French President Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande Reuters

France inducted four Resistance fighters into the illustrious Pantheon mausoleum on Wednesday for their contributions to fighting the Nazis during World War II.

The rare honor for the four undercover agents comes at a time when the French government is trying to counter fears of rising anti-Semitism and fortify the nation in the wake of January's jihadist attacks in Paris.

Coffins representing Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz, Germaine Tillion, Pierre Brossolette and Jean Zay were solemnly carried to the former church where the ceremony took place.

Their coffins contained only soil from their graves, because the families had not wanted the bodies disinterred.

President Francois Hollande, whose popularity has plummeted to record lows since coming to power in 2012, took the opportunity to make another highly emotional speech that has become his trademark in recent months.

These two men and two women "embody the spirit of the Resistance. Faced with the occupation, with submission, they gave the same response: they said 'no', immediately, firmly, clearly," said Hollande.

He said there had been a resurgence of hatred against democracy, Jews and "free-thinkers" 70 years after the end of the war.

"It is to ward off this deadly resurgence that the French rose up on January 11," Hollande said, referring to the mass marches that followed the jihadist attacks in January.

The Pantheon houses the remains of many great French figures, including Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola.

Up to now, only one woman - scientist Marie Curie - has been interred in the Pantheon. A second, Sophie Berthelot, is only present as the spouse of her chemist husband, Marcellin Berthelot.

The four Resistance fighters were chosen to represent a cross-section of those who fought against the Nazi occupation.

Gaulle-Anthonioz was a niece of wartime military leader Charles De Gaulle, who was a key member of the Resistance's information networks until she was captured and sent to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women in Germany.

Tillion was a key member of the resistance, helping prisoners escape and organizing intelligence. She later became a famed ethnologist, working primarily in Algeria, who campaigned for "equality between men and women, between cultures, between people," said Hollande.

Brossolette was an intellectual and radio journalist who became a key voice of the Resistance through his broadcasts during the war, as well as being a key member of the underground network. He was captured in 1944 and tortured by the Gestapo for two days, before committing suicide by throwing himself out of a window, having refused to talk.

Zay was a minister of education and a key political reformist before the war, who tried to set up a government-in-exile in North Africa, but was captured and spent several years in prison before being murdered by a pro-German militia in 1944.