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; members of the Jewish community; 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 installed 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 a reasonably large army (1.2 million men) by VE Day in May 1945.
Following the fall 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. However, the German occupation authorities and the collaborationist Vichy régime soon began employing 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 German authorities' 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 one million French francs. (The artificial exchange rate of the reichsmark versus the franc had been established as one franc to twenty marks.) 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 labor. Labor shortages also plagued the French economy because hundreds of thousands of French workers were requisitioned and transferred to Germany for compulsory labor under the German program known as the Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO). The shortage of labor 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 thousands of hostages being extracted from the general population. A typical statement of policy read: "at 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 in order to intimidate others who were involved in acts of resistance. Occasionally, German troops engaged in massacres, such as the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane, where an entire village was razed and the population murdered 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; it was the Vichy equivalent to 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.
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, all of the working class, and a large majority of the peasants.
Journalist 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 only be a resister 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.
Inevitably, there is the question of how many were active in the Résistance. 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 who had substantial involvement in Résistance operations. The historian, Robert Paxton, estimated the number of active resisters to be "about 2% of the adult French population (or about 400,000)", and he also noted 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 he established his own bona fides as the principal defender of republican values. De Gaulle 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.
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. De Gaulle's influence grew in France, and by 1942 one resistance leader called him "the only possible leader for the France that fights".
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 a half-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, they led the drive towards Paris. The FFI in Normandy and the Île-de-France region surrounding Paris began to harass German forces intensely, cutting roads and railways, setting ambushes, as well as 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' "break-out" 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 it mauled several other German units as well. During the battle for Normandy, the division lost 133 men killed, 648 wounded, and 85 others went 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 force, and De Gaulle conducted a famous 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 Charles 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 anti-war position under orders from the Comintern in Moscow, which remained in place for the first year of the German occupation, mirroring the relationship 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 in November 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 began to actively 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 it 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 had 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 co-operating 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, guided 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.
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 following a previous 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 a result of the beginning of the Riom Trial 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; Jean-Baptiste Lebas, Isidore Thivrier, Amédée Dunois, Claude Jordery and Augustin Malroux died during their deportation.
Before the war, there were several organizations in France, such as the monarchist, anti-semitic, and xenophobic Action Française. Another among the most influential factions of the right was Croix-de-Feu (Cross of Fire). Croix-de-Feu gradually moderated its positions during the early years of the war, and it 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 welcomed the Vichy régime and collaborated also, to one degree or another. However, 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 anti-semitic prejudices and their hatred of 'démocrassouille', 'dirty democracy' (which many equated with mob rule), or simply away from their traditional roots-based 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 he soon placed the liberation of France above all other goals, and, in 1941, he opened his movement to leftists. In contrast, many extremist members of the Résistance, such as Gabriel Jeantet and Jacques Le Roy Ladurie, never renounced their tolerant attitudes towards Vichy.
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 the 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 the concentration camps. As a result of the fate they were promised by Vichy and the Germans, Jews were over-represented at all levels of the French Résistance. Studies show that although Jews in France only amounted to one percent of the French population, they comprised about fifteen to twenty percent 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, but it was banned in 1943. Its older members soon formed armed resistance units. A militant Jewish Zionist resistance organisation, the Jewish Army (Armée Juive), was founded in 1942 by Abraham Polonski, Lucien Lublin, David Knout, and their wives. They continued armed resistance under a Zionist flag until liberation finally arrived. The Armée juive organised escape routes across the Pyrenées to Spain, and they smuggled about 300 Jews out of the country during 1943 and 1944. 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 they also 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 to neutral countries, and sheltering them in orphanages, schools, and convents.
Although inequalities persisted under the Third Republic, the cultural changes that followed World War I allowed the differences in the treatment of men and women in France to gradually narrow, 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 [of 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 collaborating regime, the French Résistance generally sympathised with its antifeminism and did not encourage the participation of women in war and politics, following, in the words of the historian, Henri Noguères, "a notion of inequality between the sexes as old as our civilisation and as firmly implanted in the Résistance as it was elsewhere in France." Consequently, women in the Résistance were less numerous than men and represented an average of 11% of the members in the formal networks and movements. Those who were 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, who was 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 was the only female leader in the Résistance, head of 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 prisons and German concentration camps. No women, however, were chosen to lead any of the eight major Résistance movements, and, after the liberation of France, the provisional government appointed no women as ministers or commissaires de la République.
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, "to raise awareness, and to organize the people as broadly as possible."
In July 1940, after the defeat of the French armies and the consequent armistice with Germany, the 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. There, in November 1940, 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 the German defenses known as the Atlantic Wall. 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 network of twenty-six people 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, Pineau was assigned by BCRA the task of creating two new intelligence systems, one called Phalanx, and the other called Cohors-Asturies. These 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 in 1943, the BCRA and the United Movements of Résistance merged their intelligence networks.
Another BCRA appendage was called Gallia, an intelligence network specializing in military intelligence and police activities. Its importance increased throughout the second half of 1943 and into the spring of 1944, until it 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 military targets in the wake of the retreat of the German armies.
Following their defeat in the Spanish Civil War in early 1939, about a half-million Spanish Republicans fled to France to escape imprisonment and execution. On the north side of the Pyrenees, refugees were confined in internment camps such as Camp Gurs and Camp Vernet. Although over half of the refugees had been repatriated to Spain (or elsewhere) by the time Pétain proclaimed the Vichy Regime 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 Etrangers (Companies of Foreign Workers) or CTE, began to pursue them as slave laborers. The CTE permitted prisoners to leave the internment camps if they agreed to go work in factories in Germany, but as many as sixty thousand Republicans who were recruited to the labor service managed to escape, and, instead, they joined the French Résistance. Thousands of suspected anti-fascist Republicans were, nonetheless, deported to concentration camps in Germany. 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, which had a force of about 3400 combatants by June 1944. Although the group at 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, who were ultimately advocating the fall of General Francisco Franco. After the German army was 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 in 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 the militant German communist Otto Kühne, a former member of the Reichstag, who had over 2000 Germans in the FTP under his command by July 1944. He directly fought the Nazis, as in the battles of April 1944 in Saint-Étienne-Vallée-Française, where they destroyed a Feldgendarmerie unit, or in an ambush of the Waffen-SS on June 5, 1944.
400 Luxembourgish men, often men who refused to serve, or who deserted the German Wehrmacht left Luxembourg, in order to continue their resistance in the French maquis, where they were particularly active in the regions of Lyon, Grenoble, and the French Ardennes. A considerable amount of Luxembourgish members of the French maquis were killed during the war. Others, like Antoine Diederich, became high ranked resistance fighters. Antoine Diederich (who was only known as "Capitaine Baptiste") had 77 members of the maquis under his command and is best known for attacking the prison of Riom where he and his fighters freed all of the 114 death-sentenced inmates.
The Armenian community of France played active role in the Resistance. Armenian poet and communist Missak Manouchian became one of the leaders of French Resistance and the commander of Manouchian Group (the family of Charles Aznavour had supported Misak and his wife Meliné when they were in hiding). Arpen Tavitian, another executed member of Manouchian group, industrialist Napoleon Bullukian (1905-1984) and poet Rouben Melik are other famous participants of French resistance. Anti-Fascist Underground Patriotic Organization also was commanded by Armenian officiers. Armenian-French writer Luiza Aslanean (1906-1945), another activist of French Resistance, 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 de Gaulle. Henri Karayan (1921-2011), a member of Manouchian Group, participated in illegal distribution of Humanite in Paris and was engaged in armed struggle until the Liberation. In 2012 95-years old Arsene Tchakarian, the last survivor of the Manouchian resistance group, who fought against occupying Nazi German forces during World War II, was awarded with the medal of Officer of the Legion of Honor by the French President.
Many Hungarian émigrés, including those were Jewish, were artists and writers working in Paris at the time of the occupation. They had gone to Paris in the 1920s and 1930s to escape repression. Many joined the Resistance, 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, the future rabbi of Lausanne, at Lyon; the writer Emil Szittya at Limoges. Also participating were the painter Sándor Józsa, the sculptor István Hajdú (Etienne Hajdu), the journalists László Kőrös and Imre Gyomrai; the photographers Andor (Andre) Steiner, Lucien Hervé and Ervin Marton. Tamás Elek (1924–1944), Imre Glasz (1902–1944) and József Boczor (1905–1944) were among 23 persons executed for their work with the legendary Manouchian Group. The Germans executed nearly 1,100 Jewish resisters of different nationalities during the occupation. Others were killed in action.
On March 3, 1943, representatives of the Italian Communist Party and the Italian Socialist Party, who had taken refuge in France, signed the "Pact of Lyon", which began their participation in the Résistance. The Italians were particularly numerous in the Moselle industrial area, which had been annexed by Adolf Hitler, where they played a determining role in the creation of the département's main resistance organisation, Groupe Mario. Vittorio Culpo is an example of Italians in the French Resistance.
The majority of the Polish soldiers and some Polish civilians who failed to evacuate from France after the German victory in 1940 as well as one Polish pilot shot down over France, one of many Polish pilots flying for RAF, did join the French Résistance. Examples: 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 in order 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.
From 1940 to 1942, the first years of the German occupation of France, there was no thoroughly-organized Résistance capable of fighting in a coordinated fashion 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 had faith in the Vichy government and its figurehead, Marshal Pétain, who continued to be widely-regarded as the "savior" of France, and this generous opinion of Vichy continued until its unpopular policies and 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 on their newspapers, and, although their activities intensified, 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 more motivated by instinct, a 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 a shared opposition to Vichy and the Germans. Over time, the various elements of the Résistance began to coalesce.
Many of the networks recruited and controlled by the British and Americans were not perceived by the French as being especially interested in establishing a united or integrated Résistance operation, and the guerrilla groups controlled by the communists were only slightly more engaged by the idea of a Résistance "umbrella" organization. Nonetheless, a contact between envoys of De Gaulle and the communists was established at the end of 1942. The liberation of Corsica in September 1943, a clear demonstration of the strength of a 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.
In 1941, the French Résistance began to gel. 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, Jean Moulin was subsequently a part of the Air Ministry of Pierre Cot. In this context, he had forged a strong network of relationships in antifascist circles. After November 1940, he had the idea of teaming up with his former colleague, Gaston Cusin, to identify and contact a number of potential Résistance "centers of influence", but only during the summer of 1941 was he able to make the most critical contacts, including contact with Henry Frenay, leader of the movement not yet called Combat, but 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 the possibility of bringing them together under the acronym, "LLL".
The majority of resistance movements in France were unified after Jean 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 the French Generals Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle and their body, the Comité Français de Libération Nationale (CFLN).
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By June 1941, 81% of the miners of the national coalmining company, Charbonnages de France, were on strike, slowing deliveries of coal for the German war industry.
The first action of many Résistance movements was the publication and distribution of the clandestine press. This was not the case with all movements, as some refused civil action and preferred armed resistance, such as CDLR and CDLL. Most clandestine newspapers were not consistent in their issues and were often just a single sheet, because the sale of all raw materials – paper, ink, stencils – was prohibited.
In the northern zone, Pantagruel, the newspaper of Franc-Tireur, had a circulation of 10,000 by June 1941, and was quickly replaced by Libération-Nord which reached a circulation of 50,000. 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 published 37 issues, Libération-Sud published fifty-four issues and Témoignage chrétien published fifteen.
The underground press of France published books as well as newspapers through publishing houses such as Les Éditions de Minuit (the Midnight Press) which had been begun in order to circumvent Vichy and German censorship. The novel Le Silence de la Mer was written in 1942 by Jean Bruller, and quickly became a symbol of mental resistance through its story of how an old man and his niece do not 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. There was often competition between the BCRA and the different British intelligence services to produce the most valuable information from their Résistance networks in France.
The first agents of the Free French to arrive from Britain landed on the Brittany coast as early as July 1940. They were Lieutenant Mansion, Saint-Jacques, Corvisart and Colonel Rémy, and did not 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 recognised 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 services such as it 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 resulted in them having an average life expectancy of around six months. According to the historian Jean-François Muracciole, "Throughout the war, it was communications which constituted the principal difficulty of intelligence networks. Not only were the operators few and inept, but their information was dangerous."
Sabotage is a form of resistance that was taken by groups who wanted to go further than the distribution of the clandestine press. Many laboratories were set up to produce explosives. In August 1941, the Parisian chemist France Bloch-Serazin 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 they were arrested. France Bloch was arrested in February 1942, tortured, and deported to Hamburg where she was decapitated with an axe in February 1943. In the southern occupation zone, Jacques Renouvin engaged in the same activities on behalf of groups of francs-tireurs.
Eventually, stealing dynamite from the Germans became preferred to handcrafting explosives. The British Special Operations Executive also parachuted tons of explosives to its agents in France for their essential sabotage missions. The railways were a favourite target of saboteurs, who soon understood that removing the bolts from the tracks was far more efficient than using explosives.
Train derailment strategies varied considerably in their effectiveness. In level farming regions, the Germans managed to repair the tracks quickly, with the salvage of some matériel a relatively easy proposition. However, unbolting a connector plate on the outside rail in a mountainous area (a higher speed, downhill grade section) 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 infrastructure. Following the invasions of Normandy and Provence in 1944, the sabotage of rail transportation became much more frequent and was effective in preventing German troop deployments to the front and in hindering their retreat later.
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 the bombings. Available Allied military aircraft was far less vulnerable, as well, remaining available for combat support. It was also preferred as it caused less collateral damage and civilian casualties than Allied bombing.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union, guerrilla warfare was undertaken by communists, who attacked German forces at the hearts of French cities. In July 1942, the Allies' failure to open up a second front resulted in a wave of guerrilla attacks being carried out by communists, with the intention of maximising the number of Germans deployed in the West in order to relieve the USSR.
The assassinations that took place during summer and autumn 1941, beginning with Colonel Pierre-Georges Fabien's shooting of a German officer in the Paris Métro, caused fierce reprisals and the executions of hundreds of French hostages. As a result the clandestine press was very discreet about the events and the communists soon chose to end the assassinations.
From July to October 1943, groups in Paris engaging in attacks against occupying soldiers were better organised. Joseph Epstein was assigned responsibility for training Résistance fighters across the city, and his new commandos of fifteen men allowed a number of attacks that would not have previously been possible to be carried out. The commandos were composed of the foreign branch of the Franc Tireurs et Partisans, and the most famous of them was the Manouchian Group.
In determining the role of the French Résistance during the German Occupation, or addressing its military importance alongside the Allied Forces during the liberation of France, it is difficult to give a direct answer. 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 Italian surrender in September 1943, a significant example of Résistance strength was displayed, when the Corsican Résistance, with the assistance of the Free French, began a movement which liberated the island from General Albert Kesselring's remaining German forces.
On mainland France itself, from the onset of the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944, the FFI and the communist FTP movements, theoretically unified under the command of General Pierre Kœnig, fought alongside the Allies to free the rest of France. Several colour-coded plans were co-ordinated for sabotage, with the most important being Plan Vert (Green) for railways, Plan Bleu (Blue) for power installations and Plan Violet (Purple) for telecommunications. To complement these missions, smaller plans were prepared: 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. The paralysing of German infrastructure is widely thought to have been very effective. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later wrote in his memoirs of 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 determine their effectiveness, popular anti-German demonstrations, such as general strikes by the Paris Métro, the Gendarmerie and the Police, took place, and fighting between the opposing forces ensued.
The liberation of most of the southwest, central France, and the southeast was finally completed with the progression of the 1st French Army of General de Lattre de Tassigny, which landed in Provence in August 1944 and was assisted 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 represented about ten thousand soldiers.) Eisenhower's statements are all the more credible as he attributed them to his GHQ's formal analyses, and published them only after the War when propaganda intent no longer loomed. Historians still debate how effective the French Résistance was militarily, but for instance 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, in a period when the Allied invasion was breaking out of 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 where FFI would refer to the period from June 1944 only. Estimates of the casualties among the Resistance 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 to death; and several tens of thousands deported, of which 27,000 died in death camps. For perspective, the best estimate is that 86,000 people were deported from France without racial motive, overwhelmingly resistants, a number that exceeds that 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 (wild purge). This period succeeded the German occupational administration but preceded the authority of the French Provisional Government, and therefore lacked a form of institutional justice. Approximately 9,000 were executed, mostly without trial. Head shaving was a common feature of the purges, and between 10,000 and 30,000 women accused of having collaborated with the Germans 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. The phase of the purge trials ended with a series of amnesty laws passed between 1951 and 1953 which reduced the number of imprisoned collaborators from 40,000 to 62, and was ensued by a period of official "repression" that lasted between 1954 and 1971. During this period, and particularly after de Gaulle's return to power in 1958, the collective memory of "résistancialisme" tended to propose a very much 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 France between the conservative war generation and the younger, more liberal students and workers, led many to question the Résistance ideals of the official history.
The questioning of France's past had become a national obsession by the 1980s, fuelled by the highly-publicised trials of war criminals such as Klaus Barbie and Maurice Papon. Although the occupation often remains a sensitive subject in the twenty-first 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 nearer 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), with one 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 post-war years, French cinema produced a number of films that portrayed a France broadly present in the Résistance. The 1946 La Bataille du rail 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 hatefully presented as a rare minority, as played by Pierre Brewer in Jéricho (1946) or Serge Reggiani in Les Portes de la nuit (1946), 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 general mediocrity revealed 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 escape. A cautious reappearance of the image of Vichy emerged in Le Passage du Rhin (1960), in which a crowd successively acclaim 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 (1966) widened the image of Résistance heroes to average Frenchmen. The most famous and critically acclaimed of all the résistancialisme movies is Army of Shadows (L'Armee des ombres), which was made by the French film-maker Jean-Pierre Melville in 1969. The film was inspired by Joseph Kessel's 1943 book, as well as Melville's own experiences, as he had fought in the Résistance and participated in Operation Dragoon. A 1995 television screening of L'Armee 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 emerged particularly clearly in French cinema. The candid approach of the 1971 documentary The Sorrow and the Pity pointed the finger on anti-Semitism 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 askew 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 because of his absence of moral judgment with regard to 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 theatre production taking place while its Jewish director is concealed by his wife in the theatre'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 imposters. 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 over-emphasis on the relationship between Aubrac and her husband.
In the 2011 video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, in which a hypothetical World War III is depicted, a French resistance movement is formed to act against Russian occupation. The playable characters of many factions in-game receive assistance from this Resistance . This is in line with previous, World War II-based Call of Duty games, which often featured involvement with the Resistance of that era.
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, 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. His antitotalitarian efforts took him back to Paris in 1980 as head of Iranian opposition groups against the then-established Islamic government. He was assassinated on order of the Iranian Islamic Republic in 1991.
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