Historian and Résistante
“… in the end national frontiers exist only as lines on maps. There are just people: those who fight for civilization, and those who fight against it. Just those two camps, no more.” (Agnès Humbert, Résistance, 270)
Agnès Humbert (1894 – 1963) was an art historian at the Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires, in Paris. Humbert and her colleagues at the museum quickly realized the implications of France’s defeat. She left Paris on June 11, 1940, a few days before German troops would occupy the city. Humbert stayed in the countryside for a little over a month before returning to Paris, knowing she would probably lose her job, but believing that the Vichy “puppet administration could not last forever”, and wanting to be with her adult son, Pierre. Before being forced out of her museum position by Vichy officials, Humbert formed a Resistance group with nine of her colleagues, later referred to as the “Musée de l’Homme Group.” Humbert served as the group’s secretary and typist, prepared and distributed issues of the newsletter Résistance, and made contacts and arranged meetings for the group.
In April 1941, the group was betrayed and Humbert and most of her colleagues were arrested. The seven men were executed. The three women were sentenced to labor for life, and survived the war (Weitz, Sisters in the Resistance, 233). Humbert endured captivity in French prisons and forced labor in German camps. When American forces liberated the German town where she was imprisoned in April of 1945, Humbert played a significant role in “denazifying” the town, managing the town’s administration and the supplying of food and shelter for refugees, and providing intelligence to the American military. (Julien Blanc, Résistance Afterword, 306)
Humbert had kept a journal during the Occupation, which circumstances forced her to discontinue after her arrest. She completed her account at the war’s end and published it in 1946 as Notre Guerre. After the war, Humbert refused to return to her position at the Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires. With Jean Cassou, a pre-war museum colleague and Musée de l’Homme Resistance group member, she joined the new Musée National d’Art Moderne, and continued to organize exhibitions and write about art for the rest of her life. Humbert was a founding member and president of her local “Combattants de la Liberté” (Fighters for Freedom), a left-wing group, and was a member of the Association France-Yugoslavie, visiting Yugoslavia and expressing her support for Tito. (Julien Blanc, Résistance Afterword, 308).
Agnès Humbert was one of the few women to be recognized by the French government for her work in the Resistance – she was awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1949.