What Did The Men Do?
It is up to us, women, to ask this—and not one of us should fail to do so.
Gyp ended her article on Sunday with this:
The old Marchioness: Well, I say… with the exception of the servants and a few isolated cases, the men were not very elegant. There are very few of them dead or wounded.
Jalon’s son: They say there were less than two hundred of them in all at the bazar… that’s not very many!
The old Marchioness: Thank goodness there weren’t more because then all the women would have been burned!
Folleuil (thoughtful): That’s very possible!
The day before yesterday my friend Simone eloquently expressed her surprise and anger in her column here. Me, I have been waiting impatiently for eight days for my turn to speak, and to ask—at last!—the question that so many people were whispering behind the hearses, around the hospital beds and in the salons where certain people were pointed at.
What did the men do? We should rather ask “What did the Messieurs do?” because as far as men, in the Latin sense of the word, we only find them elsewhere… outside, in the street, in overalls or work shirts, dressed for the kitchen or the stables, in uniforms or liveries.
A member of the committee was interviewed by Le Temps Tuesday evening and said, “We estimate that there were 1,600 to 1,700 people in the Bazar when the catastrophe occurred. Not so many men, only around fifty, because of the hour.”
At first they had said around two hundred. One victim, saved by miracle, whom I had the chance to interview, whose social status compelled her not to lie and demanded scrupulous accuracy, told me, “There were at least a hundred or so Messieurs.”
Of the three different figures stated, I prefer, if you would like to know, the latter, as it is an average, apart from the fact that it just might be correct. Let’s take this 100 as a working figure and do a very simple, although terribly intriguing, little calculation.
How many of them were among the dead? Three. Two old men, Messieurs Potdevin and Mazure, and the admirable Doctor Feulard who saved his wife, then two nuns and went back into the inferno a third time to look for his child. We can even say five with Doctor Rochet and General Munier, the poor brave soldier who did all his age and strength allowed him to do before dying soon afterwards of his horrible burns.
How many wounded? Lieutenant Jacquin of the 102nd, who was wildly heroic, defying all danger, throwing himself headlong inside and then sprinting back out, saving his two nieces from the blaze, one of their friends and three strangers, the last of whom died in his arms while the flames, battling fiercely for its prey, cruelly licked this young man’s legs and face—and finally, crippled as he was, gathering together a dazed group on the wasteland, forty poor women whom he led to safety by breaking through a wall on rue Jean-Goujon!
It is superb… but that makes one. Two with Baron Reille. Three with Garnier. Four with Dieudonné. Five with Tombio Sanz. Six with Henry Blount. Seven with the Count of Montgermont.
I do not know of any others, but let’s round up to ten in case of an oversight since I do not want to upset anyone or seem partial. Of course there was that footman Diligent, but he was not “their people.” And this list contains only the peers, friends and relatives of the victims of the disaster.
So, by being generous—and you can see if I have any malice intended here—we get this number: fifteen percent. It is rather small.
Now let’s see what the women did, most of them being much less hardy, much less “trained” for the feat, much less prepared for danger. Their presence of mind and courage here is legion: where to begin when there are so many?
If you want to talk about composure, there is the girl Froissard—fourteen years old—saving her grandmother and younger cousin. There is Madame de Silva saving her two daughters. And many others—just take your pick.
If you want to talk about bravery there is Mademoiselle Rosine Morado, after getting out safely went back in to look for her mother, found her, brought her out… and was so burned herself, the poor child, that they feared for her life. There is Madame Borne, out of danger, but her, too, going back in to get her mother, Madame Gillet, and after doing so sacrificing her life in this rush of filial love. There is Madame de Saint-Berier, “over and over again” (no other expression could describe it), from the street to the heart of the fire, each time carrying her glorious spoils, a human being snatched from death until in her last trip she came out no more—fallen for good on the field of honor!
If you want to talk about self-sacrifice, there is the Duchess of Alençon who protested to Mademoiselle de L*** who was trying to drag her out, “Not yet, let the guests leave first.” There is Mademoiselle de Heredia, I believe, stepping up on the chair to climb to safety and when asked to let a foreigner, a wounded stranger, go first, answered like at a party, “Be my guest, Madame. And you, too, go right ahead.” This was said amidst the smoke and flames, between suffocating and burning… There are, too, those noble nuns of Saint Vincent on their knees holding the ladder in place at the life-saving window of the Hotel du Palais, helping one hundred and fifty of the women to escape and refusing to flee themselves until no one else showed up, both of them with their hands and face scorched raw and their robes on fire!
Meanwhile, outside, at the same time as the coachmen, roofers, plumbers, grooms, cops, printers, soldiers and stove-setters, working men and nobodies, came running to the rescue of the French aristocracy, the genealogical tree burning like a log, you could see still more women: Madame Roche-Sautier presiding over the rescue operation performed by her staff, organizing it diligently and intelligently; Madame Bouton, a worker, embracing a poor, crazed man, a living torch, to snuff out the flames; and the Soeurs du Perpétuel Secours climbing up on a wall and holding the ladder for the victims stuck in the wasteland.
That is the record of the women. Odd how it differs from the men.
However, the negligence, the carelessness, the abstention, the “omission” as they say in ritual style, is that all there is?
Let’s see first how Le Matin, for example, which is not a biased newspaper, stated the facts:
The women were burned like sheep in a pen, huddled up together… As for the men, I would rather not talk about them: they were beneath contempt. And yet twenty or so determined, cool-headed men would have been able to prevent the disaster. Most of them ran away and who knows whether they were the ones who trampled over the poor women whom they found there squashed at the exit? Basically, in this dreadful calamity the men had abominably “given up” the women and let them fend for themselves. The acts of courage and devotion were carried out by passers-by, people from outside, or even by the servants, some of whom, particularly the footman Diligent, acted heroically. Most of the responsibility of this disaster, therefore, falls upon the men.
One of our colleagues, Henri Pellier, has already pointed this out. Another of our colleagues, Gaston Méry, described it in more detail, laying emphasis on the accusation while speaking of three surviving victims of the male brutality and cowardliness.
Because the men beat their way to the exit. In a group the other day I heard a nun tell, “The messieurs threw me to the ground and trampled me underfoot. They beat the ladies with their fists to get out faster. It was a young girl who saved me.”
And they found her on the ground and they told her that among the incriminating evidence were bloodied canes, clotted with hair, with long women’s hair…
Well, isn’t that nice!
 L’Echo de Paris, May 14 1897.
 Sibylle Riqueti de Mirabeau (1849-1932), notorious right-wing writer, nationalist, anti-Dreyfusard, anti-Semite.