Michel Hollard

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Michel Hollard , (born  July 10, 1898 in Épinay-sur-Seine , †  July 16, 1993 in Ganges ) was a French engineer and lieutenant colonel . He became known as the founder and resistance fighter of the agent network Agir ( German  act, act ) during World War II.

Medallion with the portrait of Michel Hollard on the memorial stone on the Pont Charlemagne in Mijoux , Ain department , France


Michel Hollard was born in 1898 as the second child of Professor Auguste Hollard and Pauline Monod in Épinay-sur-Seine. His father was a well-known chemist and colleague of such important contemporaries as Henri Becquerel , Pierre and Marie Curie, and Paul Langevin . Some of the maternal and paternal relatives were Swiss, which was of great use to Hollard in his later activities. His youth was strongly influenced by this family environment. These included personalities such as his cousin, the later researcher and humanist Théodore Monod, and the later Nobel Prize winners , the physicians Jacques Monod and Daniel Bovet .

As a devout Christian, he has shown great indifference to material things since his youth, which was often abused by those around him. The Boy Scout Movement , founded in England by Lord Robert Baden-Powell , had a great influence on the adolescent Michel. His whole life he lived the motto of the boy scouts: "Always ready!" . During his school days, Hollard made plans to study music or literature. But the looming war surprised him in 1914 at the age of sixteen and the aim was to serve his fatherland. Since entry into the army was only possible at the age of seventeen, he made himself available to the Red Cross as a nurse. When he surrendered to the drafting committee a year later, he was rejected again because of his weak physical constitution . This prompted him to immediately strengthen his body through consistent training, which later enabled him to survive extreme hardships during the war years from 1941 to 1945. In 1916 he was finally admitted to the recruiting school and after graduation was assigned to the 51st Infantry Regiment. He was distinguished by high bravery and was awarded the Croix de guerre with bronze stars when he was nineteen .

After the war Hollard attended an engineering school, which he graduated with a diploma. He did not pursue his musical and literary plans any further. In addition to his civilian work as an engineer, he was also hired by the army as an instructor and rose to become captain of the reserve. In 1922 he married Yvonne Gounelle, the sister of the writer and poet Henri Gounelle, who died in 1915 . They have three children together, the daughter Francine and the sons Florian and Vincent.

During the mobilization in 1939 Hollard hoped in vain to be drafted into a combat unit. The army preferred to use his skills as an engineer and assigned him to the "Center d'études de mécanique, balistique et armement" in the Paris region. In May 1940 he and the rest of the staff were transferred to another plant in Tulle because of the invasion of the German army . His family had moved to Gorniès ( Département Hérault ), an area from which the ancestors of Yvonne Hollard came. After the armistice on June 25, 1940, Hollard returned with his family to Paris, where he could have continued to work in the “Center d'études”. Since this would have been equivalent to doing something for the Germans, he refused. He found a job at the newly founded company “Société de gazogènes Autobloc”. This appointment was to make the travel activities that were inevitable for Agir much easier. The period from 1941 to 1945 is described in the following chapter, as this is largely shaped by his agent activities. After the war Hollard worked again as an engineer for the company Equipement automobile Westinghouse until his retirement.

The grave of Michel and Yvonne Hollard in Gorniès

In the spring of 1993, Michel and Yvonne Hollard left Paris to spend the summer in Gorniès once more. At the beginning of July, Hollard had a severe fall in the house, so that he was admitted to the Saint-Louis clinic in Ganges. The doctors diagnosed a broken thigh. Despite a successful operation, Hollard's health deteriorated a few days later. Michel Hollard died in the hospital on July 16, 1993, shortly after his 95th birthday. He is buried in Gorniès.

Role as a resistance fighter

Michel Hollard did not accept the occupation of France by the German army and thought about how he could make his contribution to the resistance. Joining the French fighters in London was out of the question for him for family reasons, and working for the Resistance did not seem efficient enough for him . So the idea matured in him to conduct research on his own for the benefit of the Allies . Step by step he planned his activities and made contact with people who he suspected shared his thoughts.

His agent network Agir

Hollard's network of agents was untitled until after the war, the name Agir or Réseau Agir only came into being after Hollard's return from deportation . Nevertheless, the name has since been used for Hollard's network of agents from the very beginning. As the only official attribute during the war, Hollard was given the military code name Z 165 by the British .

Hollard's routes from Paris to Bern and Lausanne
Cusey Lock, where Hollard entered the no-go zone
Grange du Vieux Châteleu , this is where Hollard secretly crossed the
Swiss border for the first time
The former customs post of La Brévine

Thanks to his work for the "Société de gazogènes Autobloc", which, among other things, manufactured wood gasifiers for automobiles, a wide range of travel activities opened up for him. He was supposed to look for wood all over the country and buy the material that served as a substitute for increasingly scarce fuel for gas production. Mostly traveling by train, he primarily made contact with railway employees who, due to their work, had knowledge of the activities of the occupiers or knew how to procure them. From the beginning, Hollard insisted on organizing all actions only through personal contacts and only forwarding or handing over the exchange of researched material personally. He mistrusted the means of communication such as the telephone or even radio and saw in them a source to uncover the agent network for the enemy or to make it vulnerable. For this reason he was the sole organizer and avoided contact with the Resistance. But he had unlimited trust in the people he had personally recruited for his cause.

In the spring of 1941, Hollard thought about how he could pass the information he had gathered to the Allies. Here, too, only a personal handover came into question for him, as he had doubts about the security of diplomatic luggage. He decided to take the information to the British Embassy in Bern and began to plan his route meticulously. Under the pretext of looking for new logs in the surrounding woods, he wanted to visit the “Société de gazogènes Autobloc” branch in Dijon . From Dijon he planned to go through the German exclusion zone to the French-Swiss border , to cross it and to get to Bern. At Cusey , Hollard succeeded in penetrating the exclusion zone via the demarcation line with the help of the lock keeper Arthur Vrignon. His first route led him to the border via Dole , Pontarlier and Morteau , where he found another helper at the Grange du Vieux Châteleu in the person of the woodcutter Paul Cuenot. After secretly crossing the border, Hollard reported to the Swiss customs authorities in La Brévine . With the support of the Swiss, he reached the British Embassy in Bern on May 22, 1941. Received with skepticism by the British, Michel Hollard only gained their trust after providing further information upon request. In total, Michel Hollard made the trip from Paris to Bern and later Lausanne forty-nine times and secretly crossed the Swiss-French border at three other points, between Villars-lès-Blamont and Damvant , between Mijoux and La Rippe and between Machilly and Jussy .

In the spring of 1942 an Agir member, Olivier Giran , was arrested for the first time by denunciation by the Gestapo . Giran was a close confidante of Hollard's return from Bern. After nine months of imprisonment and torture, Olivier Giran was shot dead on April 16, 1943 at the Angers firing range.

The V1 positions

The striking protective walls of the V1 launch pad in the Bois Carré
V1 position in Val Ygot

The main activity of Hollard and his people quickly concentrated on the investigation of these new structures, the function of which was initially neither clear to them nor to the British. Hollard was first made aware of such construction sites by SNCF engineer Jean-Henri Daudemard in the summer of 1943. At Bonnetot-le-Faubourg he managed to look around the construction site disguised as a construction worker. He benefited from the fact that the Germans employed many French construction workers in addition to prisoners of war. With a compass he determined the direction of the most prominent part of the facility, the protective walls of the launch pad. Back in Paris, he checked the direction on a map: the destination was London. The inspection of other construction sites revealed that all of these structures were aimed at the British capital.

In October 1943, Hollard succeeded in smuggling a young engineer named André Comps into the Bois Carré construction site , a V1 position 1.4 kilometers east of Yvrench . Comps was able to draw up important construction plans and created a precise sketch of the entire system in the small forest. These documents ultimately enabled the British secret service to assess the importance of this construction activity along the French Channel coast .

At the same time, André Bouguet, SNCF station director and Agir member, noticed transports going north via Rouen . The destination of these transports was the Auffay train station , very close to Bonnetot-le-Faubourg. With the help of the station manager there René Bourdon and his assistant Pierre Carteron, Hollard was able to penetrate a goods shed in which the transported objects were stored. Hollard made precise dimensional sketches of the devices hidden under tarpaulins. The SIS found an astonishing resemblance to Hasager Christiansen's sketch which he had made of an aircraft that crashed on Bornholm on August 22, 1943 .

The documents procured by Agir led to increased aerial reconnaissance by the Allies, and the Bois Carré position was the first such reconnaissance facility. On December 22nd, 1943, the RAF finally flew the first attacks against the positions under construction. Thanks to the Agir campaigns, the V1 positions of the first generation were so badly destroyed or hindered in construction that very few of them could even be used. As a result, the Germans changed their strategy and began to build easier and better camouflaged positions.

Capture, deportation and liberation

Plaque commemorating the arrest of Hollard and his colleagues
Memorial plaque for the fallen Agir members

At the end of January 1944, after a lengthy inspection tour through France, Hollard visited the British Embassy in Bern for the forty-ninth time. It should be the last secret trip and border crossing to Switzerland. On February 5, 1944, a meeting of key Agir members was planned in the Café des Chasseurs at 176 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis in Paris. Michel Hollard was sitting at a table with Henri Dujarian, Joseph Legendre and Jules Mailly when they were approached by Gestapo people, then arrested and taken away. Because they were minutes late for the agreed meeting, Madeleine Boulanger, Lucien François and Robert Rubenach escaped arrest.

The Agir network , which had around a hundred members , was now managed by Hollard's next co-workers and continued its work.

The arrested were interrogated by the Gestapo and initially detained in Fresnes prison , a suburb south of Paris. After prolonged torture, during which he did not reveal anything, Michel Hollard was sentenced to death . Three months after their capture, Joseph Legendre and Henri Dujarian managed to secure their release. Jules Mailly was sentenced to deportation and disappeared in Mauthausen concentration camp , which he did not survive. After three and a half months in Fresnes Prison, Hollard was told that he would be deported. It has never been clarified why Hollard's death sentence was converted into a concentration camp. In the second half of May Hollard was transferred to the Camp de Royallieu near Compiègne , where he was waiting for his deportation with more than 2,000 other inmates. In the first week of June, the three-day transport, monitored by the SS , took place to a small train station near Hamburg . In the same week Michel Hollard was sent to the Neuengamme concentration camp under number F 33948 .

In the following months, isolated information about the Allied landings on June 6, 1944 in Normandy and their advance against Germany in the spring of 1945 also reached the inmates of the Neuengamme concentration camp. In mid-April 1945 they heard the noise of guns for the first time. Between April 20 and 28, the ten thousand or so deportees were taken away from the concentration camp in cattle wagons. Hollard's train reached the port of Lübeck . The SS took the prisoners to various ships that served as temporary prisons. Hollard got onto the cargo ship Thielbek .

On April 30, 1945, the French-speaking prisoners were asked by an SS member to assemble on the bridge. None of the French, Swiss, Belgians and Dutch gathered there knew why they had been selected. Guarded by the SS, this group was brought to the Magdalena , a merchant ship that sailed under the Swedish flag. They avoided the Cap Arcona disaster . From the sailors, the liberated learned during the crossing to Sweden that they probably owed their luck to Count Bernadotte , Vice President of the Swedish Red Cross. The crossing to Trelleborg , measuring only about 220 kilometers, took about three days because the Baltic Sea was heavily mined. During the trip, the liberated learned that Adolf Hitler had committed suicide on April 30th.

The end of Agir

On February 14, 2009, Joseph Brocard, the last surviving member of Agir, died at the age of 88.


Honors and honors

Street in Montlebon named after Hollard
Blackboard at the Auberge du Vieux Châteleu
  • Sir Brian Horrocks spoke of Michel Hollard as "the man who literally saved London" ( German  "the man who literally London saved" ), which meant that George Martelli his book, which was originally the title of Agent Extraordinary wore, from the second edition renamed.
  • On the former Café des Chasseurs at 176 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis in Paris, near the Gare du Nord , a marble plaque commemorates the arrest of the four Agir members on February 5, 1944 by the Gestapo.
  • At 207 rue de Bercy at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, where the Agir command center was set up in a room in the Hôtel d'Annecy , there is a plaque with the names of the 20 people who lost their lives in connection with their activities for Agir had to.
  • In Auffay, a square near the train station bears his name.
  • In Montlebon a street is named after Michel Hollard.
  • At the Auberge du Vieux Châteleu , a plaque commemorates the start of the Agir actions.
  • A memorial stone on the Pont Charlemagne in Mijoux commemorates Michel Hollard and his helpers Denis and Alice Poncet, among others.
  • At Machilly, the path along the French-Swiss border is named after him.
  • The community park in Gorniès bears his name and a memorial stone commemorates his achievements.
  • On April 27, 2004, Eurostar christened a train line between Paris and London with the name Michel Hollard.


  • Florian Hollard: Michel Hollard - Le Français qui a sauvé Londres . le cherche midi, Paris 2005, ISBN 978-2-7491-0387-7 . (French)
  • RV Jones: The most secret was . Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London 1978, ISBN 0-241-89746-7 . (English)
  • George Martelli: The man who saved London - the story of Michel Hollard, DSO, Croix de guerre . Doubleday, Garden City, NY 1961, LCCR 61009534. (English)
  • Jean-Pierre Richardot: Une autre Suisse 1940 1944 - Un bastion contre l'Allemagne nazie . Labor et Fides / Editions du Félin, Genève 2002, ISBN 2-8309-1021-4 . (French)

Individual evidence

  1. Michel Hollard - Le Français qui a sauvé Londres , page 14.
  2. Michel Hollard - Le Français qui a sauvé Londres , photo page VII, letter from General Charles de Gaulle to Hollard of March 13, 1956.
  3. Michel Hollard - Le Français qui a sauvé Londres , note on page 33.
  4. ^ RV Jones - Most secret war , page 361 ff.
  5. ^ RV Jones - Most secret war , Fig. 19, page 350.
  6. Michel Hollard - Le Français qui a sauvé Londres , page 179 ff.
  7. Michel Hollard - Le Français qui a sauvé Londres , page 214.
  8. rfi english, Last remaining member of resistance network dies. Retrieved July 15, 2010 .
  9. ^ Correspondence with Vincent Hollard.
  10. Michel Hollard - Le Français qui a sauvé Londres , page 264.
  11. ^ L'Ecrivain Combattant, Échos. (PDF; 1.5 MB) p. 3 , accessed on June 25, 2010 .


  1. a b Grange du Vieux Châteleu ( German  barn to the old Châteleu ). There are several localities in the area with the name extension Châteleu, which refer to the nearby mountain "Mont Châteleu". The meaning of Châteleu is not clear.

Web links

Commons : Michel Hollard  - collection of images, videos and audio files