‘He took the pulse of the dying man and shook his head’

Jean Jaurès, founder of French socialist party and director of L’Humanité newspaper, did his utmost to prevent the outbreak of the first World War. He was assassinated on July 31st, writes Lara Marlowe.

French socialist leader and newspaper director Jean Jaurès. “Jaurès spoke in his beautiful, deep voice . . . He gave some instructions to his political collaborators . . . Jaurès’s instructions! One has to have heard them to know in what a gentle voice he gave his instructions.” Photograph: Manuel/Getty Images

French socialist leader and newspaper director Jean Jaurès. “Jaurès spoke in his beautiful, deep voice . . . He gave some instructions to his political collaborators . . . Jaurès’s instructions! One has to have heard them to know in what a gentle voice he gave his instructions.” Photograph: Manuel/Getty Images

Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 01:00

THE ASSASSINATION

How did the horrible thing happen? It must be told. We must set down here the terrifying evening, for history.

Jaurès had come to the newspaper just before 8pm, from the ministry of foreign affairs where, as a delegate for the socialist parliamentary group, he had seen [prime minister] René Viviani . . .

We went downstairs to the restaurant Le Croissant . . . and we sat down at the long table to the left of the entrance . . . The grave situation made all of us emotional...

Jaurès spoke in his beautiful, deep voice . . . He gave some instructions to his political collaborators . . . Jaurès’s instructions! One has to have heard them to know in what a gentle voice he gave his instructions.

At the moment we were finishing dinner, citizen Dolié stood up and came over, with a colour photograph in hand . . . saying, “Look, this is my little girl.”

“Can we see?” Jaurès asked with a smile.

He took the photograph, studied it for a moment, asked the child’s age, paid a compliment to the young father.

It was 20 minutes to 10.00.

All of a sudden – horrible memory! – two shots rang out, a flash, the cry of a terrified woman: Jaurès has been killed! Jaurès has been killed!

Jaurès had collapsed on his left side, and everyone was standing, screaming, gesticulating, hurrying. It was a moment of shock and confusion. Some of us ran into the street, for the two shots were fired at close range from outside, through the open window that Jaurès had been leaning against. They laid Jaurès on the bench. He was barely breathing and his eyes were closed. Did he know what had happened? We will never know.

He didn’t die right away. While we waited for the doctor, a pharmacist who’d been dining in the restaurant took the pulse of the dying man and shook his head. We opened his shirt. His heart beat faintly. The body was placed on a table. Compère Morel held his inert hand, weeping. Renaudel used a towel to sop up the blood that came out of the wound, a small red hole in the back of his skull, with some whitish substance around it.

“Messieurs,” said the doctor on arriving, “I fear there is nothing left to be done.”

Sobs rose up from our choking throats. Nothing to be done? Was it possible that nothing could be done? Was it possible that this great life was broken, broken forever?

“Messieurs,” the doctor said, “Monsieur Jaurès is dead.”

The contained sobs burst. Everyone took off their hats to salute the man who had just expired.

“All the same,” one of us said. “We have to finish the newspaper. It must come out on time, as if he were still alive . . .”

L’Humanité

August 1st, 1914