French Resistance figure Raymond Aubrac dead at 97

FILE - In this March 21, 2007 file photo, former French President Jacques Chirac, left, shakes hand with Raymond Aubrac during a ceremony in Paris. Aubrac, one of the last major figures of the French Resistance whose parents died at Auschwitz during World War II, died late Tuesday, April 10, 2012. He was 97. Aubrac, who was Jewish and whose birth name was Raymond Samuel, helped set up Liberation-Sud (Liberation South) - one of the first networks of the Resistance against the Nazi occupation of France. In back is former French defense minister Michele Alliot-Marie.(AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File)

PARIS (AP) — Raymond Aubrac, a major figure of the French Resistance who evaded the Nazis in a now-legendary escape led by his equally renowned wife, has died. He was 97.

Aubrac died late Tuesday at Paris' Val-de-Grace military hospital, said his granddaughter, Helene Helfer Aubrac. She said he was recently hospitalized after suffering from fatigue.

Born Raymond Samuel on July 31, 1914, to Jewish parents who were deported to Auschwitz, he and his wife — born as Lucie Bernard — took up the nom de guerre "Aubrac" after joining the Resistance early on in World War II. They helped set up Liberation-Sud (Liberation South), one of the first networks of the Resistance against the Nazi occupation of France.

Raymond Aubrac was captured along with celebrated Resistance hero Jean Moulin on June 21, 1943, when police raided a Resistance meeting spot — a doctor's office — near the southeastern city of Lyon.

Lucie Aubrac helped orchestrate her husband's escape from a Lyon prison following his arrest. She persuaded the local Gestapo leader, Klaus Barbie, to let her meet with her imprisoned husband. During the meeting, she told Aubrac of the Resistance's plan to attack the German truck that was to transfer him to another prison, then she led the armed commando attack that freed both her husband and Moulin.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a statement, said the escape had "entered into the legend of the history of the Resistance," and praised Aubrac and all Resistance members as "heroes of the shadows who saved France's honor, at a time when it seemed lost."

In 1944, the Aubracs fled to London. They retained ties to left-leaning causes in the postwar era, though they also grew disillusioned at atrocities of Josef Stalin's Soviet regime in the name of Communism.

After the war, Aubrac, who was a trained engineer, worked on many civil engineering projects in Europe, North Africa and Asia. His wife returned to the classroom, teaching history and geography.

Right after the war, he worked on the de-mining of France at the Reconstruction Ministry; helped create an advisory firm on civil engineering projects; and advised the government of Morocco — fresh off independence from France — on irrigation, according to a biography brief of Aubrac on the Jean Moulin Memorial's Web site.

In 1946, Aubrac met Ho Chi Minh when the Vietnamese revolutionary leader traveled to France in a failed mission to win independence for Vietnam — then a French colony — and they became friends, said daughter Elisabeth Helfer Aubrac. That summer — when she was born — the Aubracs hosted Ho Chi Minh at their home north of Paris, and he became her godfather, she said.

During the Vietnam War, Aubrac served as an intermediary between Ho Chi Minh and Western leaders such as U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and joined a group of intellectuals and scientists working to end the war.

In 1975, while working on rebuilding projects in Vietnam, Aubrac witnessed the fall of Saigon. Three years later, he joined UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, to work on cooperation projects. In the 1960s, he worked at the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization.

Later in life, Aubrac espoused solidarity with the Palestinians and calls for Middle East peace; criticized Israeli air strikes in Lebanon in 2006; and sought to promote remembrance of the Resistance.

"Whenever he committed to a cause, he did it with the greatest diplomacy," said Elisabeth Helfer Aubrac. "He was also someone who was very independent: He never renounced his ideas."

Personally, Aubrac was "exemplary in every area: of wisdom, morality, humor, intelligence, curiosity, cultivation. He was someone really exceptional," added Helene Helfer Aubrac.

Raymond Aubrac backed Socialist Francois Hollande for France's two-round presidential election starting on April 22; his wife died at age 94 just weeks before the last presidential election in 2007, when Hollande's longtime partner and fellow Socialist Segolene Royal lost to the conservative Sarkozy.

"The death of a man doesn't prevent his fight from continuing," Hollande told reporters. He said he'd met with Aubrac about three weeks ago and was told the ex-Resistance fighter was closely watching the race.

Aubrac is survived by three children — son Jean-Pierre Aubrac and daughters Catherine Vallade and Elisabeth Helfer Aubrac — and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were not yet clear, the family said.