The dinner that changed Daniel Cordier’s life

It is a disappointed young man of almost 22 years who arrives on a hot summer day in Lyon, July 27, 1942. Daniel Cordier (who has just adopted the surname of his beloved father-in-law, Charles, monarchist and anti-Semite , whom his mother married when he was 6 years old) has only one idea in mind: “to kill boche”.

Scandalized by the “treason” of Marshal Pétain, he was, at only 19 years old, one of the very first French to reach London. For this “child of 14”, it is quite simply impossible to accept this defeat in the face of the German Reich and the armistice of June 17, 1940. Across the Channel, the teenager enlisted in the Free French Forces. He binds himself with the philosopher Raymond Aron or even Stéphane Hessel, meetings which imperceptibly make ideologically evolve this young far-right activist, Camelot du Roi at only 14 years old.

Cordier spent long months in training camps in England before joining the Central Intelligence and Action Bureau (BCRA). He dreams of fighting it out, of going to war, and it is very difficult for him to parachute into Free France on July 25, 1942, in Montluçon (Allier), to be the “radio” of Georges Bidault, who heads the Information Office and press (BIP), a real underground agency. Too far from the battlefield for his liking. BipW (his code name) still ignores it. On July 30 in Lyon, he is preparing to meet his life: Jean Moulin, chosen by General de Gaulle to unify the French resistance movements. Of this man, he only knows his nickname of resistance, “Rex”, and will ignore his real identity until October 1944.

“Come tomorrow at 7 am, I’ll keep you with me”

The first contact takes place at 3 p.m. in an apartment near the Town Hall. Frank, direct. Moulin immediately invites the young Cordier to the restaurant the same evening. Appointment is made at 7 pm in the canteen of the former prefect, “Au Garet”, located at 7 of the street of the same name. While they are swallowing a lentil sausage, Jean Moulin questions Cordier about what brought him to him. His childhood, his passion for Charles Maurras, Action française, his monarchist ideas… The young man gives himself up straight. Between them, the current flows instantly. However, Moulin is a fervent Republican, a former member of the Popular Front… poles apart from his interlocutor. In other times, they might have clashed. But that evening, Moulin, whose watchful eyes regularly watch the entrance to the restaurant, is won over by Cordier’s frankness and above all by his love for France.

A national tribute to Daniel Cordier (here in 2014) will be paid Thursday, “very likely to the Invalides,” said the Elysee. LP / Matthieu de Martignac

When they leave each other at nightfall, in front of 72, rue de la Charité which shelters his secret nights, the leader of the Resistance lets go to the young man, subjugated by his “authority and his charm”: “Come here tomorrow at 7 hours. I keep you with me. You will be my secretary. Cordier will remain so until the latter, now called Max, was arrested on denunciation, then tortured to death by the Gestapo in June 1943.

For art and memory

This association will be a real turning point in Cordier’s life. During the war, of course, but also afterwards. Because the one who will be at the forefront of the birth of the National Council of Resistance (CNR), and who becomes, by decree of De Gaulle, companion of the Liberation, turns away after the war from politics to embrace a passion other than him. transmitted Jean Moulin: art.

During their years of clandestinity, the ex-prefect of Chartres, lover of the arts, had indeed a clever cover. He pretended to be a painter or a picture dealer and presented Cordier as his assistant. As soon as they felt they were being watched, Rex and his assistant (who started out as a total novice) talked about painting. He will become an art dealer (that of Jean Dubuffet), will open a gallery in Paris in 1956 and will discover Nicolas de Staël.

This new stage in Daniel Cordier’s thousand lives will end in the 1970s. Outraged that Jean Moulin’s memory is soiled by some accusing him of being a double agent, his ex-secretary, eternally faithful, will turn into a historian to rehabilitate the memory of the one he called the “boss” until his last breath, Friday, at the age of 100.

National tribute

General Christian Baptiste, national delegate of the Order of the Companions of the Liberation and the Elysée are preparing the national tribute which will be paid to Daniel Cordier.

According to our information, his funeral will take place on Thursday, “very likely at the Invalides”, the Palace said, but, Covid requires, in a constrained format.

Emmanuel Macron will deliver a speech in memory of this figure of the Resistance that he knew well. He even called him recently, after he was released from the hospital.

To read : “Alias ​​Caracalla”, by Daniel Cordier, Ed. Gallimard, 1,152 p., 11.50 euros.

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