The Assassination of a World War I Objector

Jean Juares (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Jean Jaures (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Auguste Marie Joseph Jean Leon Jaures (usually referred to as just Jean Jaures) was a French politician and leader of the nation’s Socialist Party in the early 1900s who was assassinated in Paris.

Jaures was targeted by the aptly named assassin Raoul Villain due to his pacifist beliefs, his efforts to keep France out of a looming military conflict with Germany, and his accusations of France’s president of possibly colluding with Russia to hasten the eventual war.

Jaures was shot twice while having dinner inside the Cafe du Croissant (still operating today, but now called Bistro du Croissant) at 146 Rue Montmartre in the 2nd Arrondissement. A plaque outside the restaurant marks the historical spot.

Juares 1Villain was a staunch nationalist who, like many French citizens, was infuriated at Germany’s annexing of the Alsace and Lorraine regions following the nation’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He believed, as did his peers, that the only way to recover the territories was through war with Germany. As such, Jaures’s opposition to war and his efforts to keep France out of a looming conflict enraged Villain.

Just days after Jaures was assassinated, World War I began.

Although most historians believe the war was inevitable, there are some who question whether Jaures’s efforts at diplomacy could have at least delayed its start or kept France out of the conflict — a four-year war that saw much of its military action inside the borders of France and that claimed 9 million military and 5 million civilian deaths (of the military casualties, nearly 1.4 million were French soldiers killed or missing in action).

Murderer Raoul Villain (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Murderer Raoul Villain (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Jaures was a respected historian of the French Revolution, and developed a Marxist interpretation of the revolution, particularly the emergence of a working class segment of French society. A one-time member of the moderate Republican party, Jaures eventually came to embrace Socialism and climbed through the ranks of the Socialist Party to become its leader. He served as a Socialist in the Chamber of Deputies of the French Parliament from 1893-1989 and from 1902 until his death.

Jaures is still today widely renowned as a champion of Leftish French political thought, even being publicly hailed as a hero by French Francois Hollande, a Socialist who served as the nation’s president from 2012 to 2017. In November 1924, Jaures’s remains were interred in Paris’s historical Pantheon.

Villain was jailed throughout World War I, but was shockingly acquitted of Jaures’s murder in 1919. After having been arrested in Paris in 1920 for passing counterfeit currency, Villain fled to Spain where he was killed during the Spanish Civil War.

(Photo courtesy of Bistro du Croissant)

(Photo courtesy of Bistro du Croissant)

Visitors can visit the spot of Jaures’s murder today — and dine at the same restaurant where the politician was assassinated. (The wait staff will not, however, honor requests to be seated in the same spot where Jaures was shot.) Click here for information about the bistro’s lunch and dinner menus.