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Thanks to Gerdson for this link. Well worth reading. Another fictional legend bites the dust.
Worse, new evidence revealed this month by the newspaper France-Soir suggests that the "saintly brother" - at least at one stage in his life - shared some of the same racial opinions as the "frere maudit", the accursed brother. In a letter he wrote to his best friend in May 1941, Cousteau complained that he and his family could not find a decent apartment in Marseilles because of all the "ignobles youpins" (vile yids) pouring into the city.
The letter was written at a time when thousands of French Jews were fleeing to the south to escape persecution by the Nazi occupiers of northern France; it was written after the Vichy government had promulgated anti-Semitic laws which led, within months, to the rounding-up of tens of thousands of Jews and their deaths in concentration camps. Defenders of Cousteau have pointed out in recent days that his sentiments were widely shared in the France of that period: that the letter says more about France in 1941 than it says about Cousteau.
Maybe. It does, however, cast a powerful beam of light on one submerged wreck - Vichy France - that Cousteau preferred in later life to leave unexplored. The world's favourite Frenchman often claimed that he had served in the Resistance and that his Legion d'Honneur had been awarded for his wartime activities. It was, but for wartime activities on behalf of Vichy, spying on the Italians in 1941. The rest of the war Cousteau, although nominally still a naval officer, spent launching his own career, using his collaborationist brother's connections to acquire the materials he needed to perfect a revolutionary method of diving and to acquire raw film.
His first work - Par Dix-Huit Metres de Fond (Eighteen Metres Beneath the Waves) - was given its premiere in 1943 by a German association, Internationaler Kultur Film, before an audience of German officers and Vichy officials at the Theatre de Chaillot in Paris (contrary to his later reputation as a conservationist, the film was about underwater hunting and fishing, Cousteau's obsession at the time).
All of these facts, save the revelation of the anti-Semitic letter, were first revealed in 1993 in an excellent biography of Cousteau - by no means entirely negative - written by one of the best French investigative biographers, Bernard Violet. His book produced new evidence to back up earlier allegations that the Cousteau team had - under pressure from Hollywood to produce neat, anthropomorphic story lines - mistreated, and even accidentally killed, some of the sea creatures that his television series transformed into international celebrities.
It also explored some of Cousteau's less known activities, including his work for, and subsidies from, international companies which "le Commandant" simultaneously attacked as "the biggest polluters on the planet".
Now some of the myths about the man
The years of World War II were decisive for the history of diving. After the armistice of 1940, ( the surrender by traitor Petain and the Vichy Govt) the family of Simone and Jacques-Yves Cousteau took refuge in Megève, where he became a friend of the Ichac family who also lived there. Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Marcel Ichac shared the same desire to reveal to the general public unknown and inaccessible places — for Cousteau the underwater world and for Ichac the high mountains. The two neighbors took the first ex-aequo prize of the Congress of Documentary Film in 1943, for the first French underwater film: Par dix-huit mètres de fond (18 meters deep), made without breathing apparatus the previous year in the Embiez islands (Var) with Philippe Tailliez and Frédéric Dumas, using a depth-pressure-proof camera case developed by mechanical engineer Léon Vèche (engineer of Arts and Métiers and the Naval College). ( one has to note that the films were paid for by the Nazis, premiered in front of the Nazis and the awards presented by Nazis)
In 1943, they made the film Épaves (Shipwrecks), in which they used two of the very first Aqua-Lung prototypes. These prototypes were made in Boulogne-Billancourt by the Air Liquide company, following instructions from Cousteau and Émile Gagnan. When making Épaves, Cousteau could not find the necessary blank reels of movie film, but had to buy hundreds of small still camera film reels the same width, intended for a make of child's camera, and cemented them together to make long reels.
(Long before this Jacques Cousteau had returned to civilian life in German-occupied Paris. The French Navy had scuttled most of the fleet in Toulon in 1942. Some French sailors and ships had regrouped outside France to form the Free French Forces of the Exterior, but Jacques Cousteau never participated in the fight against the Nazis to free France.
Instead, living in Paris he had ample idle time to commute to the coast and perfect his free diving skills. He had married the daughter of the chairman of the board of Aire Liquide,a powerful French industrial company which, during the war, produced liquid gas for the Nazi forces.)
Having kept bonds with the English speakers (he spent part of his childhood in the United States and usually spoke English) and with French soldiers in North Africa (under Admiral Lemonnier), Jacques-Yves Cousteau (whose villa "Baobab" at Sanary (Var) was opposite Admiral Darlan's villa "Reine"), helped the French Navy to join again with the Allies; he assembled a commando operation against the Italian espionage services in France, and received several military decorations for his deeds. At that time, he kept his distance from his brother Pierre-Antoine Cousteau, a "pen anti-semite" who wrote the collaborationist newspaper Je suis partout (I am everywhere) and who received the death sentence in 1946. However, this was later commuted to a life sentence, and Pierre-Antoine was released in 1954.
An operation for the Vichy against the Italians, not for the allies or the Free French, his medals all given to him by the Vichy Govt.
“Your heart was warm and happy
With the lilt of Irish laughter
Every day and in every way
Now forever and ever after."