What was Martha Desrumaux's Contribution to France?
Martha Desrumaux was raised in a working-class family in Comines, northern France. Born in 1897, one of seven children, she began to work as a servant for a wealthy family in Lille at the age of nine.
Throughout her life, Desrumaux was a “factory worker, a trade unionist, a resistance fighter and a member of parliament.” She was even a prisoner in a concentration camp during the Second World War. However, many French people have never heard of her exploits.
An association has been formed to bring Desrumaux out of obscurity. She was part of the working class that established France. “Friends of Martha Desrumaux” want her remains to be moved to rest in the Panthéon.
After she was able to escape from her servitude in Lille, she started to work in a factory. At the age of 13, Desrumaux joined the CGT, the very influential French labor union. She joined in with the strikes and rallied for better working conditions for her colleagues.
A true activist, she joined the Communist Party as she continued to fight for the rights of textile workers. She was the only female member working with the labor delegation, and was involved in establishing the Matignon agreements of 1936.
Desrumaux organized strikes during World War II against Germany's occupation of France. She was caught and sent to Ravensbrück camp. Even through the deplorable conditions of captivity, she helped other prisoners who were too weak to care for themselves.
“Her main attribute is her defiance. She never gave in to the Vichy regime or the German occupation,” said Laurence Dubois, president of the “Friends of Martha Desrumaux” association.
After the concentration camp was liberated in April 1945, she soon jumped back into her life as an activist. By that summer, she had become one of France's first parliamentary representatives. She continued on with her work with the city council of Lille along with working within the feminist movement, the CGT and the National Council of French Women.
These few brief paragraphs are proof that Ms Desrumaux was an exceptionally outstanding woman. It is, therefore, hard to understand why her contributions to the nation have remained virtually unknown.
The “Friends of Martha Desrumaux” is doing what it can to rectify this oversight and have introduced a petition to have her remains join those of other Ravensbrück survivors in the Panthéon. Her political activities with the Communist Party and membership in the CGT will put up a barrier in the minds of some people. However, in 2018, perhaps it is time to look beyond those issues from the past.
A school in Lille is going to be named after her in September as well as a garden in the 12th arrondissement of Paris in honor of her memory. Some people are beginning to learn of her activities and choose to celebrate her positive impact on France. As for Martha, she was “happy to be invisible”, carrying out her duties to help her fellow citizens.
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