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Controversial Cousteau Letter Found

June 22, 1999
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The biographer of Jacques Cousteau has uncovered evidence that the late underwater explorer harbored anti-Semitic attitudes.

A letter written 58 years ago by Cousteau during the wartime rule of France’s pro-Nazi Vichy government was published last week in the French daily Le Monde after being found by the biographer.

The letter was published on the day Cousteau was eulogized at the Academie Francaise and immortalized in French cultural history.

Cousteau, then a 31-year-old naval officer, wrote to a friend on May 1, 1941, to say that he and his family could find nowhere suitable to live in Marseilles.

“There will be no decent apartment available until we have kicked out all these ignoble yids who are burdening us,” wrote Cousteau, who died two years ago.

Biographer Bernard Violet noted that Cousteau often made racist remarks in private, while writer Erik Orsenna, who delivered the Academie Francaise eulogy, told Le Monde that while the letter was “clearly ignoble,” it reflected its times.

If all French correspondence from the era were to be reread today, he said, “one would find a great deal of anti-Semitism of this kind.”

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