2 February 2024

In the Montparnasse cemetery, in Paris, just after a series of vaults and mausoleums where the ugly competes with the hideous, the perfectly maintained and fairly humming sepulcher of Marshal Pétain (née Eugénie Hardon, 1877-1962) marks so as to at the very least the beginning of the Jewish square is absurd. There, somewhere in this thirtieth division adjoining the rue Froidevaux, in a narrow alley which obliges you to walk like a tightrope walker between the tombs, a gray stone without artifice is placed at ground level.

Here lies the Isaac family. The inscriptions are almost illegible, eroded and scaled by time and pollution. We decipher: “Marcel Isaac, 12ᵉ hunter on horseback, Died for France at the age of 28”. His military file specifies that he died on October 8, 1915 at the military hospital number 1 of Bussy-le-Château, in this department of the Marne where he was born. The Isaac family had left Alsace after the German annexation of 1871 and had settled in Châlons-sur-Marne (now Châlons-en-Champagne). The Isaacs wanted to stay French.

Marcel had a brother six years his junior, André, himself injured in 1914 by shrapnel in the arm. This warlike adventure put an end to a career as a violinist, to tell the truth, moderately well handled, according to the person concerned. The youngest therefore put his hair away after the Armistice and converted to humor, a wacky category. He is better known by his artist pseudonym: Pierre Dac (1893-1975). An exhibition (inaugurated in 2020 but suspended by the Covid-19 pandemic) is dedicated to him until August 27 at the Museum of Art and History of Judaism, in Paris.

The whole life and many facets of this master of absurd humor are covered. And above all his career as a resistance fighter during the Second World War: Pierre Dac was, from October 1943, one of the great hosts of “French people speak to French people”, on Radio London. The humorist, who had taken refuge in Toulouse, in the unoccupied zone, in 1940, soon found himself in the crosshairs of the Vichy censorship, especially after a pastiche featuring “Father Musso” on the air of Mother Michael. From 1941, he tried to join the Free French in London. Several unsuccessful attempts earned him stays in prison, in Spain and France.

Corrosive pastiches

In the fall of 1943, after a long and perilous journey, Pierre Dac finally “to set one foot, followed by another, on the soil of Great Britain”, as he announced on October 29, 1943 in the Free France newspaper, published in London. He is 50 years old. He is already known for his hilarious articles in marrow bone, the humorous magazine that he created in 1938, and his frappadingues radio broadcasts.

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