Jacques Cousteau’s Silent World

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1999:

PARIS––Bernard Violet, author of
a 1993 biography of the late undersea explorer
and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau, on June 17
disclosed documents he said he had obtained
since Cousteau’s death that may belie many of
Cousteau’s claims about his early career.
Violet likened Cousteau’s alleged
autobiographical misrepresentations to later
instances in which Cousteau used abusive
techniques to get dramatic film footage of wild
marine mammals––techniques which
Cousteau himself eventually acknowledged,
regreted in public statements, and denounced,
even as the films he made helped to create the
international movements to save whales, seals,
and other marine life.

Cousteau wrote in his autobiography
that he “participated in the resistance” to Nazi
occupation of France, and “acted as a liaison
officer for the navy in exile in London.”
But, reported Jon Henley of T h e
Guardian, describing the Violet allegations,
“Cousteau’s brother Pierre Antoine was a
well-known Nazi sympathizer who edited the
anti-semitic newspaper Je Suis Partout a n d
had close relations with the wartime German
ambassador to Paris.”
Cousteau’s own politics, especially
after he left the French military in 1950,
leaned to the left. However, Violet produced
personal letters Cousteau wrote during the
Nazi occupation of Franch that included antiSemitic
A Je Suis Partout review establishes,
Henley added, that “Far from completing
his first film, 18 Metres Deep, in 1945, as
Cousteau claimed, the feature was first
screened on April 10, 1943. In the audience
were the collaborationist French education
minister, the cultural cinema director of the
Third Reich, and several hundred German
army officers.”
In 1946, a year after the Nazis were
ousted from France and defeated in Germany,
Cousteau was awarded the Legion d’honneur
for having clandestinely photographed codebooks
at the Axis Naval Headquarters in
Toulon, France, during January 1941.
Cousteau then used his influence as
a purported resistance hero to get travel documents
to enable Pierre Antoine and family to
escape prosecution for alleged war crimes by
fleeing to Spain. Refusing to use them, Pierre
Antoine was eventually captured and sentenced
to death, but Cousteau again interceded,
getting the sentence commuted to life
imprisonment. After that, Cousteau rarely if
ever mentioned Pierre Antoine in public.
Pierre Antoine was released from prison in
1958, just before he died of cancer.
Although the Allies apparently used
the codebooks that Cousteau copied, Violet
asserted that the Toulon mission was more
likely carried out for the collaborationist
Vichy government than for the resistance.
Violet’s factual assertions could be
accurate without necessarily contradicting
Cousteau’s claims. Many foes of the Nazis
pretended to collaborate with them in order to
gain information and access to supplies and
equipment; as a French naval officer,
Cousteau was under Vichy command,
whether or not he sympathized with the Vichy
regime; Cousteau may have used antiSemitic
language to help him maintain his
cover as a double agent; and Cousteau may
have done further work on 18 Metres Deep
between 1943 and the 1945 public release.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.