This book was originally published in 1946, under the title Notre Guerre. It is an astonishing work, almost unbearable to read in places, yet ultimately inspiring. It evokes horror and compels admiration.
Agnes Humbert, born in 1894, was a painter and art critic who, when the Second World War broke out, was employed in the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires. She was politically active, on the left, and a supporter of the Popular Front; in 1939, writes Julien Blanc in his Afterword, ‘a research trip to Russia to study Soviet museums and culture confirmed her attachment to the communist cause’. In 1940 she was caught up in the Exodus, as Parisians fled the advancing Germany army. She returned to Paris as soon as she could and was almost immediately active in one of the earliest of the Resistance groups. By chance, she had been one of the few to hear General de Gaulle’s broadcast of 18 June. An army officer told her he knew de Gaulle and that he was ‘a crackpot’. ‘It is thanks to that “crackpot”,’ she wrote in her diary, ‘that this evening I decided not to put an end to everything after all. He has given me hope, and nothing in the world can extinguish that hope now’.
For ten months her ‘Musée de l’Homme’ Resistance group produced a clandestine newspaper. At this early stage of the war, when there was no organised Resistance and little prospect of any effective direct action against the occupying forces, propaganda – intended to persuade the French that the war was not