PARIS — One of the last surviving senior French Resistance leaders, Raymond Aubrac, whose pregnant wife famously led a daring commando raid to rescue him from the Nazis, has died in Paris aged 97.
Aubrac, whose parents were deported to their deaths at Auschwitz, and his wife Lucie formed the most famous couple of the French resistance and waged a fierce underground battle against the German World War II occupation.
Already involved in left-wing politics before the war, Aubrac went on to become a close friend of Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh and acted as a messenger between the US and Vietnamese governments in the early 1970s.
President Nicolas Sarkozy paid homage to "a heroic Resistance figure" whose "escape, thanks to the bravery of his wife Lucie Aubrac, has entered into the legend of the history of the Resistance".
"These heroes of the shadows who saved France's honour at a time when it appeared lost are disappearing one after the other. It is our duty to keep their legacy alive in the heart of our collective memory," Sarkozy said.
Aubrac had urged his compatriots to vote for Sarkozy's Socialist opponent in next week's presidential election, Francois Hollande, who hailed a couple who "found within themselves... the strength to resist Nazi barbarity".
Aubrac gave his definition of resistance in 2010, during the opening of a school in his name.
"Watch what's going on, try to understand what's happening around you in society. And when you get the feeling there's an injustice, react to the injustice without being content just to notice it but try to do something."
"For me, that's resistance, that covers small gestures but also some adventures," he said.
Aubrac was born Raymond Samuel to a Jewish family on July 31, 1914 in the northeastern Haute-Saone region and studied engineering in France and the United States.
Aubrac and Lucie, who died in 2007 at the age of 94, formed one of the first underground Resistance groups -- Liberation Sud -- in the southeastern city of Lyon in 1940.
In June 1943, Aubrac was captured alongside Charles de Gaulle's Resistance chief Jean Moulin in a Gestapo raid commanded by "The Butcher of Lyon", Klaus Barbie, on a doctor's surgery in a Lyon suburb.
Aubrac was freed in October 1943 when a pregnant Lucie and a group of fighters ambushed a truck carrying 14 resistance members from Gestapo headquarters in Lyon.
The ambush became one of the most celebrated Resistance exploits of World War II and was immortalised in Claude Berri's 1997 film "Lucie Aubrac", with former Bond girl Carole Bouquet playing the heroine.
Hunted by the Gestapo, the couple escaped to de Gaulle's resistance base in London where their daughter Catherine was born in February 1944.
Returning to France after the war, Aubrac was appointed a commissioner for the new government in Marseille, where he oversaw demining and reconstruction efforts.
His relations with de Gaulle were sometimes tense because of Aubrac's Communist leanings. When Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh came to France to negotiate independence in 1946, he decided to stay in the Aubracs' home.
Aubrac later founded an institute to promote trade with Communist countries and served in a series of international roles, including as head of the UN's Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) from 1964 to 1975.
In his later life, Aubrac paid frequent visits to schools to educate the younger generation about the perils of totalitarianism.
"I can't stand solitude after 67 years of married life," he said in 2010.
"So when I found myself alone, I was happy to have invitations to schools which gave me the feeling I was still a bit alive."
Aubrac died at the Val de Grace military hospital in Paris on Tuesday night, his family said. He leaves behind three children and 10 grandchildren.
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