Pierre Sudreau

Interview with Pierre SUDREAU, resistance member deported to Buchenwald, former minister of General de Gaulle. In 1960 he accompanied de Gaulle to Struthof for the inauguration of the national memorial of the martyrs of the deportation.

What  “lesson” can be learned from the horror of the camps?

It is always painful to recall certain memories. But my comrades and I believe that we must move beyond that, because it is essential to pass on the lessons of the deportation and the last war. Europe, which rightly intends to set an example for the rest of the globe, has nonetheless been torn apart by two dehumanising wars. It is good that the few survivors do not hesitate to speak out,  not to boast about their experiences but to put across a message of defence of man’s vital interests, in particular now that all sorts of horrible methods of aggression are available and proliferating. The lesson of the camps is undeniably important, first because man is generally unaware of his mortality… The awareness of death makes us conscious of the fragility of life. That is what we are trying to do in transmitting this message, so that madness is avoided in Europe and every part of the world.

What led you to join the Resistance in 1940?

I belong to a generation of men brought up in the climate of the First World War. In May-June 1940, we could not stand living under the Nazis’ boot… My motivation in joining the resistance was total; we wanted to fight the occupier with every available means. That was the meaning of the resistance in 1940-1942.

How is your message perceived today?

It is striking to see how interested young people, especially in middle school, are in the stories about our deportation. But that is not enough. The main thing is to explain that the circumstances in which the war, the deportation, took place were  literally exceptional… [In the camps,]  we came from every background… and we were hand in hand to face the worst that the Nazis had to give us. Let’s talk about Europe. It is extremely difficult for those who experienced the camps to forget about borders. We must try and create a continent in the face of a worrisome future. Planetary time is limited… Man is vainglory  and has not yet measured how fragile the planet is. We have forgotten that man is a barbaric being… who is continuously perfecting nuclear weapons.

How can one be vigilant about totalitarian temptations today?

Man is an animal. His reflexes have not changed in 20,000 years! We must organise ourselves to live better. Borders must not become the sources of perpetual conflict. The United Nations must be better organised. Soon no concentration camp survivors will be left. We must do our utmost to pass on the lessons of the camps to avoid mistakes  and build a better world. Here is my message of vigilance. In memory of the camps and of certain personal hardships, I wrote, ‘Have you ever seen a child die?… When you arrive  at Auschwitz, how can you imagine the glowing crematoria and millions of terrified children and adolescents traumatised by days of transport in indescribable conditions, suddenly separated from their parents amidst the jostling, screaming and beating? Can we forget their horrible suffering and murder on an industrial scale? Never have so many human lives been taken in so little time and with so much cruelty, fanaticism and technological ability.”

Au delà de toutes les frontières
Paris, Odile Jacob, 2002.