Camus as Journalist

Enda O’Doherty in The Dublin Review of Books:

Avec Camus, by Jean Daniel.

Camus In August 1944, as General Dietrich von Choltitz defied Hitler’s orders to burn Paris and surrendered the city to Free French and Resistance commanders, two journalists and former résistants, one in his thirty-first year, the other just turned forty-one, were among a small group who took possession of the rue Réaumur premises of the Wehrmacht newspaper the Pariser Zeitung, so hastily evacuated by its former occupants that they left behind their hand grenades.

Albert Camus and Pascal Pia’s acquaintance went back to 1938, when Pia, already an experienced newspaperman, had hired the young Camus as a secrétaire de rédaction (subeditor) on Alger Républicain, a left-wing daily established to oppose fascism and anti-Semitism and support the social and political emancipation of Algeria’s Muslims. The two worked together again at Paris-Soir in spring 1940 as France huddled behind the Maginot line awaiting Germany’s next move. When the blow came, in May, it was swift. French armies collapsed on the eastern front and on June 14th the Germans entered Paris. At first Camus followed the Paris-Soir team as they evacuated to Clermont-Ferrand, then Lyon, in the unoccupied zone. At the end of the year, however, he was laid off by his employer and in January 1941 returned with his new wife, Francine, to Algeria.

It was during a prolonged stay in the mountains of central France in 1942 and 1943, initially undertaken on doctor’s advice to treat his tuberculosis, that Camus first came into contact with active members of the Resistance. Of those he met there he was most drawn to the young Catholic poet René Leynaud, a regional leader of the Combat movement, whose passion and sincerity he found immediately appealing, in spite of their differences over religion. Leynaud was to be one of a large group of prisoners shot by the Germans in Lyon in summer 1944.

It is difficult to know with any precision when Camus himself first became active in the Resistance as in later life he seldom talked about it, but a false identity card issued in May 1943 in the name Albert Mathé suggests one possible starting point. That autumn he moved to Paris and began work as a reader with the Gallimard firm, which had published his first novel, The Outsider, and the philosophical tract The Myth of Sisyphus in the previous year. It was also about this time that Camus, introduced by Pia, joined the editorial team of the clandestine newssheet Combat, operating under the pseudonym Bauchard.

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