Josephine Baker: The Black American Star Who Joined The French Resistance
When a French Resistance fighter approached Josephine Baker to see if she could help them fight against the Nazis, the Black American star immediately — and enthusiastically — agreed.
“France made me what I am,” she told him. “I will be grateful forever. The people of Paris have given me everything… I am ready, captain, to give them my life. You can use me as you wish.”
Although Baker had been born in the United States, she moved to France when she was 19 in hopes of outrunning American racism. In Paris, Baker was delighted to find a more tolerant society. She swiftly became a popular burlesque dancer and, before long, the highest-paid entertainer in Europe.
But in the 1930s, Baker watched in horror as Nazism gained strength in Germany. She despised their racist and anti-Semitic views.
“Of course I wanted to do all I could to aid France, my adopted country,” she said. “But an overriding consideration, the thing that drove me as strongly as did patriotism, was my violent hatred of discrimination in any form.”
After the Nazis invaded France, Baker eagerly agreed to help the resistance.
As a star, Baker attended diplomatic parties at the Italian and Japanese embassies. Whenever she overheard anything that might be valuable to the resistance, she wrote it down on the palms of her hands or on her arms under her sleeves. Sometimes she even pinned notes to her underwear.
“My notes would have been highly compromising had they been discovered, but who would dare search Josephine Baker to the skin?” Baker later wrote. “When they asked me for papers, they generally meant autographs.”
After the war, Baker continued to help the French. In the aftermath of the conflict, much of the country was in ruins. So, Baker sold jewelry and other valuables to help raise money for the less fortunate citizens of Paris.
For her activism and bravery, she was later honored with the Croix de Guerre. After she died at the age of 68 in 1975, she was buried in Monaco. But in 2021, it was announced that she would be honored in Paris’ famous Panthéon mausoleum — the only Black woman to receive such an honor.
After learning about these remarkable resistance fighters, check out these photos of the French Resistance. Then, discover the stories of these Holocaust heroes who helped save Jews during World War II.