Cécile and Henri Rol-Tanguy
Cécile Rol-Tanguy, born 10 April 1919, was a leading member of the French Resistance during the Second World War. She participated in the liberation of Paris, conducted clandestine operations and relayed confidential messages.
In 1936, Cécile met Henri Tanguy, a political activist who volunteered for the International Brigades and fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The couple married in 1939 and their first child, Françoise, was born in November. Sadly, Françoise fell ill and died on 12 June 1940, two days before the Nazis entered Paris.
In an interview in 2014, Cécile recalled that painful episode: “I can still remember the terrible pall of burning smoke over Paris and wondering if that was what had made my baby ill. I left her in the hospital overnight, and when I went back the next day, there was another baby in her bed.”
During the Nazi occupation, Henri joined the French Forces of the Interior while Cécile supported the FFI as a liaison officer.
After the birth of her second child, Hélène, Cécile used her baby’s pushchair to conceal guns, grenades and clandestine newspapers. At this time, 1942, the Nazis arrested Cécile’s father and deported him to Auschwitz, where he died.
Despite this setback, Cécile and Henri fought on. In May 1944, Henri was appointed regional leader of the FFI. With Cécile’s help he established an underground command post at Place Denfert-Rochereau, and from there the couple distributed messages to the Resistance.
On 19 August 1944, Cécile and Henri published a pamphlet, a call to arms for the citizens of Paris. The people responded and on 25 August they liberated Paris, sweeping the hated Nazi occupiers aside.
Recalling that momentous day, Cécile said, “When they told us, (of the victory) we didn’t hear the bells ringing, but we had a pillow fight with the girls who were with me.”
After the liberation, Henri became an officer in the French army while Cécile joined the Union des Femmes Françaises, an organisation that maintained the memory of Resistance and anti-fascist fighters.
The couple had four surviving children: Hélène and Jean, who were born during the war, and Claire and Francis, who were born after the war. Later, the family left Paris to live near the Loire.
After 63 years of marriage, Henri died on 8 September 2002. Cécile passed away at her home at midday on 8 May 2020, the 75th anniversary of VE Day, aged 101.