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Raymond Aubrac, last leader of French Resistance movement, dies at age 97

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A file photo taken in 1987 showing French Resistance leader Raymond Aubrac (L) and his now-deceased wife Lucie (R) leaving the couthouse during the trial of former Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie for crimes against humanity.

Raymond Aubrac, a leading figure in the French Resistance movement during World War II who became a hero after escaping the Nazi's Gestapo with the help of his pregnant wife, has died aged 97.

His daughter said he had died at Val de Grace military hospital in Paris on Tuesday evening, the BBC reported.

Aubrac and his late wife Lucie became important members of the underground movement, which aimed to disrupt the German occupation of France, and his death marks the passing of the last of the key Resistance leaders.

A Jew, he was born as Raymond Samuel, before changing his name to avoid Nazi persecution.

The Guardian in London recounted that Aubrac was arrested in 1943 near Lyon, along with 12 others including Jean Moulin, head of the movement, who was tortured, taken to Paris and later died.

Aubrac was interrogated and tortured by Klaus Barbie, the notorious head of the Gestapo nicknamed the Butcher of Lyon, it said.

Although sentenced to death by execution, he was freed when Lucie, then expecting a baby, led a raid on a truck moving him and other resistance members from jail – an episode that was later made into a film.

Pre-execution marriage
In a BBC interview earlier this year, Aubrac told how Lucie convinced a German commander that she had yet to marry, feigning horror at the prospect of the couple’s child being born out of wedlock. The commander agreed to a pre-execution marriage, creating the pretext for Aubrac to be escorted by road from prison to the police headquarters where a wedding was take place.

"One of the Resistance cars overtook the truck in which I was being transported, and when the two vehicles were level they shot the German driver," recalls Aubrac, who received a ricochet bullet in the side of the face.

The couple fled – first to London, then to Algeria – until after the war, when they returned to help in the reconstruction of France.

Their parents had been deported to their deaths at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

News service Agence France Presse said French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid homage to Aubrac, calling him "a heroic Resistance figure" whose "escape, thanks to the bravery of his wife Lucie Aubrac, has entered into the legend of the history of the Resistance."

"These heroes of the shadows who saved France's honor at a time when it appeared lost are disappearing one after the other. It is our duty to keep their legacy alive in the heart of our collective memory," Sarkozy said.

Lucie died in 2007, and Aubrac leaves behind three children and 10 grandchildren.

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