French Resistance of the Nazis
Before World War II, Britain and France had declared war on Germany should it wage war against Poland which both had signed a pact with (Stackelberg 2007). France then had a minority Jews population of about 300,000 out of the total population of 45 million (Lawson, 1999). Out of the total number of Jews, 150, 000 were native Frenchmen while the rest were refugees.
Nevertheless, in 1940 (May), Germany invaded France and proceeded to occupy three- fifths of the country according to the armistice negotiated by Henri-Philippe Petain, forming a puppet French government at Vichy, an area which routed for cooperation with the Germans (Lawson, 1999). The armistice disbanded the French army but this settlement however angered the French citizens among them De Gaulle who had refused to surrender and ran into exile in Britain (Lawson, 1999) feeling that it would have been better to continue with the war.
The decrees issued by the ruling Germans were in tandem with the anti-Jews feelings that dominated Germany in the ‘30’s. The Jews who were not natives of France were singled out and put in labor camps which led to many deaths (Lawson, 1999). Many more of the Jews were deported to these labor cum death camps and in July 1942 the Germans demanded that the Jews be rounded up in the unoccupied France (Lawson, 1999). By the time France was liberated about 90,000 of the Jews had been executed. Throughout this period, the Jews reacted in various ways/patterns namely: armed resistance, alleviation, paralysis, evasion and compliance.
Some of the Jews under duress took to the side of the Nazi terror by accepting to be Judenrat or Kapos (Stackelberg 2007). The resistance: How did it start and operate? As soon as the Nazis occupied France, there emerged partisan groups that which started a sabotage of the Nazi government. They went by several names; freedom fighters, partisans, maquis and resistance. These groups were initially separate until the Allied invasion of France in 1944 when they were all called French resistance, fighting against German occupation of France (Lawson, 1999).
One of these groups of fighters were the Maquis who were rural-based group of the French resistors and were composed of men, who, in their quest to escape from conscription into forced labor had gone into the mountains (Stackelberg 2007). They organized themselves into a formidable group who fought to be free but later became an active resistance force (Lawson, 1999). Their operations in the southern parts of France involved harassing the German troops (Schoenbrun, 2004). The Maquis also assisted Jews, airmen allied to them and other people who were being pursued by Vichy- the collaborative Frenchmen (Rougeyron & McConnell, 1995).
They could also raid villages but mostly relied on cooperation from the locals. They numbered anything between some tens to thousands of women and men. They had diverse political views with some being communists, others nationalists and the remainder being anarchists or right-wings (Rougeyron & McConnell, 1995). This diversity is a reflection of the extent to which the subjugated French worked towards attaining freedom. They received supplies and aids from the British and sabotaged Germans for instance; they caused a delay of the Germans when Normandy was invaded by the Allied forces.
Their culture involved putting on Basque berets because it could not raise suspicion but could aid the Maquis to know each other. Vichyists and Extreme rightists, some of whom had refused anti-Semitic laws were part of those who carried out demonstrations with some of their members providing information to the British Intelligence Services which went into aiding of French freedom (Lawson, 1999). Their political philosophies many a times changed as the individuals in this group interacted with members of other resistance forces.
Some of them some abandoned their hatred for the Semites and resorted to a kind of democracy (Lawson, 1999). In short, they transformed their ideologies from communistic to capitalistic ones. Economically there was also some resistance especially as led by miners in France’s coal mining firm who went on strike thus failing to supply coal to the Germans for use in their war industry. The Jews, who were the major targets, formed part of the resistance forces with their percentage in the force being considerable- between 15 and 20% even though they were about one percent of the entire French populace.
They had been deprived of citizenship, property, arrested and many more deported by the passing of an anti-Semitic legislation. This, coupled with the banning of their youth movement (EIF) prompted them to plunge into the armed resistance and struggle. These Jews aided in sheltering of children and women in neutral countries as well as forging papers for them (Rougeyron & McConnell, 1995). The French Communist Party which had strong ties with USSR and had orders from Moscow to take an anti-war position soon fell apart as some of the leaders could not house each other based on the stand the individuals took.
Others were collaborators while others found collaborating despicable leading to conflicts in the party. Communists therefore were in the forefront in the fight against repression its membership reaching an estimated figure of 100,000 by 1944 (Lawson, 1999). German’s intelligence agency and secret police infiltrated the Resistance in its earlier periods of operation but as time went by they developed codes, security structures and communication networks which protected their members an their information.
The Nazi government had earlier on banned political movements and these movements were the ones that formed the resistance movements. All those who were identified as communists or socialists were persecuted as partisan political groups spread propaganda that was against the Nazis (Lawson, 1999). Resistance groups later armed themselves, carrying out sabotage while at the same time issuing communiques to their loyal members (Schoenbrun, 2004). These communiques were in the clandestine press used only by some resistance groups as others resorted to guerilla warfare.
The sale of writing paraphernalia was forbidden and therefore the communiques were made short (Lawson, 1999). They could however be circulated in few hundred thousands of copies all across France. Those who could not be satisfied with the distribution of clandestine press resorted to setting up laboratories which could be used in explosives production. The salient feature here is that these resistors wanted to be more reactionary and annihilate the German forces en masse. As the war progressed there emerged underground newspapers which gave information to above one million readers.
What made their fight successful was the fact that the members of the struggle were known by code names, code units of operation or symbols. In addition to this, art embodied in poetry was also used to send coded messages or in identification of the members or of oneself as a member (Lawson, 1999). The most famous method of operation that they used was the pyramid- like command structure (Lawson, 1999) which made sure that no single member could be in contact with more than two other members of the partisan group and at the same time the membership remained unknown as there were no records which showed their number or origin.
This kind of operation ensured that if there were infiltrators, they could capture not more than two members of the partisan groups and thus the movement could continue with the struggle relatively well without being grounded (Lawson, 1999). Although we may refer to these partisans as partaking in armed struggle, many a times the executors of the German soldiers did not keep weapons as a security measure especially after Gestapo infiltrated the high echelons of the three member pyramid commands (Lawson, 1999).
Weapons would be ferried back to the storage areas through the use of couriers especially children who would not raise any suspicion from the Gestapos (Lawson, 1999). It should also be realized that Allied men were smuggled from Britain while keeping all openings for detection closed in addition to the underground rail line that they had built to ferry their weapons and the Allied men as well as facilitating communication of the coded messages.
The resistance was not restricted to the partisans alone since they were able to acquire supplies of radios that they could use in communicating their coded messages, messages which could be possible identified as those of the resistance but their codes made the information indecipherable. British Radio, which operated as the European underground radio rebroadcasted Jedburg and other resistance message. Jedburg were Allied teams of soldiers that were trained to enhance resistance and destroy the German lines of supply in addition to unification of the command of the partisans (Knight, 1998).
Conseil National de la resistance came into existence in 1944 when several French underground groups united so as to fight the Nazi government together. They acquired weapons and stocked them in readiness for an Allied French invasion. Around this time there were about 100,000 members of the resistance groups across France and in spring the same year the intelligence group had enlarged to about 60 cells (Lawson, 1999). Three thousand reports were written to the resistance forces and as many as seven hundred radio reports issued.
Destruction of the railroads followed which ensured that the Germans could not carry their supplies across France (Knight, 1998). In June the same year, urban partisans joined hands with the Allied forces in warfare that saw Charles de Gaulle return to France with some exiled French army. This was followed by uprisings all over Europe which saw many other members of the resistance waging war against enemy forces all over Europe. French collaborators were either punished severely or killed (Knight, 1998).
This however led to more suffering as the Gestapos often carried out reprisals on innocent French civilians leading to the extermination of 25,000 resistance members in France and the sending of another 25,000 into the German concentration camps. When German attacked Russia in the famous Operation Barbarossa, many French communists joined the resistance movement as politics as communists established themselves in the forefront as aggressive resistance members (Knight, 1998).
Compulsory or forced labor further aggrieved the French under the Vichy governance meaning that the joining of the resistance force was out of the unfavorable policies that the French were subjected to. Britain’s hand in the fight was evident as it assisted the supplies of equipment and training of the agents who later came to work as the “Jedburg” (Knight, 1998). The French resistance did supply vital intelligence services to the British. This intelligence information assisted the British succeed in their attack on the Bruneval radio station which, if they had not obtained the intelligence they would have lost a lot of lives.
De Gaulle had his base in Britain which implies that he had the support of the Britons in his quest for a free France. His Central Intelligence and Operations Agency was set up with the support of the British. All the agents who were being trained in Britain re-grouped the resistance movements forming the Conseil National de la Resistance. In addition to the above, the British-based Special Operations Executive (SOE) which had been established by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and had been destroyed after the defeat of France was revived in 1940 to give aid to French resistance (Lawson, 1999).
Millions of Francs were dropped from the air by the British or sent via couriers, something which gave the resistance an international face as opposed to a French only war. There was also one American who participated in the war: Lt. Rene Guiraud who was a spy in OSS, the American Military Intelligence organization (Knight, 1998). The inclusion of America in the French resistance was purely political since America wanted to satisfy its own needs via espionage (Lawson, 1999). Lt.
Guiraud had clear commands from his government to sabotage German’s war material facilities in addition to frustrating the efforts of German’s military units while posing as a French civilian (Knight, 1998). After being taken to Dachau concentration camp, he continued with resistance with other resistance spies of British origin but had also landed in the concentration camp (Knight, 1998). The French Holocaust led to the world responding in different ways. The U. S for instance denied or did not confirm printed articles by the American Press on the mistreatment of Jews by the Germans.
The officials also repressed the reports when they confirmed that there were mass murders in Germany. Winston Churchill, the British premier called for the bombing of the Auschwitz (Brendon, 2000). This is a view of the great powers then that could not do anything to save innocent victims. Still, Britain which emerged as the only European country that assisted France in a direct way could not give it trucks even in exchange for a million Jews, which Britain could not find anything to do with (Lawson, 1999). In 1944 however, Britain bombed Auschwitz railroad lines.
The general silence and inaction of the countries the world over led to the loss of several millions people (Stackelberg 2007). The economic strain created by the holocaust which had create a lot of refugees forced European countries to act in several ways for instance, the Bermuda Conference which was co-sponsored by Britain and America sought to address the problem of the refugees who were all over Europe but the conference was a failure. The response to the German subjugation led to women being in the forefront in the fight for liberation.
Chief among them was Madame Lauro (Stackelberg 2007) who is said to have poured hydrochloric acid on the food supplies meant for the Germans while in freight cars in French railroads (Knight, 1998). She worked alone and at night, an act that can be said to go against the culture of the time when women should have keeping their homes. Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was one time the head of a resistance movement the Alliance Reseau which apparently had its head quarters in the puppet state at Vichy. Conclusion
The French Nazi resistance started in quite a complex way in that the initiator was De Gaulle who apparently was in exile in Britain. The rejuvenation of the spirits of the Frenchmen after the war soared high. The resistance, as has been indicated in the paper took different forms; there were those that resorted to guerilla warfare while others took a different stance, engaging in demonstrations now and then. Generally, the struggle was sluggish and poorly coordinated and at the same time segmented, being carried on by separatist movements.
However, these groups of resistors conglomerated to produce a formidable force that fought the Germans leading to heavy casualties on the French side. Germans too lost a great deal in this fight as the railroad lines, soldiers and supplies were bombed. The role of the guerilla in this struggle cannot be underestimated and neither can the role of the Maquis be underrated in the struggle. This paper has also indicated the role played by the British government in the training of agents and giving homage to Frenchmen running away from the Germans.
They used the British Broadcasting Company in the relaying of coded messages to the fighters in addition to allowing De Gaulle to operate an Intelligence service in Britain. Dropping of supplies and other aids from air to the fighters as well as sending millions of francs via couriers implies that the Nazi resistance was political and this can be reinforced by the presence of an American Agent whose purpose was to infiltrate the German intelligence and Gestapos and frustrate their efforts
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