“At the front, most men expose themselves sufficiently to satisfy the demands of honour, but few are willing to risk themselves enough to assure the success of the enterprise for which they are exposing themselves.” — Duke François de la Rochefoucauld (1613–1680): Maxim 224.
On May 8, Robert de la Rochefoucauld, a descendant, died at the age of eighty-eight. He was the mayor of Ouzouer-sur-Trézée, a small village in the Loire Valley, and a hero of the French resistance. He was also the last living member of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive. During the war, he had risked his life many times.
In 1997, he testified on behalf of Maurice Papon, a former official of the Vichy government who was being tried on charges of deporting French Jews who were sent to Nazi death camps. De la Rochefoucauld told the court that Papon had risked his life to help the resistance and the allies.
Papon was convicted.
The only explanation for de la Rochefoucauld’s extraordinary testimony is that the two men had been friends and that this friendship imposed obligations on him transcending the demands of honour.
Before judging him, we must remember Maxim 31 of his famous ancestor: “Had we no faults, we should not take such pleasure in discovering them in others.”