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Germaine Tillion
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    (May 30, 1907-April 18, 2008)
    Born in Allegre, France
    Studied the Berber and Chaoui people of Algeria
    Member of the Musee de l'Homme resistance group during World War II
    Arrested and imprisoned at the Ravensbruck concentration camp (1943-45)
    Wrote 'Algeria: The Realities' (1958), 'Ravensbruck: An Eyewitness Account' (1973) and 'The Republic of Cousins: Women's Oppression in Mediterranean Society' (1983)
    She wrote an operetta about her experiences at Ravensbruck but kept it secret until she was in her 90s, because she worried that 'people would get the wrong idea and think we were enjoying ourselves.'
    She was unsuccessful in her attempts to broker peace between France and the Algerian FLN independence movement.
    Her refusal to call for Algerian independence was denounced by her fellow left-wing intellectuals, with Simone de Beauvoir calling her position 'filth.'
    She said, 'When I heard Petain's speech [calling for an armistace with Germany], I vomited. Literally.'
    As her first act of resistance, she helped a Jewish family by giving them her family's papers.
    Her mother was also imprisoned at Ravensbruck and later executed.
    Her cellmate at Ravensbruck said, 'She seemed to be totally without fear, or else she had the strength to suppress it. So people turned to her for comfort.'
    She kept up morale by mocking the guards behind their backs and later noted, 'Laughter is a way to resist.'
    She secretly took notes for an anthropological study of the concentration camps.
    She spoke out against the use of torture by the French in Algeria, the Soviets in the Gulag, and the US military in Iraq.
    She was called 'the conscience of 20th century France.'

Credit: C. Fishel

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