Tillion, Germaine 1907–2008

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Tillion, Germaine 1907–2008

(Germaine Marie Rosine Tillion)


See index for CA sketch: Born May 30, 1907, in Allègre, France; died April 19, 2008, in Saint-Mandé, France. Anthropologist, ethnologist, historian, educator, activist, and author. Tillion was one of the most honored and decorated women in France. After several years of anthropological field work among the Berber people who lived in the mountainous Aurès region of eastern Algeria in the 1930s, she joined the underground French Resistance during World War II. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, she was imprisoned for three years at the women's concentration camp in Ravensbrück, in eastern Germany. She later claimed that her background in ethnography was one of the factors that helped her survive the experience. It also allowed her to write an informed memoir and analysis of those years. After the war, Tillion carried out a larger project on the history of the valiant French Resistance movement, rendered even more heroic because of the surprising number of French people who collaborated with the German invaders; it was one such person who had reportedly been responsible for her own arrest. From 1958 to 1980 Tillion taught at l'École Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris; during those years and for the rest of her life she campaigned for social causes, for women's rights and human rights in particular. Her interest in women's issues in Mediterranean societies had begun during her early work in Algeria. Her interest in human rights later inspired her activist and very vocal criticism of both the fierce French opposition to Algerian independence from French rule in the 1950s and 1960s and the barbaric practices of Algerian freedom fighters of the National Liberation Front and other groups. Her overriding concern was for people like those she had first encountered in the thirties, people who decades later suffered poverty and deprivation under the French and risked torture and murder at the hands of the rebels. Tillion's defense of the French nation in wartime and her contributions to French thought earned her the grand cross of the Legion of Honor, among many other accolades—and the love of the French people. At the time of her death, she was an honorary director of the Paris institution where she had taught for twenty years, now known as l'École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. Most of Tillion's books were published in French. The few that became available in English translation include Ravensbrück (1975), Algeria: The Realities (1958), France and Algeria: Complementary Enemies (1961), The Republic of Cousins: Women's Oppression in Mediterranean Society (1983).



Lacouture, Jean, Le témoignage est un combat: une biographie de Germaine Tillion, Seuil (Paris, France), 2000.

Reid, Donald, Germaine Tillion, Lucie Aubrac, and the Politics of Memories of the French Resistance, Cambridge Scholars Publishing (Newcastle, England), 2007.

Tillion, Germaine, Ravensbrück, translated by Gerald Satterwhite, Anchor Press (Garden City, NY), 1975.


Chicago Tribune, April 26, 2008, sec. 4, p. 10.

Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2008, p. B7.

New York Times, April 25, 2008, p. A25.

Times (London, England), April 24, 2008, p. 61.

Washington Post, April 21, 2008, p. B6.


Germaine Tillion Organization Web site,http://www.germaine-tillion.org (July 13, 2008).