An untold story behind the bust of Uncle Hồ

May, 15/2020 - 14:46

A bust of President Hồ Chí Minh that was preserved by Vietnamese prisoners on Côn Đảo Island during the resistance war against the French is displayed to the public for that first time at an exhibition being held at Hồ Chí Minh Museum.


A bust of President Hồ Chí Minh was preserved by Vietnamese prisoners on Côn Đảo Island in the 1940s. — Photo

HÀ NỘI — A bust of President Hồ Chí Minh that was preserved by Vietnamese prisoners on Côn Đảo Island during the resistance war against the French is on public display for that first time at an exhibition being held at Hồ Chí Minh Museum.

The exhibition, entitled Hồ Chí Minh – Sketches of Portrait¸ is part of the celebration of the 130th anniversary of the President’s birthday. Running till October, the event showcases over 200 photos, objects and posters associated with Uncle Hồ, many of which have never been shown to public before, including the bust.

The statuette, a valuable keepsake of Vietnamese soldiers imprisoned in Côn Đảo Prison in the 1940s, was presented to Hồ Chí Minh Museum from Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Phạm Bình Minh on February 25.

Hidden behind the bust is an emotional story about the Vietnamese patriots’ beliefs and affection in Côn Đảo Prison for the hero of national liberation and a great man of culture.

It also sheds light on the French warder Paul Antoine Miniconi’s respect for the revolutionary prisoners’ loyal affection for President Hồ Chí Minh despite the severe conditions.

Miniconi was born on December 7, 1897, in Bocognano on the island of Corsica, France. He was sent to Việt Nam to work as warder at Côn Đảo Prison from 1920 to 1952.

His duties involved holding keys, guarding, patrolling and managing prisoners at some camps in the prison.

While working there, he realised some of the prisoners’ unusual behaviours. Checking a cell, he discovered that the Vietnamese soldiers seemed to be trying to hide an object which he suspected to be a weapon.

He then requested a search and obtained a bust of President Hồ Chí Minh – the leader that they admired, respected and worshipped.

The statuette was secretly brought into Côn Đảo Island and miraculously survived through the strict control of the contemporary French government.

Witnessing the brave spirit of the soldiers, Miniconi understood their affection and loyalty to President Hồ Chí Minh and then decided to keep the bust as one of his own memories of working on Côn Đảo Island.

After finishing his tenure in Việt Nam in 1952, he returned to live and work on Corsica.

The bust of Uncle Hồ was then preserved and respected by his family. After he passed away, it was kept by Miniconi’s son Paul Miniconi who used to live in his father’s workplace on Côn Đảo Island.

On December 1, 2019, Miniconi and the French historian Frank Senateur presented the statuette to the Vietnamese Ambassador in France, Nguyễn Thiệp, and then it was transferred and preserved at Hồ Chí Minh Museum.

Interestingly, Ambassador Thiệp, who received the statuette, was the son of a former prisoner who was detained at Côn Đảo prison during Miniconi's tenure.

To Paul Miniconi, the return of the bust to the government and people of Việt Nam is to fulfill the sacred will of his father before his death.

The bust of President Hồ Chí Minh was presented to Hồ Chí Minh Museum on February 25. — Photo

“This is a precious statuette with many historical values, treasured and preserved by Miniconi's family for many years,” said Director of Hồ Chí Minh Museum Vũ Mạnh Hà.

“With all responsibilities and respect for the Party and Uncle Hồ, the Hồ Chí Minh Museum will preserve and promote the value of the object by introduce it to the public on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the President’s birthday,” he added.

Côn Đảo Prison Relic Site is a special historical monument of Việt Nam, ranked in the list of 10 most cruel prisons in the world.

For more than 100 years (1862-1975), nearly 20,000 revolutionary soldiers and many generations of Vietnamese patriots were imprisoned, tortured and sacrificed here.

The French colonialists, then the American, aimed to turn the prison into a "hell on earth" to erode the revolutionary will and torture Vietnamese patriots.

But it is also where many Vietnamese soldiers got determined with their consistent struggle and maintained their will for revolution.

In prison, the image of Uncle Hồ used to be a great source of encouragement of the revolutionary soldiers. To have a picture of the president on secretly saluting the flag or admitting new members to the Party, Côn Đảo prisoners used to draw and embroidered his portrait following their imagination. They managed to secretly hide both the portrait and bust under the strict control of the warders.

“It is also the first statue of Uncle Hồ in Việt Nam after the nation gained independence in 1945-1950. It is a valuable keepsake of Côn Đảo prisoners, manifesting their affection and respect for both the Party and President Hồ Chí Minh,” said Phạm Thị Thanh Mai, the deputy director of Hồ Chí Minh Museum.

She also added that the museum would conduct research and fulfill the information about the object in the future to serve the public. — VNS