Hélène Mouchard-Zay, her father’s castle

Helene Mouchard-Zay;  in front of the Vél'd'Hiv Children's Memorial Museum, in Orléans, on June 11, 2023.

In Orléans, where she lives, Hélène Mouchard-Zay only travels by bicycle. At 83, the daughter of Jean Zay from Orleans, Minister of National Education for Léon Blum, assassinated by the Militia in 1944, continues to pursue the two passions that have fueled her all her life: ensuring the memory of work of his father and to work on the knowledge of the history of the Loiret internment camps during the Second World War. Two memories, two fights that intersect and are embodied in the life of this obstinate woman.

Today is the publication of castle of silence (Editions Le Mail) which occupies him: his father’s second novel, written in captivity in 1943 and never published, reveals the talent of the novelist Jean Zay who found in writing “a remedy for the despair of imprisonment”, according to its posthumous publisher, Jean-Pierre Delpuech. A dark camera, camped in a timeless Lorraine when the anti-Semitism of the Vichy regime had just thrown him in prison after having degraded his civil rights. “The same pain as Captain Dreyfus. Except that Jean Zay was not Jewish by any criteria, despite the slanderous campaigns of which he was the target under Vichy, but which he never contradicted. A magnificent politician, recalls historian Annette Wieviorka.

Hélène was only 4 years old when Jean Zay was assassinated by militiamen. “My father was arrested after boarding the Massilia in June 1940 with other parliamentarians wishing to reach North Africa. I was born just after; I only knew him in prison,” says the writer’s daughter. A childhood cradled by the absence of this missing father and by the fight of a mother who fought for the rehabilitation of her husband. In 1945, Madeleine Zay asked to testify at the trial of Marshal Pétain so that his responsibility for the disappearance of Jean Zay could be recognized.

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“I grew up with my father’s presence, a presence that was sometimes too heavy. I knew that the large cupboard in Mum’s bedroom housed Dad’s archives, his writings from prison, small notebooks, manuscripts and above all the letters they wrote to each other daily. I might have started looking into it as a teenager, but mom never talked about it,” says the one who was a professor of classics.

Archive, testify

Historian and president of the Cercle Jean Zay, Pierre Allorant prefaced the unpublished castle of silence : “Jean Zay is a complete man with multiple talents and whose great passion is writing. Journalist, lawyer, politician, private man, she is everywhere. Memories and loneliness, published in 1945, after his death, is a magnificent political account. »

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