HIST 276: France Since 1871
|Transcript||Audio||Low Bandwidth Video||High Bandwidth Video|
France Since 1871
HIST 276 - Lecture 19 - Resistance
Chapter 1. Jews in Vichy France [00:00:00]
Professor John Merriman: Okay, I want to just finish off, because trying to do the collaboration in one week is not easy. I want to talk a little bit more about Vichy and the Jews, and then mention something about François Mitterrand, the late president of France, and the whole question of forgetting and then remembering; and then I’ll leap into resistance. Just at the beginning, just to put the perspective of how the French Vichy forces or our government’s treatment of the Jews compares to other countries, that in November of 1942 — that’s a crucial period because it’s at that point that the Germans occupy the so-called free zone or Vichy zone — and at that point Vichy authorities hand over the Jews who had been imprisoned in the Vichy zone to the Nazis.
And they had marked their ration cards — you had to have ration cards, you had to have cards to get a little bit of butter and all this kind of stuff — they marked them juif or juive, selon le cas, which means Jew, which made it easier for the German or the French police to arrest them. And, so, not only did they — they had to sort of turn over what was left of their authority, but they did more than they needed to do. And things were so bad for the Jews at the hands of the Vichy police that when thousands of foreign Jews had gone into Nice, had somehow gotten into Nice, which Mussolini’s fascist troops had occupied, that they essentially arrested them or made it easier for the people there to be identified and to be taken by the fascists.
And in October 1942, when the U.S. government proposed to take 1,000 Jewish kids whose parents had been deported without them, Pierre Laval, who would get his after the war, and René Bousquet, who is the police head who was the one that was murdered before his trial by a guy seeking publicity for his book, they replied that only certified orphans could be given exit visas, and thus because you couldn’t prove that the parents had already died in the death camps, they would not allow the Jewish children to be exiled, to be refugees in the United States. And Laval and Bousquet, both of whom were frenetic anti-Semites, knew this very well. So, essentially they just condemned them to their fate and the children couldn’t leave.
And more than five weeks following the Allied invasion of Normandy, which as you know was on the 6th of June, 1944, the Vichy police were still arresting Jews, and right up until the last, into the last days. And so many of the cases of themiliciens, people in the milice, who were gunned down at the very end of the war during liberation had been — these were people who had gone out of their way simply to keep on arresting Jews and killing Jews when it was clear that the Allies were going to come in and chase the Germans out.
In the eight months of 1944 before liberation almost 15,000 Jews were deported; and deported means to the death camps. So, anyway, three-quarters of all the Jews who were arrested in France during the entire period were arrested by the French police. French recteurs — recteurs were the heads of the academies, that is France is divided intoacademies, that is the whole structure of education from the universities down to the maternelle, to kindergarten, therecteurs demissed Jews from their post — and you met one of them, Marc Bloch, whom I said lost his job twice; he lost it in Strasbourg and then in Montpellier.
And in Marseilles the Order of Doctors purged Jews from the right to practice and complained that there were still Jews in medical school. Now, again they didn’t have to do this, the Germans weren’t saying — they had other things, security and things that they were worried about — “security” in quotes — but it was just done because they wanted to do it. And it’s the same thing in the legal profession where lots of magistrates, as in the case of Hitler’s Germany, in Weimar before Hitler came to power, the magistrates, many of them, most of them, had been trained under the Second Reich, that is before World War I, and they flocked to the extreme right very quickly.
Public opinion in general did not criticize measures taken against the Jews, at least until 1942. And as I said the other day, there were so many denunciations of people that were — notes that said “je suis sure que mon voisin il est jui,” I’m sure that my neighbor he’s a Jew. And the costs of this were rather serious. So, what do we know about the reactions of non-Jewish French men and women to what was going on? Well, late in 1940 900,000 people visited an exposition that Vichy had put up in the Petit Palais in Paris about the alleged links of Freemasons, that is free thinkers, to Jews and to the British. So, if you went into — this was just the equivalent — well, it wasn’t the artistic equivalent, but it was rather like if you went to — that you were going with the same sort of spirit as if you went to one of the art shows that Hitler put on about decadent art, decadent or Jewish art, and this sort of stuff.
Another 114,000 people saw the exposition when it went on a tour of the provinces. Another exposition called “The Jew in France” attracted in 1942 250,000 visitors in Paris and 100,000 in the provinces. The German film that — to which the Nazis and other Rightists in Germany had flocked called The Jew Süss which ends with a Jew being hung, to the frenzied applause of audiences, was shown in France and people did go to see it, not huge numbers of people, and there were even demonstrations in two cities. But in Tours, on the Loire, people lined up around the block in order to come in and see this essentially Hitler — well, Nazi publicity movie.
And the collaborationist newspaper, Je Suis Partout, or I Am Everywhere, sold 250,000 copies in 1942 and 300,000 by 1944; yes, 1944, which ends as you know in August in 1944 — 1944 doesn’t end in August but the Germans are — Paris falls at the end of August 1944 and then gradually the war moves to the east. In a novel by a guy called Lucien Rebatet, called Les Decombres sold — a very rightwing thing — sold 65,000 copies, which is a huge sale in France, its first month out and its publisher claimed that only the shortage of paper, war rationing, kept him from selling another 200,000 copies. And here’s a glimpse of what is in the novel. “I wish the victory of Germany because her war is my war. Oh, my machinegun, so often caressed in my dreams, facing the despised gangs of the Popular Front, the gilded ghettos of Sodom. One hundred well aimed machine gun bursts.”
He exuded about the sight of Jews wearing yellow stars, the Jewish bacillus, the Jewish microbe, and all this. Now, the French record is not very good, even compared with other countries, the spectacular exception being Slovakia, which was certainly one of the worst places you could possibly have been as a Jew, and not too far from Auschwitz, across the frontier in Poland, which turned over both natives and foreign Jews to Nazis right away. Vichy France was the only country in which local authorities deported Jews without the presence of occupying forces. And in Hungary, which had had anti-Semitic legislation since 1920, even the vicious admiral called Horthy — he is not in the course but he was vicious anyway, h-o-r-t-h-y — handed over no Jews who were Hungarian Jews until German occupation in 1944.
In Denmark only seven percent of the Jews disappeared, helped by Danes and the proximity of Sweden. Malmo was just across the straights, it’s still just across the straights, except there’s a bridge now. Yet France was the country in which the greatest percentage of Jews or a great percentage of Jews survived the war. In all, only twenty-four percent of the Jews were deported, as opposed to seventy-eight percent in the Netherlands and forty-five from Belgium, and ultimately fifty percent from Hungary. Now, there’s another thing going on too, just look at the map. There’s nowhere to hide in the Netherlands or in Belgium, basically; in Belgium, it’s flat, there’s no — and I’ll give you some examples of where Jews were saved because of geographic kind of donné, the lay of the land.
Chapter 2. Mitterrand’s Confession [00:10:35]
But such figures were marshaled by those apologizing for the Vichy regime. And to repeat something that — borrowing from Robert Paxton that I said the other day, Vichy might have saved the French state, in quotes, but it lost the French nation. Now what about resistance? Well, first of all what about Mitterrand? François Mitterrand was the President of France between 1981, May of 1981, and see he would’ve been out — 1981, ‘91. Was ‘91 the end of his term? I can’t remember. No, it was fourteen years, it should be ‘81 to ‘95; and now the term is five years. François Mitterrand was a socialist who started out his term in 1981 with lots of socialist economic policies and sort of backed up off from them, but became somebody who was extremely popular in France. And as he was dying, toward the very end of his life, maybe a year before he died — he had a very serious illness.
The journalists knew it and unlike the journalists in the United States, where something like that would be leaked immediately, journalists did not leak this fact, but it was quite obvious that François Mitterrand was ill. And toward the end of his life two facts about his life came out. The first is that he had a very old daughter from a liaison that had nothing to do with his wife — that’s fairly common in political France — but the second, and for our purposes much more important, was that he had himself been a collaborator; this was the dark secret and he poured out his heart. He said he had something he had to tell — he wasn’t telling himself, but he had to tell the French people that he had collaborated early in the war.
In fact, somebody came up with a picture of him in a rightwing demonstration with the Croix-de-Feu, or one of these groups against immigrants, before World War II. Now, he had second thoughts fairly early into the war and he ends up — he heads an important branch of the resistance organization. But he came to grips with his own past as France was attempting to come to grips at the very same time.
Chapter 3. The Resistance: Roots in the Existing Communist Organization [00:13:01]
Now, to the resistance. Who resisted and why did they resist? And again, just as the question of collaboration was probably — and the discovery of massive collaboration, and it wasn’t just a few people, a few elites, this was the dark secret of the dark years, as Julian Jackson called this period. So is the case with the resistance.
And as I began the lecture last time, Charles de Gaulle was determined that the France of the Fourth Republic was to be built around his large body, and part of that was to try to convince people in France and abroad that the Gaullists were the only resistors and that they had heard the crackle of his voice, imposing voice, across the airwaves on June 18th, 1940. Now, what can we say now? First of all, that the communists were arguably the most important or most effective resistors during the period. And it’s certainly that after the Jews the communists suffered most.
Vichy not only handed the Nazis lists of those they arrested as communists but also executed many of them themselves, beginning in 1941, for no other reason than their political affiliation. Vichy’s Minister of the Interior chose communists rather those he called “good” Frenchmen to be gunned down by German firing squads in the fortress of Mont-Valérien, outside of Paris. Now, the socialist presence, the Socialist Party’s presence in the resistance as an organized force was not as great. But there’s several obvious reasons for that. The communists benefited from the fact that they had cells in virtually every commune in France — and that’s what they called them, cell.
There are still, in our village of 300 people, a Communist Party cell which involves basically just five or six of our friends who are anything but the communists of Moscow and all this, but who are defenders of those who have no one else to defend them, and that sort of thing, including our dear friend, a former school teacher, and some of our best friends in the world. And occasionally in my mailbox I’ll find an invitation from the cell of Balazuc to a Communist Party gathering where — they’ve asked me to talk on the collapse of capitalism, and I have to explain to them that capitalism isn’t probably going to collapse in the near future, and then we all, after some political discussion, we all drink illegal wine essentially. There’s this wine called Clinton, as in Clinton but it’s nothing to do with Clinton, that was called sort of the vin fou a little bit, and it grows all over the place, the grapes do, and because it grows so wildly it became sort of illegal to produce this particular grape.
And, so, one of the parts of being a party of resistance is you don’t pay any attention to that, and to that extent I agree with that. And, so, we would drink these bottles of Clinton. And I’ve drunk bottles of Clinton with a guy who joined the party, who’s still alive. He and his wife joined the Communist Party in 1934 and he is still — he is a painter and he painted lots of people, and lots of the paintings he had done was in prison, in Paris, and he was very lucky to escape execution, in part because of the complicity of a guard. And to think that they joined the Communist Party two years before the Spanish Civil War is just incredible.
So, the point of this is that the advantage the Communist Party had is that they already have organized, they have people in most every large village who represent the Communist Party. So, it’s easy to organize your comrades, because you know who they are and you can trust them after all of these years. So, they have some advantages there. Another advantage the Communist Party had — and I alluded to this before — is they were basically the party of thecheminaux, of the railroad workers and the engineers. In any station you go to — go to Rouen sometime, where I teach; and I go to Rouen often because we have friends there — and look in the railroad station, it’s just unbelievable. There’s this huge plaque with about 200 names of cheminaux, of railroad workers, in the largest sense, who were killed, executed by the Nazis or by the French fascists during the war. In every railroad station.
So, the advantage there is that — you know this from seeing all these movies I’m sure about the resistance — it’s pretty easy to blow up railroad tracks. And, so, what they were able to do is blow up — how can you watch the whole train line between Dijon, and Lyon, and Marseilles, for example? There was no TGV, obviously, that just started on the 28th of September, 1981, so it’s easy for a couple of les gars, of the guys, to go out and to blow up the track, and it takes a long time to fix the track, and they blow up that one and they fix that one and then boom, further on down the line.
So, they were very active in the north, in Lille, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Lyon, un peu partout. And they were very much part of the CGT, that is the General Confederation of Labor, and they were more apt to be communist than any other party; and this is true in the suburbs of Paris as well. So, they also had great strength among metallurgical workers, and thus metallurgical workers have access to flammable explosive materials, and this sort of stuff. And, so, they also organized very damaging industrial strikes, particularly in 1944, and these strikes help give people a sense of hope, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And of course there’d be people listening to BBC and that sort of thing.
A story about BBC, two stories. Again, I hate to keep referring to this village but I wrote a book on this village called The Stones of Balazuc and at the end of it — well, one of the last chapters is about the school, but I had to cover — do Vichy and I had to do Vichy very, very delicately, very delicately. It was obvious that in our village that the priest had — we don’t have a priest anymore there — but that the priest was a Pétainist and lots of people hated him, not just because of his politics, but a lot of people liked his politics, but he used to sort of shout at people in the confessional and there was all sorts of funny stories, and he insisted that women sit on one side of the church still and that men on the other.
But this is a village that wasn’t an area of great resistance, even though arms were parachuted down on a plateau near where we live — this is down here in the Ardèche. But there were two people in the resistance and one is still alive, a very old man, and they would hide things — this is the pays calcaire, it’s limestone country, and big grottes, caves along the river, and you could hide things easily there. And I wanted to talk to this man about the resistance and I — he’s the uncle of a friend, and finally I invited he and his wife over. And I made clear that I wanted to ask him some questions, not as a journalist but I’d been there in this place for twenty years and I knew the guy a little bit, and above all I knew his family. And he said yes he would come, and he would talk to me about it because I’d been there so long, but then he never showed up, he didn’t want to talk about it, he couldn’t talk about it because of — it’s sort of like people coming back from World War One.
The people that talked and boasted were the ones who would dress up in military uniforms when towns had been liberated, as if they had been there in the beginning, out in the bushes, the maquis, the resistors. But he was a real one but he didn’t want to talk about it. But I also knew, speaking of BBC, and this is the transition, that I’d heard this story that a man in Balazuc had, in this particular village, had alerted the authorities, the Vichy authorities to the fact that some people were listening to BBC. Now, you could be executed for listening to BBC — that was a capital crime. And often they wouldn’t, if you were somebody they knew they wouldn’t do that, or whatever. But you denounced somebody for listening to BBC and that’s — it’s not as bad as denouncing somebody saying he’s a Jew, but it ain’t good.
So, I asked this friend of mine, an older man who could remember the war, and I said what about that? And I waited for the appropriate circumstances to ask him. He said, “no, no, it’s just — don’t pay any attention to it, it’s just rumor, it’s just rumor, it’s a vicious rumor — les ‘on dit’, rumor, les bruits, rumors,” and all that. So, in French, j’ai bien serpenté, I kind of snuck around a little bit, serpented around, and I asked some trusted people who are very discreet what about it? And it turned out it was his father, it was his father, who did it, and who was associated with the priest in the village. And I knew this man, he died a long time ago, ten or fifteen years ago, but I knew the man. And such secrets, are they best buried? I buried it in the French edition of my book, it’s not in that; it’s not in the Dutch edition, either. It’s in the English edition but hidden away, because he’ll never know, never see and couldn’t read the English edition.
So, all this stuff it’s kind of delicate, that whole business about — anyway. So, people, the Communist Party became the party of the 75,000 martyrs because probably that many communists died, whereas the socialists had a lack of structural organization and many of their leaders like Léon Blum were in jail. And as I said last time, just in passing, there also was a leftwing Catholic resistance, social Catholics, and no resistance publication condemned racism and anti-Semitism with the vigor of the newspaper Temoignage Chrétien, or Christian Witness, basically. So, what about Jews?
It’s hard to resist if you’re being tracked down and being arrested, it’s — and by the way, remember Pierre Laval who was the Prime Minister through much of the period, he was on another occasion when the Germans insisted that French parents, that French adults who were Jews be transported from a certain sector, but they didn’t ask for the children, Pierre Laval said “send the children, too” — famille, travail, patrie — I mean that in a very ironic sense, family, work, country — family values, put the children together, and so the children bounced off in the railroad car.
Chapter 4. Religious Resistance Movements: The Jewish Underground and the Protestant Adoptions [00:24:40]
But in fact I know this Australian guy who was a young, very young man, in Paris who’s Jewish, a guy called Jacques Adler, and I met him in Melbourne a few years ago and he survived the war, but he was sixteen, he was in an underground Jewish resistance group in Paris and he wrote a book about it. Then he went off and he made a lot of money in Melbourne. He got out, he survived, he became a cake producer. And then he went back and he got his Ph.D. in French history at the University of Melbourne with my friend Peter McPhee, and then he wrote this book, a very good book on the Jewish resistance. But Jewish resistance was organized in Paris where there were lots of Jews and had every conceivable reason to resist, but only in cities like Bordeaux where they’re all getting locked up very quickly and in Lyon and other places. So, but, the reason that I insist on this fact, that there was an organized Jewish resistance, is because among the sort of anti-Semitic residuals in the post-war period is the accusation that the Jews didn’t resist, they just kind of went off to be slaughtered and all of that, and didn’t put up a fight, which of course is obviously not true.
Now, the role of Protestants has been often privileged in discussion of the resistance. Again, to repeat what I said, the great percentage of Protestants are down here again in the Ardèche and in the Gers, down here, in the Cévennes mountains, basically; also up in the Drôme on the other side of the — in the valleys that go down to the Rhône River, into the Drôme, d-r-o-m-e. And the most famous case of Jewish children being saved is that of a Protestant village, which I’m going to write on the board because it deserves it, called Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, right on the edge of the Ardèche, near Le Puy but in the mountains.
And what they did in this little teeny village is they organized this kind of false identification network and they took Jewish kids from Saint-Étienne, and Lyon, and other places in that region — that region is an area that always sent lots of immigrants to — it’s a very Catholic region, but in this case in that village very Protestant — had sent lots of immigrants to Lyon and to Saint-Étienne. And, so, they adopted all sorts of Jewish kids. And then when the Germans would come through, you could hear them coming, they would hide the kids or they’d go off into the woods. But there seemed to be an awful lot of kids and the Germans would go through, my God, these people must be very Catholic, they’re having babies all over the place, look at all these kids; and they never figured it out, the fact that they were Protestant.
And lots of people were saved and there’s a documentary on this. A guy called Rod Kedward, H.R. Kedward, has done two really interesting books on — probably the best books on the resistance that are in English. And he noted something very interesting about a commune, a couple of villages in the Cévennes mountains in which protestants resisted, and he noticed that in that part of France the religious wars had been — in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century — had been very bloody and they’d pitted basically the armies of the king, of the most Catholic king, against — well, you know that’s the title that they called the Spanish king, but anyway — of Louis XIV and all these people, against protestants. And he noticed that one particularly resistant village that there was this huge mission cross overlooking the village that had been planted there in the sixteenth century as a sign of — or in the seventeenth century, I don’t know which war it was — as a sign of victory, of conquest by the State and the Catholic Church over these protestants.
Does looking at something like that all the time make you more want to resist a regime that’s closely tied to rightwing Catholicism? Well, who knows, but Protestants were over-represented in the resistance. But, as I said, Catholics resisted too, and from the point of view of the resistance or I suppose anybody looking at this, it’s easy to denounce many Catholic archbishops and bishops who didn’t give one damn about the Jews and who embraced Vichy with a great passion. But yet, in many places of Catholic — of villages that had Catholics resisting, and most people in France are nominally Catholics, the role of priests was considerable, and the role of teachers were — of instits, of primary school teachers, was important as well.
Now, priests, I don’t know what you — priests and school teachers are kind of opinion makers or whatever the phase is; they are people that, along with the mayor, that sort out problems in a village. And so if you have a priest who says enough of this stuff, he can throw his weight and do good things — well, again, look at Père Jean, Father John, tonight. So, again the situation of the Catholic Church is extremely complicated. And the real explosion of work on the resistance has been dominated by the stories of ordinary people taking very unordinary choices, big-time choices.
Chapter 5. Defining Resistance: Mapping the Grey Areas [00:30:18]
A friend of mine called John Sweets who taught at University of Kansas, at KU, he did a book on Clairmont-Ferrand because that’s where The Sorrow and the Pity had — the town that it had been focused on, and his book is calledChoices in Vichy France. And he was not critical of Paxton, which is the canon after all, but he argued that you have to give them a wider description of — or a wider definition of resistance, in trying to determine how many people resisted. Paxton thinks that about two percent of the French population resisted. John Sweets thinks — and it’s a very good book,Choices in Vichy France — thinks that oh maybe about — I can’t remember what he says, eighteen or twenty percent of the population resisted.
Well, what is resistance? Lots of people took big-time chances, smuggling weapons; you’re going to get killed if they catch you, you’re gone, toast, finished. But if you’re in a movie theater and they’re doing the — showing the documentary — before the film there’s always this two minute news session which I can remember as a tiny little boy, with always the same kind of voices giving the news, and this would be the German news translated into French. And if you whistle and you boo — whistling is booing in France — or if you refuse to step off the sidewalk to let a German officer pass, that itself is a passive resistance. And so certainly more people resisted, according to this definition, than — and this was a type of choice in Vichy France.
One of the ways that people resisted was, for example, passing these printed — these newspapers that sort of mimeographed. And there was a whole clandestine press and it was very important because it would tell people in Normandy that there’d been strikes in Saint-Étienne, or strikes in Marseilles, or it would give news on where people thought that the battles were going and that kind of thing. How do you get newspapers around? Well you just take a bunch of them, on a bus — a bus in Lyon, for example, and the bus is going around the Place Bellecour and you just hold your hand out the window and drop all the leaflets. Or there’d be leaflets against — when the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra played in Lyon somebody did that, they took all these little handwritten and mimeographed pieces of paper that said, non, don’t go assist, don’t go listen to the Berlin Philharmonic, let us resist — and that’s a form of resistance too, not going to hear the Berlin Philharmonic; phew, and dropped them just like that.
And Lyon was a very effective center of the resistance. I told you about Marc Bloch there, because in Lyon there are these things called en français traboules, which are basically not tunnels but they’re passages that began in the sixteenth century to protect raw silk from being rained on, in a pretty rainy climate. And, so, the traboules also go up the Croix Russe which is this old working class neighborhood that was outside, only annexed to Lyon in 1852. And thesetraboules, you can duck into these traboules, and that’s why the resistance was so important in Lyon, and that’s where Marc Bloch went when Marc Bloch had gone down here.
He was up near Gerais here and he’s just kind of anxious and he says I should go do something, so he goes to Lyon and he participates in the resistance and of course he pays for it with his life. What about women? Now, for decades nobody paid attention to the role of women in the resistance. Now, women were very rare in the hills. By the way, the term maquis means basically organized resistors. A maquis in French, or les maquis, is kind of a brush, that’s a very thick brush behind which you can hide in Corsica — that’s where it comes from originally; and then in the south of France on what you call in French the aride, really dry, rocky countryside.
And, so, by 1943, by the end of 1943 in many parts of France the maquis rule by night, that they have increasing — their forces are swollen by people moving into the resistance. Now, some people had to feed these folks, some people had to darn their socks or knit them things to stay warm. Some people had to pass messages, and there are all sorts of stories about women on bicycles — it’s one of these sort of things that you see in movies — but of women on bicycles sort of charming — young women charming the guards if they have the bad luck to fall upon the militia or German guards and having a written message, which is a terrible idea, but at least they’d have a verbal communication of passing messages into the hills.
Now, the largest resistance movement and most effective in Europe by far, de loin, is in ex-Yugoslavia, and that’s because of the terrain in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Croatia, and in Serbia, and they have entire divisions with hospitals, mobile hospitals and all of that, with the British parachuting things in. But if you look at this map it’s not surprising to see why there’s very little resistance, again here, so where are you going to hide, there’s nowhere to hide. So, the maquis, the resistance — there are maquis all over the place but it’s easier in the south, and it’s by the end of ‘43 that the — and I said last time about find a K on your door in the morning, where someone was there to put K on the door in the morning, and there you go.
And, so, the role of women has been much more important than people had thought and there are all sorts of wide — a big literature, or a growing literature, on this now. And also in some places, in Auvèrgne, for example, the numbers ofmaquisards, of people in the resistance, of maquis, was swollen by refugees from Spain, or even from Poland. So, you have these people living out there. And only three times in France during the period did they try to take on German military units in a pitched battle — bad idea, terrible idea. One is right near Clermont-Ferrand, here. One is in the Vercors, near Grenoble, down here. And the third, I don’t remember where it is. So, that doesn’t work very well because they don’t have the kind of big time tanks and that kind of thing. But they were able to regroup.
There are places — near us there’s a village way up in the hill, God, it’s so beautiful, a church, this fabulous church, at a place called Tende with this Romanesque portée, entryway, that’s just fabulous. And there, there was a whole bunch of these people up there and they had some fairly considerable arms — this isn’t the pitched battle — but then they get denounced; there are always people that are going to sell other people’s lives away, there’s no question about it. There were true believers in the regime that’s going to sell people away, and the next thing they know — and another case near us too, the next thing they know bam, here come the parachutists are coming in there and the tanks are rolling up or the smaller vehicles with machineguns, real big machineguns and this kind of stuff, and they are gone, they are just massacred. And there are all sorts of places around where we live where people were shot.
And if you helped, if you were a woman or you were — anyone, you were a priest, you were a — you’re anyone, you’re a schoolteacher and you help people and they catch you, and particularly if you’ve killed a German, you’re gone, that’s it. I told you the story about the woman the other day who was a collaborator up along the Rhône River and they blew her brains out, the resistors did. And in penance, as it were, in punishment, they just execute people, just take hostages and execute them; begin with people you think are Communist and then just shoot the other people.
Look what happened in the Czech Republic in ex-Czechoslovakia. In Prague I’ve gone to the place where Richard Heydrich, who was one of the very worst of the worst, was assassinated by Czech maquis and he’s gunned down as he’s coming in, and he fights them, and he’s finally mortally wounded and all that. And they go and they hide in this church that I went to visit in Prague a couple of years ago, and they of course perish horribly. But they took an entire village called Lidice and kill everybody. It’s rather like Sara Farmer’s book, Oradour-sur-Glane, which really needs no discussion now.
Chapter 6. Regional Resistance? The Lack of Geographic Determinism [00:39:04]
Now, what led people — well, first of all, one quick point, is that again I’ve said that if you took a map of — I’ve said this I guess maybe even more recently — but of de-Christianization, allegiance to the French Revolution in 1790, the elections of 1949 and 1981, you would have virtually the same départements are Left, and virtually the samedépartements are Right. That doesn’t work for the resistance. Brittany, which has always been extremely conservative, was a big resistance area. The same goes with rural Normandy, and of course that’s the most well known because of the invasion, the Americans, and the British, and the Australians, and everybody, New Zealanders and Canadians, invade here. The Germans thought they were going to invade here but they invade here. And the resistance had already taken out lots of rail lines and things like that, and General Eisenhower said that they were worth two divisions or something like that.
Rural Normandy has always been conservative. So, that interpretation doesn’t really work. There was lots of resistance in Auvergne, which is conservative, and there was tons of resistance in the Limousin, thus explaining — one reason explaining the massacre on the 10th of June, 1944, or Oradour-sur-Glane. So, you can’t — there’s no kind of geographic determinism, regional determinism. There is some geographic determinism that is the lay of the land, but there’s no regional — there’s not a predisposition of Bretons not to resist, because they do resist. They resist — not everybody, but the resistance is important in Brittany and these kinds of places.
Now, without question the big defining moment swelling the ranks of the resistance is the service du travail obligatoire; in February, the STO, that is the service of obligatory work where the Germans say we want men from each region to go to Germany and work in the factories. The reason is they have so many people dead, so many killed, and they need work. And this swells the ranks of resistors, this forces families and individuals to make choices in Vichy France, again to borrow from John’s title. This builds on a policy in June ‘42 announced by Pierre Laval called the relève, or the relief team that would send specialized French workers to Germany, in exchange for the release of French prisoners of war from 1940 — ha ha. But now they say, “well, you got to go,” and they’ll show up into your village and you better be ready to go. 650,000 workers were sent to Germany as conscript labor.
This also contributes to discredit further the Vichy regime vis-à-vis its population, and the grumbling about Pétain, the grumbling about shortages and the grumbling about the German soldiers give way now to more open resentment. The Bishop of Lille, a guy called Cardinale Léonarde, who had kept quiet about the increasingly obvious fate of Jews announced it was no longer a duty for a Christian to go to work in Germany — merci monsieur. And, so, this swells this nomadic tribe of resistors living from day to day in the mountains and the hills. And it’s a scary existence, you’re listening through the night, or in the day, for the roar of machines, the roar of the rival airplanes or of fast speeding German cars, and you’re freezing in snow, bored, tired, anxious, far, far away, demoralized and understandably terrified.
Now, most of the maquis were city folks, they were the majority. And most of France is not urban people in 1943 and 1944. That was because it was easier to round up people to be sent in the STO, that is the obligatory labor service, if you were from a city where you had all sorts of soldiers who’d come out and pick you up. And so the Limousin probably is the classic example, that is in the area in which Oradour-sur-Glane takes, where it became — it was not a mass, mass movement, but where you still have all sorts of people that are part of underground organizations or are part of the Gaullist resistance, and Jean Moulin — the reason I have his name up here, he was a former prefect of the Eure-et-Loire, which is the department of Chartres, in the Blois, south of Paris, a beautiful cathedral town. And then he ends up himself getting denounced, and tortured, and all of that.
But the resistance, whether they were Gaullists, or whether they were communists, or whether they had no affiliation at all, pas d’affiliation, the resistance depended on neighborhood, small town and above all village networks; thus the role of the school teacher or some kind of local leader. A communist was wounded by French gendarmes, in a village in the Var, that is the department of Toulon, and Saint-Tropez, and all of that on the Mediterranean. He was hidden by a peasant in one of these networks, but his untreated wound developed gangrene. Two doctors took care of him, alerted by the wife of an agent of a resistance organization. In all, ten people combined, at the risk of their life, of saving the life of one resistor.
And, of course ironically in areas like the Limousin that if I insisted, and I’m right in doing so, that as Paxton and others have argued, that Vichy saw itself as the regime of la terre, of the land, that the real values were Joan of Arc and peasants and all that business. The cult of the peasant resistor in areas like the Limousin, that is around Limoges and at Tulle, the massacre at Tulle and all these places, was an important one as well. Now, after the June 6th landings in Normandy — and as you know the troops are also moving up, after the landings in the south, are moving up the Rhône Valley, killing lots of people on the way. Then it became easier to resist and so therefore the temptation after the war was to say, oh, “moi aussi, j’étais là,” “I was resisting and wasn’t I dear?” “Oh yes your gun was always ready,” et cetera, et cetera.
And everybody kind of jumped forward in Privas. In the prefecture of the Ardèche there was — they’d have this big sort of joyous celebration when the town is liberated and then they noticed, some of the resistors noticed that all sorts of people had dressed up in fancy military clothes and all of that; they had nothing to do with the resistance at all. Some of them were trying to save their skins because they had rather different sympathies a few weeks ago, before that, or a few months before that. And as I said near our village there was a priest who was lined up on a wall and shot down because he had — because he had had Déat to lunch, who was a fascist, sometime earlier in the period.
There were about 24,000 maquis who were killed in the liberation of France. And in Paris, above all, but in other cities as well, you can walk along and you see signs that say, “Ici est tombé,” Here Fell on the 24th of August, 1944, so-and-so, from one of the resistance groups. And occasionally you’ll see a flower, a new flower is put there, by somebody who remembers or somebody aware of the collective memory; especially around the Prefecture of Police in Paris. I’ve always thought it was cruel, and this is cynical, but they should’ve put in some of the fancier quarters of Paris, in Passy and places like that, “Ici a collaboré Monsieur et Madame le Comte de quelque chose,” 1940 or 1944. But that’s not nice, and not very generous, and I make no apologies for it.
There were — again, just to end with these little — I’ll just end with this, that at the time of the Papon trial when Papon was arguing, he says, “well I was a good bureaucrat, my superiors liked what I did and I was protecting these other Jews by sending away the hundreds whom I made possible their departure from the Gare Saint-Jean.” There was another little story that came along, and I don’t remember where I read it, but there was a young woman who worked as a secretary in the prefecture or in the police or somewhere like that, and she — because of people like Papon, you had lists of all the people who were Jews or all the people who were communists, in the Gironde or in Bordeaux, and that these things are kept in files.
But this is before the computer, the quiet violence of the computer, and these were lists that were done by hand, and she simply went into the drawers and ripped them up, ripped up the lists, and put the scrap paper not in the wastepaper basket but in her pocket and went out and deposited it in the first poubelle or garbage can that she found. Heroic acts, choices in Vichy France — it made you think, it made you decide what to do.
[end of transcript]Back to Top
|mp3||mov [100MB]||mov [500MB]|