutely aware of everything I do. It is not being out of one’s mind to speak the truth in every circumstance: the truth is always worth the telling, particularly when it is sure to be punished. The ultimate relish I derive from telling you bluntly “KILLERS, YOU ARE KILLERS” outweighs any thrill you might wring out of killing me.

I’d rather be specifically threatened. Besides, it would be showing scant respect for the practice of murder, which is becoming standard practice these days, for me to oblige my would-be murderers to comb the entire town just to find me: my current address, gentlemen, is a secret from nearly everybody: here it is. Come on! I’m not going anywhere! I’ll even leave the door off the latch. You will find me here without having to wear yourselves out in the early hours of the morning which is when you go a-gamboling, new breed of bunny rabbits as you are.

Gentlemen, you will doubtless be a little taken aback that at the opening of this letter I referred to you as “somewhat overweight testimonials to human degeneracy”; it is unlikely that the individual French citizens with whom you associate will be up to explaining the meaning of that to you; I am inclined to believe that they have but the slenderest grasp of French: so allow me to waste a little more time spelling it out for you that the description was suggested to me by the well known heavy tramp of your steps and the equally renowned clatter of your jackboots.

Gentlemen, you have some pretty strange arguments for peddling the notion that yours is the master race; leather arguments. And let me add, gentlemen, if I may turn at last to the Germany that you purport to represent, that on a daily basis I am moved to very great pity for my brother, the German working man in uniform. Gentlemen, you have murdered my brother, the German workingman: and, as you can see for yourselves, I have no objection to being murdered alongside him.”

Armand Robin

(Translated by Paul Sharkey)