PARIS, France — On the day Paris fell to the Germans in 1940, the director of the city’s anthropological museum Paul Rivet hung Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” from its front door.
The quiet defiance of a man who had warned of the rise of fascism and Nazi racial theories throughout the 1930s, was one of the first acts of intellectual resistance to the occupation of France.
On the 80th anniversary of Rivet’s gesture on Sunday, a day after a Black Lives Matter rally in the French capital, the current director of the Musee de l’Homme Andre Delpuech again posted the poem on its door.
Invoking Kipling’s rousing 1885 verse that “If you can keep your head when all about you/ Are losing theirs and blaming it on you/ If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you… Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it” was a daring and very dangerous thing to do, Delpuech told AFP.
It came four days before General Charles De Gaulle’s radio appeal from London on June 18 urging his compatriots never to submit.
But Rivet — a former MP in the left-wing Popular Front government — did not need to be told.
He set up one of the first French Resistance networks in the country with his colleagues from the museum, several of whom were either later shot by the Nazis or ended up in concentration camps.
A month after posting Kipling’s poem on the door, he took an even greater risk by writing to France’s collaborationist leader Marshal Petain, telling him, “The country is not with you, France is no longer with you.”
Delpuech said that “Rivet was the prototype of an engaged intellectual, who had gathered a group of French thinkers together in 1934 to warn of the fascist threat. The anthropologists who were working in the museum then were standing up (to fascism) as scientists.
“For them, the races were clearly equal,” he added.
Paul Rivet, Boris Vildé, Yvonne Oddon, Anatole Lewitsky, Germaine Tillion… Tels sont les noms de ces grandes femmes et hommes qui ont défendu les valeurs qui sont, aujourd’hui encore, les nôtres : la lutte contre l’obscurantisme, l’universalité et l’éveil des consciences. pic.twitter.com/YfDLatUdTJ
— Musée de l'Homme (@Musee_Homme) June 14, 2020
The night before he posted the poem on the door, colleagues urged Rivet to flee but he decided to stay in Paris and open the museum.
Delpuech said he knew “the Germans would see the poem which had been translated into French.”
Already a marked man, he soon became a hunted one.
Rivet fled to Colombia the following year, narrowly escaping the Gestapo.