Ever since his death at the hands of the Gestapo in 1943, the mysterious fate of French Resistance leader Jean Moulin has stood for his country's division during the Second World War. Many suspected that his close associate, Reni Hardy, had betrayed the revered national hero to the Gestapo. Earlier this month, however, a recent revelation gave modern history a French twist.
A new biography by 61-year-old French historian Pierre Pian, "The Lives and Deaths of Jean Moulin," alleges that a Gestapo spy, Lydie Bastien, was the agent of Moulin's capture and, ultimately, his death by torture under the orders of Klaus Barbie. "I always believed that Reni Hardy was the one responsible for the death of Jean Moulin," Pian admitted to Salon Books. But by the time he completed his two-year project, the author of 20 French history books emerged with a different conclusion.
According to Pian's book, Hardy was besotted with the 20-year-old Bastien, who carried on a simultaneous dalliance with Harry Stengritt, a dashing 31-year-old Gestapo officer. Enjoying access to Hardy's secret files and other confidential information, Bastien sprung a trap for Hardy and Moulin with the help of Stengritt. Subsequently, Moulin was imprisoned and tortured to death in the Montluc fortress near Lyon. For her services, the Germans paid Bastien in diamonds and gems stolen from Jews.
Also betrayed by Bastien, Hardy was arrested by the Gestapo. To avoid a long and painful death at the hands of Barbie's thugs, Hardy gave the Nazis the information they required and an escape was staged. To deflect suspicion, Hardy shot himself in the arm. Yet his possible complicity in Moulin's grisly death was the source of constant speculation. Before his death in 1987, Hardy was tried twice for treason but never convicted.
Bastien, on the other hand, enjoyed a more carefree postwar life. A Nietzsche-reading occultist, she lived in Bombay as a Buddhist mystic; several years later, she landed in the United States, where she befriended former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and started a think tank that concerned itself with "the nature of man." More than 40 years later in France, Bastien was on her deathbed and revealed her secrets to a songwriter friend, Victor Conti, who met Pian last February at a Jean Moulin conference and told him of Bastien's confessions.
Pian's evidence, however, is tenuous, since it is based solely on the recollections of Victor Conti. Although Conti was granted permission by Bastien to reveal her confessions, he inexplicably waited several years to do so. Nonetheless, Bastien's involvement with the Gestapo is an established fact, as is Stengritt's role in Moulin's arrest.
Late last year, in the book "The Secrets of the Jean Moulin Affair: Context, Causes and Circumstances," radical historian Jacques Baynac alleged that the OSS, the American precursor to the CIA, made a strategic blunder that cost Moulin his life. Though the idea was given moderate support by
left-wing periodicals Libération and Le Monde, Pian never bought the premise. "I found Baynac's theory to be an absurdity," he scoffed.
Pian's publisher, Librarie Arthhme Fayard, told Salon Books that the book has not found an English-language publisher as yet.