Relais de la Mémoire - Abel Farnoux


Alex & Amy

Abel Farnoux 

Relais de la Mémoire - Abel Farnoux - videoAbel Farnoux was born on 19th May 1921 in Vaucluse, in the South of France, the eldest of eight children. His was an old Catholic family, but one that embraced a deep respect for all religions. He trained as a telecommunications engineer but became active in the resistance as soon as soon as the Second World War began.

In 1942 he was betrayed, arrested and subjected to intense interrogation. This included beatings and being placed before a firing squad on five consecutive mornings. When asked how he survived such an ordeal without talking he responded:

“On the first two or three times (before the firing squad) you think its true, on the fourth you doubt, on the fifth you say its not true – if on the fifth time they did shoot, you were not realizing… I promised the resistance that if I was captured I would never say one word for at least two days. After two days suffering, after three days, after four… when you start saying, I saved two days, I saved the third, the fourth, you save all, finally, you are not obliged to speak. I did the same to stop smoking. I said I will not smoke for one week, then one week more – you have to promise yourself something that you can do. You can resist any torture for two days, but you don’t know if you will resist for 10 days. You promise to resist for two days, on the third day you say, ‘why would I not resist today?’, you say you will resist, the fourth day you do the same thing. So, I took two days guaranteed and after that one day at a time. It is a very good way to not speak!”

The establishment of Relais de la Mémoire in 2002 was instigated by Abel who was anxious to educate young people about the horrors of World War II. He had been invited to a school in France to address their sixth form students, but was horrified by their lack of understanding about the events of the Second World War. He found the students not only disinterested and disengaged, but also hostile towards the German people. He therefore arranged to take a group of Parisian students to Berlin to meet and engage with their German counterparts. The initiative was found to be mutually beneficial and, in this way, Relais de la Mémoire was born.

Shortly before his death, Abel Farnoux proposed a strategic plan for Relais de la Mémoire which included a vision that the young people who attended Relais meetings reflect on what they had learned and consider the impact of these lessons in their daily lives, becoming Relais de la Mémoire agents within their own schools, and using this new knowledge to awaken the conscience of others.

In the final part of the attached interview Abel is asked how his war-time experiences had affected him. He response is an example to all:

I am prepared to die at each moment, I don’t mind. The problem is to know that if I am willing to live, and to be alive, it is to do something, not to protect myself against dying, that is the opposite. I can die because I am doing, but that is not very important. I will never protect myself against dying, my life is not about protecting myself from dying, it is about doing something.