How long have queer folk been fighting Nazis?


As long as there have been Nazis. It’s a natural enmity. Today I learned about Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, two non-binary people who battled the Germans in occupied Jersey.

Lucy Schwob is better known by their pseudonym, Claude Cahun, and Suzanne Malherbe by her pseudonym, Marcel Moore. Theirs was a creative partnership, as well as romantic. Cahun was a French surrealist photographer, writer, and sculptor, while Moore was an illustrator and designer.

Cahun is the more renowned of the pair. She used her work to challenge notions of identity and gender with androgynous self-portraits that bring to life an array of characters. In one, she’s a bodybuilder holding barbells and hearts drawn on their cheeks; in another, she’s a lady of the manor swathed in velvet. Her work is a playful clash of the masculine and feminine, but also a critique of the societal norms she spent her life refusing to adhere to.

Cahun believed that gender was transmutable. Assuming different identities was her forte, and she regularly performed in avant-garde theatre in 1920s Paris (experts still refer to her using feminine pronouns, but it is likely she would have identified as non-binary today). Moore would create the costumes that Cahun would wear to tread the boards. A forerunner of the modern artist, Cindy Sherman, she was ahead of her time in more ways than one.

They were also uncommonly brave.

Three years after her arrival, on June 30, 1940, the Germans invaded. The islanders knew early on that Jersey was likely to be occupied – 6,600 fled on evacuation ships – but Cahun and Moore chose to stay. “They’d spent their entire lives resisting authority, so this was an opportunity to be part of the resistance on the island,” says Downie.

Together, the pair created a two-person resistance campaign, with the main focus being what they called their “traps”. Cahun would draft notes addressed to the German troops, which Moore would translate into German, signing them ‘Der Soldat Ohne Namen’ (‘The Soldier Without a Name’).

Their aim was to inspire dissension amongst the troops by pointing out the idiocy of war. Professor Shaw says they would do it in a cryptic way, using poetry, reminiscent of the surrealist sensibility: “It wasn’t like propaganda telling you ‘Here’s what you need to do’, it spurred the soldiers to think their own thoughts about it.” They would catch the bus into St Helier, disguised as old ladies to deliver the messages, placing them on parked cars and inside cigarette packets. They kept as quiet as they could about their resistance – not even their housekeeper suspected them.

Subversive poetry is a perfectly legitimate means of resistance. It bothered the Nazis enough that when they were captured after four years of making nuisances of themselves, they were sentenced to death — they were only spared because the Allies were timely in their liberation of island ports and the French mainland.

Hooray for courageous weirdos!

Comments

  1. brucegee1962 says

    Great story! Many years ago I visited the museum on the island of Jersey. There was a whole room there dedicated to WWII and the local resistance, but I don’t remember anything about these two. Certainly nothing about subversive poetry — I think I would have remembered that — or the gender noncomformity.

  2. Rich Woods says

    I had a week’s holiday in Jersey when I was a teenager. I can only remember two things about it now which were war-related. One was visiting the German Hospital, a huge underground complex dug out of solid rock in hellishly brutal conditions by slave labour, mostly Russian POWs. The other was a tour guide describing some of the individual acts of resistance to the Nazi occupation, explaining that there was nothing on the scale of the organised and armed resistance in France because France was blessed with two major mountain ranges and several deep forests in which to hide, while Jersey had to make do with a couple of potato fields and a nice beach.

  3. davidc1 says

    Don’t think the Channel Islands were liberated ,the Germans were there until May 1945 .
    @3 The English on Jersey resisted the Germans by refusing to say please and thank you when in conversation with them .

    As for the Nazi laws against gays ,they were still in force for decades after the war .

  4. davidc1 says

    @5 True ,don’t know about people some people here on FTB .I was going to mention Quintin Crisp ,one of the stately homos of England ,he would have been one of the first into a concentration camp.If in the very slim chance you know who had managed to invade ,he would have had a very warm welcome by some members of the tory party .

    As for gays in general ,never had a problem with them .I live in a small village ,the guy next door is gay ,and there are two lesbian couples here as well .

  5. imback says

    The linked article mentions work on a movie about this Jersey couple titled Trespassers. I actually saw a trailer of sorts in the past year or so about that upcoming movie. However, I cannot find much information now about any progress on the film.

  6. benedic says

    David C 1 6
    Not only Tories would have welcomed « you know who » but the Royal family in the person of the abdicated king ,Edward V111. He was shunted out of his job under the excuse of his wanting to marry Mrs Wallis but the real reason is he was premature in his admiration for the ambitions of « you know who »

  7. KG says

    benedic@8,

    Not just Edward VIII among the Windsors, either. His younger brother the Duke of Kent was an enthusiastic admirer of Hitler, and even George VI and Queen Elizabeth (his consort, mother of the present Queen*) were strong supporters of appeasement.

    *There’s a film of the latter giving a Hitler salute, but she was only 13 at the outbreak of WWII, so can hardly be held responsible – presumably taught it by one of her Nazoid uncles.

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