1934: Georges-Alexandre Sarrejani, vitriolic 1749: Richard Coleman, solemnly declaring

1944: Joseph Epstein, Polish Communist French Resistance hero

April 11th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1944, Joseph Epstein* was shot with 18 others at Mont-Valerien outside Paris for their parts in the World War II French Resistance.

Joseph — “Jurek”, really — was born in Poland, but his communist politics got him harried out of Poland and Czechoslovakia and onward to France in the early 1930s.

There he completed his law studies, but was unable practice since he wasn’t a Frenchman.

But he was a perfect recruit for the international republican brigades of the imminent Spanish Civil War (he commanded an artillery battery named in honor of Tudor Vladimirescu).

War would drive Joseph Epstein hither and yon for his remaining years. After a spell in a French POW camp for Spanish Civil War refugees, Epstein signed up for the Foreign Legion, got captured and sent to a German POW camp, escaped to Switzerland, and returned to France.

There as “Colonel Gilles” of the communist resistance organization Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, he became the commissionaire of military operations for the capital and pioneered a shift in tactics towards guerrilla strikes using larger teams. Resistance fighter (and later, historian of the Resistance) Henri Nogueres explained:

Most of the comrades adopted the three comrades system. But in Paris there were policemen and German soldiers everywhere: Joseph Epstein preferred to engage fifteen to twenty fighters per operation … [because] if in Paris during daylight, three persons only had to attack a military unit, there will always be a danger to be arrested that could lead to a partial or complete failure. By contrast, with a larger group, it was possible to gain a superiority if adopting a discrete strategy. The operations in Paris conducted in 1943 were placed under Colonel Gilles’ authority.

Epstein was arrested in the autumn of 1943 at a meeting with Missak Manouchian, and withstood months of brutal torture without so much as revealing his real name or national origin.

While this is a standard accomplishment in a Resistance martyrology, the proof of it in this case was that the ensuing “Manouchian Group” show trial, and the resulting famed “Affiche Rouge” poster, took great pains to depict Resistance members as foreigners and criminals.

As a Polish Jew who regularly ordered assassinations, Epstein would have made a fine exhibit … if the Nazis had known who he was. Instead, he’s conspicuous only by his absence.

The ironic consequence, according to another Resistance veteran, was that “The man who, by far, was the greatest officer in all of France, the greatest tactician of the People’s War, is unknown to the general public. Of all military leaders, he was the most audacious, the most capable, the one who gave the French Resistance its originality compared to other European countries.”

* Not to be confused with the writer of the same name.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,Germany,Guerrillas,History,Jews,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists,Torture,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Calendar

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • markb: Howdy everybody: i received Al Carlisle’s new book a few days ago: Violent Mind – the1976...
  • Bridget: From the quick Google search that I just did, I found that his grandfather died in December 1983. Which...
  • Kevin M Sullivan: Hi Krisha… You know, I don’t know when Sam Crowell passed away. I didn’t need...
  • Krisha: Hi Kevin, May I ask, do you know whether Ted’s maternal grandfather, Samuel Cowell had died before or...
  • Kevin M. Sullivan: Indeed, RD, all of the above lol! :)