Les Éditions de Minuit was founded by writer and illustrator Jean Bruller and writer Pierre de Lescure (1891-1963) in 1941 in Paris, during the German occupation of northern France (by November 1942, German forces occupied all of France). At the time, the media and all forms of publishing were controlled and censored by the Nazi occupiers. Les Éditions de Minuit was started to circumvent the censorship, and so was an underground publisher until the liberation of Paris on August 25 1944.
Le Silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) by co-founder Bruller (who wrote under the pseudonym Vercors) was the first book published (1942). Distribution, like other Resistance texts, was by being passed from person to person.
Le Silence de la mer was followed in 1943 by Chroniques interdites (banned newspaper columns, various authors), L'honneur des poètes (The Honour of Poets) poetry collected by Paul Éluard, Le cahier noir (The Black Notebook) by François Mauriac, and Le musée Grévin (The Grévin Museum) by Louis Aragon.
A small group of printers joined Bruller and de Lescure, and together they risked imprisonment and death to publish works by some of France's greatest authors who wrote under pseudonyms). The authors included Paul Éluard, Louis Aragon, Jacques Maritain, François Mauriac, Jean Paulhan, André Chamson, André Gide, and the first unabridged French translation of John Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down (Nuits noires).
After the war, when Les Éditions de Minuit was able to operate openly, it continued to publish books but for the first few years was financially unstable.
In the 1950s, the company began to be more successful. It was the first to publish several novels by Samuel Beckett who wrote in French as well as English, and was resident in France at the time. Other authors published include Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon, Marguerite Duras and Robert Pinget. It published Henri Alleg's La Question in 1958 on the use of torture by the French Army during the Algerian War (1954-62), which was censored.
The style of the front covers of Les Éditions de Minuit books remains almost as sparse as the edition of Le Silence de la mer shown above. The only decoration is a blue border and the symbol of Les Éditions de Minuit: a star and the letter "m".