updated 10/22/2007 9:15:15 PM ET 2007-10-23T01:15:15

A Resistance fighter who was executed by the Nazis was honored Monday in schools across France, although some teachers defied an order by President Nicolas Sarkozy to have his final letter read aloud, saying the government was trying to twist history into propaganda.

In his first act after taking office in May, Sarkozy decided that schools should commemorate Guy Moquet, who was 17 when shot by a German firing squad. The story of how he fought to free France was meant to build national pride and remind teenagers of how much their countrymen sacrificed during World War II.

But events didn’t go as smoothly as Sarkozy had hoped.

Moquet’s emotional farewell letter to his family, written hours before he faced the firing squad, was mandatory reading in high schools Monday. But some teachers refused to read it, accusing Sarkozy of interfering with the curriculum.

France’s main union for secondary school teachers, SNES, urged members not to participate, saying the conservative Sarkozy was trying to use history for his own political gains.

“This is indeed about politics,” the union said in a statement. “Can we take the risk that the event will transform the high school into a political arena?”

Sarkozy allies baffled by dispute
Many Sarkozy allies have said they are baffled by the debate. Henri Guaino, a Sarkozy adviser, said he found the skeptical teachers “very sad,” saying they were spoiling the event for partisan and ideological reasons.

Moquet, a young communist, was an unusual choice of symbol for a conservative president, but that was probably why Sarkozy singled him out: The president has worked to bridge France’s right-left political divide, partly by bringing opposition figures into his government.

Some critics accused Sarkozy of trying to blot out Moquet’s politics to claim him for the benefit of France’s right.

Moquet was executed in October 1941, one of dozens of communists condemned by an official in France’s collaborationist Vichy regime in reprisal for the murder of a German officer.

His farewell letter begins, “My dearest Mother, my beloved little brother, my beloved father. I’m going to die!”

It continues: “Of course I would have preferred to live. But what I want with all my heart is for my death to serve some purpose.”

President 'moved' by letter
In Sarkozy’s first day in office, he wiped away a tear as the letter was read at a ceremony honoring fallen Resistance fighters.

“I have never been able to read the letter by Guy Moquet without being profoundly moved,” Sarkozy said at the time.

Sarkozy, who lunched with Israel’s prime minister before departing for Morocco on Monday, did not take part in the commemorations. Guaino cited Sarkozy’s busy schedule, telling France-2 television that his absence had “nothing to do with the protests being waged by a few teachers.”

Many members of Sarkozy’s Cabinet attended the ceremonies, as did former members of the Resistance.

Michelle Bouhours, a 74-year-old cousin of Moquet’s, read the letter at a school in the city of Vendome. She recalled the day her cousin was shot: It was her eighth birthday, and she found her parents sobbing together over his death.

“If I’m here today, it’s to live up to Guy’s memory,” she said, with tears in her eyes.

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