Paris 2024 Olympics: “I wanted to change the world and I always want to change it”, a 102-year-old former resistance fighter will brandish the Olympic flame

Paris 2024 Olympics: “I wanted to change the world and I always want to change it”, a 102-year-old former resistance fighter will brandish the Olympic flame

À 102 ans, elle brandira la flamme olympique à Saint-Étienne. MAXPPP – TERESA SUAREZ

À 102 ans, Mélanie Berger-Volle portera la flamme olympique aussi haut que possible, malgré son épaule fragile, au nom des valeurs d’amitié entre les peuples qu’elle a défendues pendant la Résistance.

"Shadow Woman" during the Occupation, she still cannot believe having been chosen by the Loire department and the town hall of Saint-Étienne to light the city during the flame stage which she will wear on June 22, before the Olympic Games (July 26-August 11) and Paralympic Games (August 28-September 8) in Paris.

If the weight of the torch worried him a little, there was no question of refusing: "j’ I have always loved sport", explains this slender woman with vivacity, who until recently practiced an hour of walking daily.

Grandmother of the gymnast Emilie Volle, who participated in the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, she also wants to be a symbol for the women "who fought to compete sport like men". "My ideal has always been to unify the world", confides the centenarian. "And the Olympics are a great time to get to know other human beings".

Born in Austria in 1921 into a Jewish working-class family, Mélanie Berger began activism as a teenager in an extreme left group. " We were atheists and when I started to fight it was not for religious reasons, it was political", she emphasizes. "I am against all dictatorships."

After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, she left her country, passed through Belgium and arrived in France, in Paris in the spring of 1939, disguised as a boy.


When France enters the war, all Austrians, even refugees, are perceived as enemies and the authorities put her on a train towards a camp near Pau. "At Clermont-Ferrand station, I jumped" from the carriage, she remembers. The other girls don't dare follow her. "They weren't political, they didn't know what a camp was"< /em>.

The young activist is well aware, on the contrary, that "when you have a chance, you must not let it pass you by."< /em>In 1940, she found herself in Montauban, where a group of Trotskyist militants of which she was part before the war began to reform. "With my French-sounding name, I rented an apartment in a dilapidated house, and from there, we could start work".

In complete discretion, the group wrote and distributed leaflets in German intended to turn back the soldiers of the Reich. In January 1942, the police raided this house and she was arrested. During the interrogation sessions, "I was mistreated, men beat me", says she modestly. "I have had after-effects, but I am still here!"

After 13 months of detention in Toulouse, she was transferred to Baumettes in Marseille. Members of his group, with the French resistance, then prepared his escape.

"No" to Nazism

On October 15, 1943, they came to pick her up, accompanied by a German soldier won over to the cause, while she was hospitalized for jaundice. "I escaped in my nightgown", she laughed again.

Once recovered, she campaigned until the Liberation under false identities. After the war, she married Lucien Volle, also a resistance fighter who participated in the liberation of Puy-en-Velay. Together, the couple began to devote themselves to memory work. "We continually struggled to explain, not what we had done, but why we had done it", emphasizes Mélanie Volle-Berger.

She has since obtained multiple decorations, including the Legion of Honor. "I haven’not done much", she nevertheless believes. "But I said 'no'" to Nazism. Today very worried about the return of extremes in Europe, she hopes that young people will in turn know how to defend democracy. And despite her great age, she intends to take advantage of the Olympics to make her message resonate. "I wanted to change the world and I still want to change it".

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