The French Resistance (French: La Résistance française) is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II. Résistance cells were small groups of armed men and women (called the Maquis in rural areas), who, in addition to their guerrilla warfare activities, were also publishers of underground newspapers, providers of first-hand intelligence information, and maintainers of escape networks that helped Allied soldiers and airmen trapped behind enemy lines. The men and women of the Résistance came from all economic levels and political leanings of French society, including émigrés; conservative Roman Catholics, including priests; and citizens from the ranks of liberals, anarchists, and communists.
The French Resistance played a significant role in facilitating the Allies' rapid advance through France following the invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, and the lesser-known invasion of Provence on 15 August, by providing military intelligence on the German defenses known as the Atlantic Wall and on Wehrmacht deployments and orders of battle. The Résistance also planned, coordinated, and executed acts of sabotage on the electrical power grid, transportation facilities, and telecommunications networks. It was also politically and morally important to France, both during the German occupation and for decades afterward, because it provided the country with an inspiring example of the patriotic fulfillment of a national imperative, countering an existential threat to French nationhood. The actions of the Résistance stood in marked contrast to the collaboration of the regime based at Vichy.
After the landings in Normandy and Provence, the paramilitary components of the Résistance were organized more formally, into a hierarchy of operational units known, collectively, as the French Forces of the Interior (FFI). Estimated to have a strength of 100,000 in June 1944, the FFI grew rapidly, doubling by the following month, and reaching approximately 400,000 by October of that year. Although the amalgamation of the FFI was, in some cases, fraught with political difficulties, it was ultimately successful, and it allowed France to rebuild the fourth-largest army in the European theatre (1.2 million men) by VE Day in May 1945.
- 1 Motivations
- 2 Elements of the French Résistance
- 3 Networks and movements
- 3.1 BCRA networks
- 3.2 Foreigners in the Résistance
- 3.3 Beginnings of a coordinated resistance
- 3.4 Jean Moulin's intercession
- 4 Activities
- 5 Role in the liberation of France and casualties
- 6 Legacy
- 7 Cultural personalities
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Following the battle of France and the second French-German armistice, signed near Compiègne on 22 June 1940, life for many in France continued more or less normally at first, but soon the German occupation authorities and the collaborationist Vichy régime began to employ increasingly brutal and intimidating tactics to ensure the submission of the French population. Although the majority of civilians neither collaborated nor overtly resisted, the occupation of French territory and the Germans' draconian policies inspired a discontented minority to form paramilitary groups dedicated to both active and passive resistance.
One of the conditions of the armistice was that the French pay for their own occupation; that is, the French were required to cover the expenses associated with the upkeep of a 300,000-strong army of occupation. This burden amounted to approximately 20 million German reichsmarks per day, a sum that, in May 1940, was approximately equivalent to four hundred million French francs. (The artificial exchange rate of the reichsmark versus the franc had been established as one mark to twenty francs.) Because of this overvaluation of German currency, the occupiers were able to make seemingly fair and honest requisitions and purchases while, in effect, operating a system of organized plunder. Prices soared, leading to widespread food shortages and malnutrition, particularly among children, the elderly, and members of the working class engaged in physical labour. Labour shortages also plagued the French economy because hundreds of thousands of French workers were requisitioned and transferred to Germany for compulsory labour under the Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO).
The labour shortage was worsened by the fact that a large number of the French were also held as prisoners of war in Germany. Beyond these hardships and dislocations, the occupation became increasingly unbearable. Onerous regulations, strict censorship, incessant propaganda and nightly curfews all played a role in establishing an atmosphere of fear and repression. The sight of French women consorting with German soldiers infuriated many French men, but sometimes it was the only way they could get adequate food for their families.
As reprisals for Résistance activities, the authorities established harsh forms of collective punishment. For example, the increasing militancy of communist resistance in August 1941 led to the taking of thousands of hostages from the general population. A typical policy statement read, "After each further incident, a number, reflecting the seriousness of the crime, shall be shot." During the occupation, an estimated 30,000 French civilian hostages were shot to intimidate others who were involved in acts of resistance. German troops occasionally engaged in massacres, such as the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane, where an entire village was razed and the population murdered (save for a few scant survivors) because of persistent resistance in the vicinity.
In early 1943, the Vichy authorities established a paramilitary group, the Milice (militia), to combat the Résistance. They worked alongside German forces that, by the end of 1942, were stationed throughout France. The group collaborated closely with the Nazis, and was the Vichy equivalent of the Gestapo security forces in Germany. Their actions were often brutal and included torture and execution of Résistance suspects. After the liberation of France in the summer of 1944, the French executed many of the estimated 25,000 to 35,000 miliciens for their collaboration. Many of those who escaped arrest fled to Germany, where they were incorporated into the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen SS.
Elements of the French Résistance
The French Résistance involved men and women representing a broad range of ages, social classes, occupations, religions and political affiliations. In 1942, one resistance leader claimed that the movement received support from four groups: the "lower middle" and "middle middle" classes, university professors and students, the entire working class, and a large majority of the peasants.
Resistance leader Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie observed, in retrospect, that the Résistance had been composed of social outcasts or those on the fringes of society, saying "one could be a resister only if one was maladjusted." Although many, including d'Astier himself, did fit this description, most members of the Résistance came from traditional backgrounds and were "individuals of exceptional strong-mindedness, ready to break with family and friends" in order to serve a higher purpose.
The question of how many were active in the Résistance is inevitably raised. While stressing that the issue was sensitive and approximate, François Marcot, a professor of history at the Sorbonne, ventured an estimate of 200,000 activists and a further 300,000 with substantial involvement in Résistance operations. Historian Robert Paxton estimated the number of active resisters at "about 2% of the adult French population (or about 400,000)", and went on to observe that "there were, no doubt, wider complicities, but even if one adds those willing to read underground newspapers, only some two million persons, or around 10% of the adult population," had been willing to risk any involvement at all. The postwar government of France officially recognized 220,000 men and women.
The doctrine of Gaullism was born during the Second World War as a French movement of patriotic resistance to the German invasion of 1940. Men of all political stripes who wanted to continue the fight against Adolf Hitler and who rejected the armistice concluded by Maréchal Philippe Pétain rallied to General Charles de Gaulle's position. As a consequence, on 2 August 1940, de Gaulle was condemned to death in absentia by the Vichy régime.
Between July and October 1940, de Gaulle rejected the unconstitutional, repressive and racist laws instituted by Pétain, and established his own bona fides (good faith) as the principal defender of republican values. He asked, in his Appeal of 18 June 1940, that every patriot who could reach British territory should do so and join the Free French Army to fight in company with the Allies. The Free French forces also rallied the various French overseas colonies to fight back against the Vichy régime. His approval of this link between the Résistance and the colonials legitimized it.
De Gaulle's influence grew in France, and by 1942 one resistance leader called him "the only possible leader for the France that fights". Other Gaullists, those who could not join Britain (that is, the overwhelming majority of them), remained in the territories ruled by Vichy and built networks of propagandists, spies and saboteurs to harass and discomfit the occupiers. Eventually, leaders of all of these separate and fragmented Résistance organizations were gathered and coordinated by Jean Moulin under the auspices of the National Council of Resistance (CNR), de Gaulle's formal link to the irregulars throughout occupied France.
During the Italian campaign of 1943, 130,000 Free French soldiers fought on the Allied side and, by the time of the Normandy invasion, Free French forces numbered approximately half a million regulars and more than 100,000 French Forces of the Interior (FFI). The Free French 2nd Armored Division, under General Philippe Leclerc, landed in Normandy, and, in the waning days of summer 1944, led the drive toward Paris. The FFI in Normandy and the Île-de-France region surrounding Paris began to harass German forces intensively, cutting roads and railways, setting ambushes and fighting conventional battles alongside their allies.
The Free French 2nd Armored Division rolled ashore in Normandy on 1 August 1944, and served under General Patton's Third Army. The division played a critical role in Operation Cobra, the Allies' "breakout" from its Normandy beachhead, where it served as a link between American and Canadian armies and made rapid progress against German forces. The 2nd Armored all but destroyed the 9th Panzer Division and mauled several other German units as well. During the battle for Normandy this German division lost 133 killed, 648 wounded and 85 missing. The division's matériel losses included 76 armored vehicles, seven cannons, 27 halftracks and 133 other vehicles.
The most celebrated moment in the unit's history involved the liberation of Paris. Allied strategy emphasized destroying German forces retreating towards the Rhine, but when the French Résistance under Colonel Rol staged an uprising in the city, Charles de Gaulle pleaded with General Eisenhower to send help. Eisenhower agreed, and Leclerc's forces headed toward Paris. After hard fighting that cost the 2nd Division 35 tanks, 6 self-propelled guns and 111 vehicles, Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, surrendered the city in a ceremony at the Hotel Meurice. Jubilant crowds greeted the French forces, and de Gaulle led a renowned victory parade through the city.
De Gaulle not only kept the patriotic resistance alive; he also did everything possible to re-establish the French claim to independence and sovereignty. As a leader, the American and British governments preferred the less popular, but less abrasively vindictive, General Giraud to de Gaulle, but for the French population de Gaulle was almost universally recognized as the true leader in their victory. These events forced Roosevelt to recognize, finally and fully, the provisional government installed in France by de Gaulle.
After the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the French Communist Party (PCF) was declared a proscribed organisation by Édouard Daladier's government. Many of its leaders were arrested and imprisoned or forced to go underground. The PCF adopted an antiwar position on orders of the Comintern in Moscow, which remained in place for the first year of the German occupation, reflecting the September 1939 nonaggression pact between Germany and the USSR. Conflicts erupted within the party, as many of its members opposed collaboration with the Germans while others toed the party line of neutrality as directed by Stalin in Moscow. On Armistice Day, November 11, 1940, communists were among the university students demonstrating against German repression by marching along the Champs-Élysées. It was only when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 that French communists actively began to organize a resistance effort. They benefited from their experience in clandestine operations during the Spanish Civil War.
On 21 August 1941, Colonel Pierre-Georges Fabien committed the first overt violent act of communist resistance by assassinating a German officer at the Barbès-Rochechouart station of the Paris Métro. The attack, and others perpetrated in the following weeks, provoked fierce reprisals, culminating in the execution of 98 hostages after the Feldkommandant of Nantes was shot on 20 October.
The military strength of the communists was still relatively feeble at the end of 1941, but the rapid growth of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP), a radical armed movement, ensured that French communists regained their reputation as an effective anti-fascist force. The FTP was open to non-communists but operated under communist control, with its members predominantly engaged in acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare. By 1944, the FTP had an estimated strength of 100,000 men.
Towards the end of the occupation the PCF reached the height of its influence, controlling large areas of France through the Résistance units under its command. Some in the PCF wanted to launch a revolution as the Germans withdrew from the country, but the leadership, acting on Stalin's instructions, opposed this and adopted a policy of cooperating with the Allied powers and advocating a new Popular Front government.
Many well-known intellectual and artistic figures were attracted to the Communist party during the war, including the artist Pablo Picasso and the writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. After the German invasion of the USSR, many Russian white émigrés, inspired by Russian patriotic sentiment, would support the Soviet war effort. A number of them formed the Union of Russian Patriots, which adopted pro-Soviet positions and collaborated closely with the French Communist Party.
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At the end of the summer of 1940, Daniel Mayer was asked by Leon Blum to reconstitute the SFIO (in ruins because of Paul Faure's defection to the Vichy regime). In March 1941 Daniel Mayer created, with other socialists like Suzanne Buisson and Félix Gouin, the Comité d'action socialiste (CAS) in Nîmes. The same thing was created by Jean-Baptiste Lebas in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais (administratively joined with Belgium) in January 1941, along the lines of a prior network created in September 1940.
In 1942, Le Populaire, newspaper of the SFIO from 1921 to 1940, was publishing again, clandestinely. The same year, André Philip became commissaire national à l'Intérieur of the Free French (France libre), and Félix Gouin joined Charles de Gaulle in London to represent the socialists. In Algeria, left-wing networks of resistance were already formed. As the Riom trial began in 1942, the fervor and the number of socialists in the Resistance grew. The CAS-Sud became the secret SFIO in March 1943.
There was a majority from the SFIO in Libération-Nord, one of the eight great networks to make up the National Council of the Resistance, and in the Brutus network. Socialists were also important in the Organisation civile et militaire and in Libération-Sud.
Other socialist leaders in the Resistance included Pierre Brossolette, Gaston Defferre, Jean Biondi, Jules Moch, Jean Pierre-Bloch, Tanguy-Prigent, Guy Mollet and Christian Pineau. François Camel and Marx Dormoy were assassinated, while Jean-Baptiste Lebas, Isidore Thivrier, Amédée Dunois, Claude Jordery and Augustin Malroux died during their deportation.
Before the war, there were several ultrarightist organizations in France including the monarchist, antisemitic and xenophobic Action Française. Another among the most influential factions of the right was Croix-de-Feu (Cross of Fire), which gradually moderated its positions during the early years of the war and grew increasingly popular among the aging veterans of World War I.
Despite some differences in their positions on certain issues, these organizations were united in their opposition to parliamentarism, a stance that had led them to participate in demonstrations, most notably the so-called riots of 6 February 1934. At about the same time, La Cagoule, a fascist paramilitary organization, launched various actions aimed at destabilizing the Third Republic; these efforts continued until La Cagoule could be infiltrated and dismantled in 1937.
Like the founder of Action Française, Charles Maurras, for whom the collapse of the Republic was famously acclaimed as a "divine surprise", thousands not only welcomed the Vichy régime but collaborated with it to one degree or another, but the powerful appeal of French nationalism drove others to engage in resistance against the occupying German forces.
In 1942, after an ambiguous period of collaboration, the former leader of Croix de Feu, François de La Rocque, founded the Klan Network, which provided information to the British intelligence services. Georges Loustaunau-Lacau and Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who had both supported La Cagoule, founded the Alliance network, and Colonel Groussard, of the Vichy secret services, founded the Gilbert network. Some members of Action Française engaged in the Résistance with similar nationalistic motives. Some prominent examples are Daniel Cordier, who became Jean Moulin's secretary, and Colonel Rémy, who founded the Confrérie Notre-Dame. These groups also included Pierre de Bénouville, who, together with Henri Frenay, led the Combat group, and Jacques Renouvin, who founded the group of resisters known as Liberté.
Sometimes contact with others in the Résistance led some operatives to adopt new political philosophies. Many gradually moved away from their antisemitic prejudices and their hatred of 'démocrassouille', 'dirty democracy' (which many equated with mob rule), or simply away from their traditional grass-roots conservatism. Bénouville and Marie-Madeleine Fourcade became députés in the French parliament after the war; François Mitterrand moved towards the left and joined the Résistance, Henri Frenay evolved towards European socialism, and Daniel Cordier, whose family had supported Maurras for three generations, abandoned his views in favor of the ideology of the republican Jean Moulin.
The historian Jean-Pierre Azéma coined the term vichysto-résistant to describe those who at first supported the Vichy regime (mostly based on the patriotic image of Pétain rather than the Révolution Nationale) but later joined the Résistance. The founder of Ceux de la Libération ("Those of the Liberation"), Maurice Ripoche, initially defended Vichy but soon placed the liberation of France above all other goals and in 1941 opened his movement to leftists. In contrast, many extreme right-wing members of the Résistance, such as Gabriel Jeantet and Jacques Le Roy Ladurie, never renounced their tolerant attitudes towards Vichy.
The Affiche Rouge (red placard) was a famous propaganda poster distributed by the Vichy French and German authorities in the spring of 1944 in occupied Paris. It was intended to discredit a group of 23 Franc-Tireurs known as the "Manouchian group". After its members were arrested, tortured and publicly tried, they were executed by firing squad in Fort Mont-Valérien on 21 February 1944. The poster emphasized the composition of the group's membership, many of whom were Jews and communists, to discredit the Résistance as not "French" enough in its fundamental allegiance and motivations.
The Vichy régime had legal authority in both the north of France, which was occupied by the German Wehrmacht; and the southern "free zone", where the régime's administrative center, Vichy, was located. Vichy voluntarily and willfully collaborated with Nazi Germany and adopted a policy of persecution towards Jews, demonstrated by the passage of antisemitic legislation as early as October 1940. The Statute on Jews, which legally redefined French Jews as a non-French lower class, deprived them of citizenship. According to Philippe Pétain's chief of staff, "Germany was not at the origin of the anti-Jewish legislation of Vichy. That legislation was spontaneous and autonomous." The laws led to confiscations of property, arrests and deportations to concentration camps. As a result of the fate promised them by Vichy and the Germans, Jews were over-represented at all levels of the French Résistance. Studies show that although Jews in France constituted only 1% of the French population, they comprised ~ 15-20% of the Résistance. Among these were many Jewish émigrés, such as Hungarian artists and writers.
The Jewish youth movement Eclaireuses et Eclaireurs israélites de France (EEIF), equivalent to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in other countries, had, during the early years of the occupation, shown support for the Vichy regime's traditional values, until it was banned in 1943, after which its older members soon formed armed resistance units. A militant Jewish Zionist resistance organization, the Jewish Army (Armée Juive), was founded in 1942 by Abraham Polonski, Lucien Lublin, David Knut and their wives. They continued armed resistance under a Zionist flag until liberation finally arrived. The Armée juive organized escape routes across the Pyrenées to Spain, and smuggled about 300 Jews out of the country during 1943-44. They distributed millions of dollars from the American Joint Distribution Committee to relief organizations and fighting units within France. In 1944, the EIF and the Jewish Army combined to form the Organisation Juive de Combat (OJC). The OJC had four hundred members by the summer of 1944, and participated in the liberations of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Grenoble and Nice.
In the southern occupation zone, the Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants (roughly, Children's Relief Effort), a French-Jewish humanitarian organization commonly called OSE, saved the lives of between seven and nine thousand Jewish children by forging papers, smuggling them into neutral countries and sheltering them in orphanages, schools and convents.
The Armenian community of France played an active role in the Résistance. Armenian poet and communist Missak Manouchian became one of the leaders of the French Résistance and commander of the Manouchian Group (the family of Charles Aznavour had supported Missak and his wife Meliné when they were in hiding). Arpen Tavitian, another executed member of the Manouchian group, industrialist Napoléon Bullukian (1905-1984), poets Kégham Atmadjian (1910-1940) and Rouben Melik were other famous participants in the French Résistance. The Anti-Fascist Underground Patriotic Organization was also commanded by Armenian officiers. Armenian-French writer Luiza Aslanean (1906-1945), another French Résistance activist, was arrested among with her husband in 1944, taken to a concentration camp by Nazis and killed. Many of her manuscripts and diaries were confiscated by Nazis. Resisters Alexander Kazarian and Bardukh Petrosian were awarded by the highest military orders of France by General Charles de Gaulle. Henri Karayan (1921-2011), a member of the Manouchian Group, participated in illegal distribution of L'Humanité in Paris and was engaged in armed struggle until the Libération. In 2012, 95-year-old Arsene Tchakarian, the last survivor of the Manouchian resistance group who fought against occupying Nazi German forces during World War II, was decorated as Officer of the Legion of Honor by the president of France.
Although inequalities persisted under the Third Republic, the cultural changes that followed World War I allowed differences in the treatment of men and women in France to narrow gradually, with some women assuming political responsibilities as early as the 1930s. The defeat of France in 1940 and the appointment of the Vichy régime's conservative leader, Philippe Pétain, undermined feminism, and France began a restructuring of society based on the "femme au foyer" or "women at home" imperative. On at least one occasion, Pétain spoke out to French mothers about their patriotic duty:
Mothers of France, our native land, yours is the most difficult task but also the most gratifying. You are, even before the state, the true educators. You alone know how to inspire in all [our youth] the inclination for work, the sense of discipline, the modesty, the respect, that give men character and make nations strong.
Despite opposing the collaborationist regime, the French Résistance generally sympathized with its antifeminism and did not encourage the participation of women in war and politics, following, in the words of historian Henri Noguères, "a notion of inequality between the sexes as old as our civilization and as firmly implanted in the Résistance as it was elsewhere in France". Consequently, women in the Résistance were less numerous than men and averaged only 11% of the members in the formal networks and movements. Women involved in the Résistance were usually confined to subordinate roles. Lucie Aubrac, the iconic resister and co-founder of Libération-Sud, was never assigned a specific role in the hierarchy of the movement. Hélène Viannay, one of the founders of Défense de la France and married to a man who shared her political views, was never permitted to express her opinions in the underground newspaper, and her husband took two years to arrive at political conclusions she had held for many years.
Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the only female leader in the Résistance, headed the Alliance network. The Organisation Civile et Militaire had a female wing headed by Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux, who took part in setting up the Œuvre de Sainte-Foy to assist prisoners in French jails and German concentration camps. But no women were chosen to lead any of the eight major Résistance movements. After the liberation of France, the provisional government appointed no women ministers or commissaires de la République.
Networks and movements
In this context, it is customary to distinguish the various organizations of the French Résistance as movements or networks.
A Résistance network was an organization created for a specific military purpose, usually intelligence-gathering, sabotage or aiding Allied air crews who had been shot down behind enemy lines. A Résistance movement, on the other hand, was focused on educating and organizing the population, i.e., "to raise awareness and organize the people as broadly as possible."
In July 1940, after the defeat of the French armies and the consequent armistice with Germany, British prime minister Winston Churchill asked the Free French government-in-exile (headed by General Charles de Gaulle) to set up a secret service agency in occupied France to counter the threat of a German operation code-named Operation Sea Lion, the expected cross-channel invasion of Britain. Colonel André Dewavrin (also known as Colonel Passy), who had previously worked for France's military intelligence service, the Deuxième Bureau, took on the responsibility for creating such a network. Its principal goal was to inform London of German military operations on the Atlantic coast and in the English Channel. The spy network was called the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action (BCRA), and its actions were carried out by volunteers who were parachuted into France to create and nourish local Résistance cells.
Of the nearly two thousand volunteers who were active by the end of the war, one of the most effective and well-known was the agent Gilbert Renault, who was awarded the Ordre de la Libération and later the Légion d'honneur for his deeds. Known mainly by the pseudonym Colonel Rémy, he returned to France in August 1940 not long after the surrender of France, where the following November he organized one of the most active and important Résistance networks of the BCRA, the Confrérie de Notre Dame (Brotherhood of Our Lady), which provided the Allies with photographs, maps and important information on German defenses in general and the Atlantic Wall in particular. From 1941 on, networks such as these allowed the BCRA to send armed parachutists, weapons and radio equipment into France to carry out missions.
Another important BCRA operative, Henri Honoré d'Estienne d'Orves, a naval officer, developed a 26-person network in France. He was betrayed, arrested in May 1941, and shot on 29 August 1941.
Christian Pineau, one of the founders of the Libération Nord movement, also had BCRA roots. During his trip to London in April 1942, the BCRA entrusted him with the creation of two new intelligence systems, Phalanx and Cohors-Asturies. Both networks proved vital later in the war.
Mouvements Unis de la Résistance (Unified Movements of the Resistance, MUR) was a French Résistance organization resulting from the regrouping of three major Résistance movements ("Combat", "Franc-Tireur" and "Libération-Sud") in January 1943. Later that year, the BCRA and the United Movements of Résistance merged their intelligence networks.
Another BCRA appendage was called Gallia, a fact-gathering network specializing in military intelligence and police activities. Its importance increased throughout the second half of 1943 and into the spring of 1944. It eventually became the largest BCRA network in the Vichy zone, employing about 2500 sources, contacts, couriers and analysts. Gallia's work did not stop after the 1944 landings in Normandy and Provence; it provided information to the Allies that allowed for the bombing of the retreating German armies' military targets.
Foreigners in the Résistance
Following their defeat in the Spanish Civil War in early 1939, about half a million Spanish Republicans fled to France to escape imprisonment or execution. On the north side of the Pyrenees, such refugees were confined in internment camps such as Camp Gurs and Camp Vernet. Although over half of these had been repatriated to Spain (or elsewhere) by the time Pétain proclaimed the Vichy Régime in 1940, the 120,000 to 150,000 who remained became political prisoners, and the foreign equivalent to the Service du Travail Obligatoire, the Compagnies de Travailleurs Étrangers (Companies of Foreign Workers) or CTE, began to pursue them for slave labor. The CTE permitted prisoners to leave the internment camps if they agreed to work in German factories, but as many as 60,000 Republicans recruited for the labor service managed to escape and join the French Résistance. Thousands of suspected anti-fascist Republicans were deported to German concentration camps instead, however. Most were sent to Mauthausen where, of the ten thousand Spaniards registered, only two thousand survived the war.
Many Spanish escapees joined French Résistance groups; others formed their own autonomous groups which became known as the Spanish maquis. In April 1942, Spanish communists formed an organization called the XIV Corps, an armed guerrilla movement of about 3,400 combatants by June 1944. Although the group first worked closely with the Franc Tireurs et Partisans (FTP), it re-formed as the Agrupación de Guerrilleros Españoles (Spanish Guerrilla Group, AGE) in May 1944. The name change was intended to convey the group's composition: Spanish soldiers ultimately advocating the fall of General Francisco Franco. After the German army had been driven from France, the Spanish maquis refocused on Spain.
From spring 1943, German and Austrian anti-fascists who had fought in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War fought in Lozère and the Cévennes alongside the French Résistance in the Francs-tireurs et Partisans. During the first years of the occupation they had been employed in the CTE, but following the German invasion of the southern zone in 1942 the threat increased and many joined the maquis. They were led by militant German communist Otto Kühne, a former member of the Reichstag in the Weimar Republic who had over 2,000 Germans in the FTP under his command by July 1944. He fought the Nazis directly, as in an April 1944 battle in Saint-Étienne-Vallée-Française in which his soldiers destroyed a Feldgendarmerie unit, or in an ambush of the Waffen-SS on June 5, 1944.
400 men from Luxembourg, many of whom had refused to serve in, or who had deserted from, the German Wehrmacht, left their tiny country to fight in the French maquis, where they were particularly active in the regions of Lyon, Grenoble and the Ardennes although many of them were killed in the war. Others, like Antoine Diederich, rose to high rank in the Résistance. Diederich, known only as "Capitaine Baptiste", had 77 maquis soldiers under his command and is best known for attacking Riom prison, where he and his fighters freed every one of 114 inmates who had been sentenced to death.
Many Hungarian émigrés, some of them Jewish, were artists and writers working in Paris at the time of the occupation. They had gone to Paris in the 1920s & 1930s to escape repression in their homeland. Many joined the Résistance, where they were particularly active in the regions of Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille and Toulouse. Jewish resisters included Imre Epstein in the Hungarian group at Toulouse; György Vadnai (future Lausanne rabbi) at Lyon; the writer Emil Szittya at Limoges. Also participating were the painter Sándor Józsa, the sculptor István Hajdú (Étienne Hajdu), the journalists László Kőrös and Imre Gyomrai; the photographers Andor (André) Steiner, Lucien Hervé and Ervin Martón. Tamás Elek (1924–1944), Imre Glasz (1902–1944) and József Boczor (1905–1944) were among 23 resisters executed for their work with the legendary Manouchian Group. The Germans executed nearly 1,100 Jewish resisters of different nationalities during the occupation, while others were killed in action.
On March 3, 1943, representatives of the Italian Communist Party and Italian Socialist Party who had taken refuge in France, signed the "Pact of Lyon" which marked the beginning of their participation in the Résistance. Italians were particularly numerous in the Hitler-annexed Moselle industrial area, where they played a determining role in the creation of the Département's main resistance organization, Groupe Mario. Vittorio Culpo is an example of Italians in the French Resistance.
Polish resistance in France during World War II
The majority of the Polish soldiers, and some Polish civilians, who stayed in France after the German victory in 1940, as well as one Polish pilot shot down over France (one of many Polish pilots flying for the RAF), joined the French Résistance, notably including Tony Halik and Aleksander Kawałkowski.
While not formally part of the French Résistance, French-speaking Cajun soldiers in the United States military posed as local civilians in France to channel American assistance to the Résistance. Cajun soldiers also served as French translators for American officers, and successfully procured intelligence from local authorities and civilians in France, Belgium and North Africa.
Beginnings of a coordinated resistance
From 1940 to 1942, the first years of the German occupation of France, there was no systematically organized Résistance capable of coordinated fighting throughout France. Active opposition to the German and Vichy authorities was sporadic, and carried out only by a tiny and fragmented set of operatives. Most French men and women put their faith in the Vichy government and its figurehead, Marshal Pétain, who continued to be widely regarded as the "savior" of France, opinions which persisted until their unpopular policies, and their collaboration with the foreign occupiers, became broadly apparent.
The earliest Résistance organizations had no contact with the western Allies, and received no material aid from London or anywhere else. Consequently, most focused on generating nationalist propaganda through the distribution of underground newspapers. Many of the major movements, such as Défense de la France, were centered around their newspapers. Even after they became more intensively activist, propaganda and the cultivation of positive morale remained, until the very end of the war, their most important concerns.
Early acts of violent resistance were often motivated more by instinct and fighting spirit than by any formal ideology, but later several distinct political alignments and visions of post-liberation France developed among the Résistance organizations. These differences sometimes resulted in conflicts, but the differences among Résistance factions were usually papered over by their shared opposition to Vichy and the Germans; and over time, the various elements of the Résistance began to unite.
Many of the networks recruited and controlled by the British and Americans were not perceived by the French as particularly interested in establishing a united or integrated Résistance operation, and the guerrilla groups controlled by the communists were only slightly more attracted by the idea of joining of a Résistance "umbrella" organization. Nonetheless, a contact between de Gaulle's envoys and the communists was established at the end of 1942. The liberation of Corsica in September 1943, a clear demonstration of the strength of communist insurgency, was accomplished by the FTP, an effective force not yet integrated into the Secret Army and not involved with General Henri Giraud, the Free French or the political unification of the Résistance.
The French Résistance began to unify in 1941. This was evidenced by the formation of movements in the Vichy zone centered on such figures as Henri Frenay (Combat), Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie (Libération-Sud), and François de Menthon, (Liberté), each of whom was, independently, an agent of the Free French. Formal consolidation was accomplished through the intervention of Jean Moulin.
Prefect of Eure-et-Loir in 1939, Moulin was subsequently a part of the Air Ministry of Pierre Cot. In this context, he had forged a strong network of relationships in anti-fascist circles. Some time after November 1940, the idea of teaming up with his former colleague, Gaston Cusin, to identify and contact a number of potential Résistance "centers of influence" occurred to him; but only during the summer of 1941 was he able to make the most critical contacts, including contact with Henri Frenay, leader of the movement not yet called Combat but still known as the National Liberation Movement. He also established contact with de Menthon and Emmanuel d'Astier. In the report he wrote for de Gaulle, he spoke of these three movements and entertained the possibility of bringing them together under the acronym "LLL".
Jean Moulin's intercession
The majority of resistance movements in France were unified after Moulin's formation of the Conseil National de la Résistance (CNR) in May 1943. CNR was coordinated with the Free French forces under the authority of French Generals Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle and their body, the Comité Français de Libération Nationale (CFLN).
By June 1941, 81% of the miners of the national coal mining company, Charbonnages de France, were on strike, slowing deliveries of coal to German industrial plants supporting the war effort.
The first action of many Résistance movements was the publication and distribution of clandestine press material. This was not the case with all movements, since some refused civil action and preferred armed resistance by groups such as CDLR and CDLL. Most clandestine newspapers were not consistent in their editorial stance and often consisted of only a single sheet, because the sale of all raw materials –- paper, ink, stencils –- was prohibited.
By 1942, however, about 300,000 copies of underground publications reached around two million readers. Resistance workers used friendly print-shop facilities at night. Staff risked the Germans noticing that a resistance newspaper used the same type face as officially sanctioned documents. Profession-specific newspapers also existed. Le Médecin Français advised doctors to immediately approve known collaborators for Service du travail obligatoire while medically disqualifying everyone else. La Terre advised farmers on how to send food to resistance members. Bulletin des Chemins de Fer encouraged railroad workers to sabotage German transportation. Unter Uns ("Among Us"), published in German for the occupiers, printed stories of German defeats on the eastern front.
In the northern zone, Pantagruel, the newspaper of Franc-Tireur, had a circulation of 10,000 by June 1941 but was quickly replaced by Libération-Nord which attained a circulation of 50,000, and by January 1944 Défense de la France was distributing 450,000 copies. In the southern zone, François de Menthon's newspaper Liberté merged with Henri Frenay's Vérité to form Combat in December 1941, which grew to a circulation of 200,000 by 1944. During the same period Pantagruel brought out 37 issues, Libération-Sud 54 and Témoignage chrétien 15.
The underground press brought out books as well as newspapers through publishing houses, such as Les Éditions de Minuit (the Midnight Press), which had been set up to circumvent Vichy and German censorship. The 1942 novel Le Silence de la Mer ("The Silence of the Sea"), by Jean Bruller, quickly became a symbol of mental resistance through its story of how an old man and his niece refused to speak to the German officer occupying their house.
The intelligence networks were by far the most numerous and substantial of Résistance activities. They collected information of military value, such as coastal fortifications of the Atlantic Wall or Wehrmacht deployments. The BCRA and the different British intelligence services often competed with one another to gather the most valuable information from their Résistance networks in France.
The first agents of the Free French to arrive from Britain landed on the coast of Brittany as early as July 1940. They were Lieutenants Mansion, Saint-Jacques and Corvisart and Colonel Rémy, and didn't hesitate to get in touch with the anti-Germans within the Vichy military such as Georges Loustaunau-Lacau and Georges Groussard.
The various Résistance movements in France had to understand the value of intelligence networks in order to be recognized or receive subsidies from the BCRA or the British. The intelligence service of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans was known by the code letters FANA and headed by Georges Beyer, the brother-in-law of Charles Tillon. Information from such services was often used as a bargaining chip to qualify for airdrops of weapons.
The transmission of information was first done by radio transmitter. Later, when air links by the Westland Lysander became more frequent, some information was also channeled through these couriers. By 1944, the BCRA was receiving 1,000 telegrams by radio every day and 2,000 plans every week. Many radio operators, called pianistes, were located by German goniometers. Their dangerous work gave them an average life expectancy of around six months. According to the historian Jean-François Muracciole, "Throughout the war, how to communicate remained the principal difficulty of intelligence networks. Not only were the operators few and inept, but their information was dangerous."
Sabotage was a form of resistance adopted by groups who wanted to go beyond just distributing clandestine press publications. Many laboratories were set up to manufacture explosives. In August 1941, the Parisian chemist France Bloch-Sérazin assembled a small laboratory in her apartment to provide explosives to communist Résistance fighters. The lab also produced cyanide capsules to allow the fighters to evade torture if arrested. Indeed, she herself was arrested in February 1942, tortured, and deported to Hamburg where she was beheaded with an ax in February 1943. In the southern occupation zone, Jacques Renouvin engaged in the same activities on behalf of groups of francs-tireurs.
Stealing dynamite from the Germans eventually took preference over handcrafting explosives. The British Special Operations Executive also parachuted tons of explosives to its agents in France for essential sabotage missions. The railways were a favorite target of saboteurs, who soon understood that removing bolts from the tracks was far more efficient than planting explosives.
Train-derailment strategies varied considerably in their effectiveness. The Germans managed to repair the tracks quickly in agricultural areas with level ground, since the salvage of some matériel was a relatively easy proposition in such terrain. But unbolting a connector plate on an outside rail in a mountainous area (given the higher speed of trains going downhill) could result in the derailment of an entire train with considerable amounts of front-ready matériel strewn far down the mountainside. Among the SNCF employees who joined the resistance, a subset were in Résistance-Fer which focused on reporting the movement of German troops to the Allied forces and sabotaging the railways' rolling stock as well as their infrastructure. Following the invasions of Normandy and Provence in 1944, the sabotage of rail transport became much more frequent and effectively prevented some German troop deployments to the front and hindered the subsequent retreat of German occupying forces.
Generally, the sabotage of equipment leaving armaments factories and derailment in areas where equipment could not readily be salvaged was a more discreet form of resistance, and probably at least as effective as bombing. Available Allied military aircraft was far less vulnerable as well, and so could provide combat support. It was also preferred since it caused less collateral damage and fewer civilian casualties than Allied bombing.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, communists engaged in guerrilla warfare, attacking German forces in French cities. In July 1942, the Allies' failure to open a second front resulted in a wave of communist guerrilla attacks aimed at maximizing the number of Germans deployed in the West to give the USSR military relief.
The assassinations that took place during summer and autumn 1941, starting with Colonel Pierre-Georges Fabien's shooting of a German officer in the Paris Métro, caused fierce reprisals and executions of hundreds of French hostages. As a result, the clandestine press was very discreet about the events and the communists soon decided to discontinue the assassinations.
From July to October 1943, groups in Paris engaging in attacks against occupying soldiers were better organized. Joseph Epstein was assigned responsibility for training Résistance fighters across the city, and his new commandos of fifteen men perpetrated a number of attacks that could not have been carried out before. The commandos were drawn from the foreign branch of the Franc Tireurs et Partisans, and the most famous of them was the Manouchian Group.
Role in the liberation of France and casualties
Defining the precise role of the French Résistance during the German occupation, or assessing its military importance alongside the Allied Forces during the liberation of France, is difficult. The two forms of resistance, active and passive, and the north-south occupational divide, allow for many different interpretations, but what can broadly be agreed on is a synopsis of the events which took place.
Following the surrender of fascist Italy in September 1943, a significant example of Résistance strength was displayed when the Corsican Résistance joined forces with the Free French to liberate the island from General Albert Kesselring's remaining German forces.
On mainland France itself, in the wake of the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944, the FFI and the communist fighting groups FTP, theoretically unified under the command of General Pierre Kœnig, fought alongside the Allies to free the rest of France. Several color-coded plans were co-ordinated for sabotage, most importantly Plan Vert (Green) for railways, Plan Bleu (Blue) for power installations and Plan Violet (Purple) for telecommunications. To complement these missions, smaller plans were drafted: Plan Rouge (Red) for German ammunition depots, Plan Jaune (Yellow) for German command posts, Plan Noir (Black) for German fuel depots and Plan Tortue (Tortoise) for road traffic. Their paralysis of German infrastructure is widely thought to have been very effective. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later wrote in his memoirs praising the role the Résistance played in the liberation of Brittany, "The French Resistance Movement, which here numbered 30,000 men, played a notable part, and the peninsula was quickly overrun."
The Liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944, with the support of Leclerc's French 2nd Armored Division, was one of the most famous and glorious moments of the French Résistance. Although it is again difficult to gauge their effectiveness precisely, popular anti-German demonstrations, such as general strikes by the Paris Métro, the gendarmerie and the police, took place, and fighting ensued.
The liberation of most of southwestern, central and southeastern France was finally fulfilled with the arrival of the 1st French Army of General de Lattre de Tassigny, which landed in Provence in August 1944 and was backed by over 25,000 maquis.
Throughout France, the Free French had been of inestimable value in the campaign. They were particularly active in Brittany, but on every portion of the front we secured help from them in a multitude of ways. Without their great assistance, the liberation of France and the defeat of the enemy in Western Europe would have consumed a much longer time and meant greater losses to ourselves.
General Eisenhower also estimated the value of the Résistance to have been equal to ten to fifteen divisions at the time of the landings. (One infantry division comprised about ten thousand soldiers.) Eisenhower's statements are all the more credible since he based them on his GHQ's formal analyses and published them only after the war, when propaganda was no longer a motive. Historians still debate how effective the French Résistance was militarily, but the neutralization of the Maquis du Vercors alone involved the commitment of over 10,000 German troops within the theater, with several more thousands held in reserve, as the Allied invasion was advancing from Normandy and French Operation Jedburgh commandos were being dropped nearby to the south to prepare for the Allied landing in Provence.
It is estimated that FFI killed some 2,000 Germans, a low estimate based on the figures from June 1944 only. Estimates of the casualties among the Résistance are made harder by the dispersion of movements at least until D-Day, but credible estimates start from 8,000 dead in action, 25,000 shot and several tens of thousands deported, of whom 27,000 died in death camps. For perspective, the best estimate is that 86,000 were deported from France without racial motive, overwhelmingly comprising resistance fighters and more than the number of Gypsies and Jews deported from France.
Immediately following the liberation, France was swept by a wave of executions, public humiliations, assaults and detentions of suspected collaborators, known as the épuration sauvage (savage purge). This period succeeded the German occupational administration but preceded the authority of the French Provisional Government, and consequently lacked any form of institutional justice. Approximately 9,000 were executed, mostly without trial, notably including members and leaders of the milices. In one case, as many as 77 milices members were summarily executed at once. An inquest into the issue of summary executions launched by Jules Moch, the Minister of the Interior, came to the conclusion that there were 9 673 summary executions. A second inquest in 1952 separated out 8 867 executions of suspected collaborators and 1 955 summary executions for which the motive of killing was not known, giving a total of 10 822 executions.
Head-shaving was a common feature of the purges, and between 10,000 and 30,000 women accused of having collaborated with the Germans or having had relationships with German soldiers or officers were subjected to the practice, becoming known as les tondues (the shorn).
The official épuration légale began following a June 1944 decree that established a three-tier system of judicial courts: a High Court of Justice which dealt with Vichy ministers and officials; Courts of Justice for other serious cases of collaboration; and regular Civic Courts for lesser cases of collaboration. Over 700 collaborators were executed following proper legal trials. This initial phase of the purge trials ended with a series of amnesty laws passed between 1951 & 1953 which reduced the number of imprisoned collaborators from 40,000 to 62, and was followed by a period of official "repression" that lasted between 1954 & 1971. During this period, and particularly after de Gaulle's return to power in 1958, the collective memory of "Résistancialisme" tended toward a highly resistant France opposed to the collaboration of the Vichy regime. This period ended when the aftermath of the events of May 1968, which had divided French society between the conservative war generation and the younger, more liberal students and workers, led many to question the Résistance ideals promulgated by the official history.
The questioning of France's past had become a national obsession by the 1980s, fuelled by the highly publicized trials of war criminals such as Klaus Barbie and Maurice Papon. Although the occupation is often still a sensitive subject in the early 21st century, contrary to some interpretations the French as a whole have acknowledged their past and no longer deny their conduct during the war.
After the war, the influential French Communist Party (PCF) projected itself as "Le Parti des Fusillés" (The Party of Those Shot), in recognition of the thousands of communists executed for their Résistance activities. The number of communists killed was in reality considerably less than the Party's figure of 75,000, and it is now estimated that close to 30,000 Frenchmen of all political movements combined were shot, of whom only a few thousand were communists.
The Vichy Regime's prejudicial policies had discredited traditional conservatism in France by the end of the war, but following the liberation many former Pétainistes became critical of the official résistancialisme, using expressions such as "la mythe de la Résistance" (the myth of the Résistance), one of them even concluding, "The 'Gaullist' régime is therefore built on a fundamental lie."
The French Résistance has had a great influence on literature, particularly in France. A famous example is the poem "Strophes pour se souvenir", which was written by the communist academic Louis Aragon in 1955 to commemorate the heroism of the Manouchian Group, whose 23 members were shot by the Nazis.
In the immediate postwar years, French cinema produced a number of films that portrayed a France broadly present in the Résistance. La Bataille du rail (1946) depicted the courageous efforts of French railway workers to sabotage German reinforcement trains, and in the same year Le Père tranquille told the story of a quiet insurance agent secretly involved in the bombing of a factory. Collaborators were unflatteringly portrayed as a rare unpopular minority, as played by Pierre Brewer in Jéricho (also 1946) or Serge Reggiani in Les Portes de la nuit (1946 as well), and movements such as the Milice were rarely evoked.
In the 1950s, a less heroic interpretation of the Résistance to the occupation gradually began to emerge. In Claude Autant-Lara's La Traversée de Paris (1956), the portrayal of the city's black market and the prevailing general mediocrity disclosed the reality of war-profiteering during the occupation. In the same year, Robert Bresson presented A Man Escaped, in which an imprisoned Résistance activist works with a reformed collaborator inmate to help him escape. A cautious reappearance of the image of Vichy emerged in Le Passage du Rhin (The Crossing of the Rhine)(1960), in which a crowd successively acclaims both Pétain and de Gaulle.
After General de Gaulle's return to power in 1958, the portrayal of the Résistance returned to its earlier résistancialisme. In this manner, in Is Paris Burning? (1966), "the role of the resistant was revalued according to [de Gaulle's] political trajectory". The comic form of films such as La Grande Vadrouille (also 1966) broadened the image of Résistance heroes in the minds of average Frenchmen. The most famous and critically acclaimed of all the résistancialisme movies is L'armée des ombres (Army of Shadows) by French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville in 1969, a film inspired by Joseph Kessel's 1943 book as well as Melville's own experience as a Résistance fighter who participated in Operation Dragoon. A 1995 television screening of L'armée des ombres described it as "the best film made about the fighters of the shadows, those anti-heroes."
The shattering of France's résistancialisme following the events of May 1968 was made particularly clear in French cinema. The candid approach of the 1971 documentary The Sorrow and the Pity shone a spotlight on antisemitism in France and disputed the official Résistance ideals. Time magazine's positive review of the film wrote that director Marcel Ophüls "tries to puncture the bourgeois myth —- or protectively skew memory -— that allows France generally to act as if hardly any Frenchmen collaborated with the Germans."
Franck Cassenti, with L'Affiche Rouge (1976); Gilson, with La Brigade (1975); and Mosco with the documentary Des terroristes à la retraite addressed foreign resisters of the EGO, who were then relatively unknown. In 1974, Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien caused scandal and polemic for his lack of moral judgment regarding the behavior of a collaborator. Malle later portrayed the resistance of Catholic priests who protected Jewish children in his 1987 film Au revoir, les enfants. François Truffaut's 1980 film Le Dernier Métro was set during the German occupation of Paris and won ten Césars for its story of a theatrical production staged while its Jewish director is concealed by his wife in the theater's basement. The 1980s began to portray the resistance of working women, as in Blanche et Marie (1984). Later, Jacques Audiard's Un héros très discret (1996) told the story of a young man's traveling to Paris and manufacturing a Résistance past for himself, suggesting that many heroes of the Résistance were impostors. In 1997 Claude Berri produced the biopic Lucie Aubrac based on the life of the Résistance heroine of the same name, which was criticized for its Gaullist portrayal of the Résistance and its overemphasizing the relationship between Aubrac and her husband.
The well-known personalities of France - intellectuals, artists, and entertainers - faced a serious dilemma in choosing to emigrate or to remain in France during the country's occupation. They understood that their post-war reputations would depend, in large part, on their conduct during the war years. Most who remained in France aimed to defend and further French culture and thereby weaken the German hold on occupied France. Some were later ostracized following accusations that they had collaborated. Among those who actively fought in the Resistance, a number died for it - for instance the writer Jean Prévost, the philosopher and mathematician Jean Cavaillès, the historian Marc Bloch, and the philosopher Jean Gosset; among those who survived and went on to reflect on their experience, a particularly visible one was André Malraux.
Among prominent foreign figures who participated in the French Résistance was the political scientist and later Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar. After serving as the prime minister and strong man of the authoritarian Shah regime in Iran, he was forced back into Paris in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution. He was assassinated on order of the Iranian Islamic Republic in 1991.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to French resistance.|
- Encarta Encyclopedia – History of France – The Resistance (Archived 2009-10-31)
- History Learning Site – The French Resistance
- Spartacus Educational – The French Resistance
- Geocities.com – Jean Moulin and the French Resistance at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
- SOE Agents in France – Secret agents sent to work with the French Resistance
- Northwest Historical Association – Building the French Resistance Movement, 1940–1944
- Order of the Liberation – Chronology 1940–1945
- Special Forces Roll of Honour – French Secret Agents
- European Resistance Archive – Video Interviews with Resistance Members
- Pierre Albert – The Journalism of the French Resistance
- Rebecca Halbreich, The San Francisco State University – Women in the French Resistance
- The short film School for Danger (1943) is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]