Obituary: French historian and author Marc Ferro (1924-2021)

PHOTO: French historian and author Marc Ferro (1924-2021)

Marc Ferro was born on 24th December 1924 in Paris. In 1941, he lived with his mother Oudia Firdmann and stepfather. Ferro was 5 years old when his father died. His mother was a designer at Worth, the first haute couture house in the French capital.

Ferro was a student at the Lycée Carnot. During the German occupation of Paris, he was the victim of the new Vichy regime’s rabid anti-Semitic policies, due to the Jewish origin of his mother. His philosophy professor, Maurice Merleau-Ponty recommended that Ferro and his classmates flee the occupied zone as soon as possible. Ferro took refuge in Grenoble as it was located in an unoccupied zone. His mother was deported and died on 28th June 1943 at Auschwitz.

Between 1948 and 1956, Ferro taught at the Lycée Lamoricière in Oran, in French-occupied Algeria. He was then appointed professor in Paris, at a number of higher learning schools. He later served as Director of studies at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. At the beginning of the 1960s Ferro specialized in Soviet history, focusing on the Russian Revolution of 1917 .

The popular French historian and author is probably best known for his books on early 20th-century European history, the Russian Revolution and Emperor Nicholas II.

PHOTO: English edition of Nicholas II: Last of the Tsars (1991)

In 1990, his book Nicholas II: Last of the Tsars, was published and translated into many languages. Sadly, Ferro like most Western historians paint Russia’s last emperor and tsar in a very poor light.

For his biography, Ferro researched extensively in Russian archives to illuminate Nicholas II’s character. Ferro paints a portrait of “a reluctant leader, a young man forced by the death of his father into a role for which he was ill-equipped”.

“A conformist and traditionalist, Nicholas admired the order, ritual, and ceremony identified with the intangible grandeur of autocracy, and he hated everything that might shake that autocracy – the intelligentsia, the Jews, the religious sects”.

Ferro documents Nicholas II’s reign, as “one of continual trouble: a humiliating war with Japan; the 1905 revolution that forced Nicholas to accept a constitutional assembly, the Duma; the international crisis of 1914, leading to World War I; and finally the Revolution of 1917, forcing his abdication”.

The French historian believes that the Tsar was “utterly opposed to change and to the ferment of ideas that stirred his country, who felt it was his duty to preserve intact the powers God had entrusted in him”.

Ferro also provides an intimate portrait of Nicholas’s personal life: his wife Alexandra; his four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia; his son and heir Alexei, who suffered from haemophilia; and the various figures in the court, most notably Rasputin, whose ability to revive the frequently ailing Alexis made him indispensable to the Tsaritsa”.

Perhaps most intriguing is Ferro’s chapter on the fate of the Tsar and his family, examining all the rumours and contradictory testimony that swirl around this still popular conspiracy theory. Ferro concludes that Alexandra and her daughters may have survived the revolution, and the woman who later surfaced in Europe claiming to be Anastasia may well have been so.

PHOTO: La Vérité sur la tragédie des Romanov (2012)

In 2012, Ferro published a second book La Vérité sur la tragédie des Romanov [The Truth about the tragedy of the Romanovs], in which he explores even further his belief that the Empress and her daughters survived the bloody regicide.

Ferro never believed the official version of the deaths of the Imperial Family in Ekaterinburg on 17th July 1918. He questions the murder of the Romanovs, based on a series of documents, allegedly discovered in the Vatican archives. The sudden death or execution of judges or witnesses, truncated documents, stolen investigation files, controversial DNA tests, put Ferro on the trail of a sacrilegious hypothesis: that the Empress and her four daughters were saved thanks to to a secret agreement between the Bolsheviks and the Germans. According to Ferro’s book, only the fate of the Tsarevich, Alexei, remains unknown, due to lack of “reliable” sources.

PHOTO: La Vérité sur la tragédie des Romanov DVD (2018)

In 2018, a French-language documentary was released in DVD format. The 1 hour 26 minute film presents a series events surrounding Nicholas II’s reign based on Ferro’s research: Bloody Sunday 1905, the February 1905 Revolution, the abdication of the Emperor, the coming to power of Lenin, the Tsesarevich’s haemophilia, Rasputin, the Empress’s alleged political influence over Nicholas. Among those interviewed in the documentary are actor Pierre Carbonnier who quotes Pierre Gilliard, and the participation of historians Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, Orlando Figes, Jean-Jacques Marie, historian of photography Daniel Girardin and Pierre-Frédéric Gilliard, nephew of Pierre Gilliard .

Marc Ferro died due to complications of COVID-19, on 21st April 2021, at the age of 96, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Yvelines), surrounded by his family.

© Paul Gilbert. 22 April 2021

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