Header Photo: American troops of the 28th Infantry Division march down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris, in the `Victory' Parade.

Essential Reading: France During World War II: From Defeat to Liberation (World War II: The Global, Human and Ethical Dimension).

France During World War II: Text >> Daily Mail 2nd May 145 - Hitler Dead >> Daily Mail 3rd May 1945 - Goebbels Dead >> Daily Mail 8th May 1945 - VE Day >> Camus >> Posters available at Allposters.com >> Advertise here >> Simone de Beauvoir Books and Dvds available @ amazon.com >> Search Site

Advertise here

Wartime France ~ Texts

Conditions in France during the Second World War were utterly different from those in other countries, since France was then a nation divided in several ways. Before the war, France had for a few years been a semi-socialist state, with the militant working-class supporting the occasional Leon Blum, an intellectual who in his youth had contributed to the same literary magazines which his friend the young Proust wrote for. Blum stood for the tradition in France that was Republic-Socialist, pro-Dreyfus, anti-Nazi. Yet Blum, who became Premier in May, 1936 as the Front Populaire candidate, and the first Socialist or Jew to hold this position, had to contend with the grim facts of the depression as well as with the working classes, who embarrassed their candidate by frequent and extensive strikes. Nevertheless, Blum put through various reforms until his resignation in June, 1937, because the conservative senate refused by a substantial majority to permit him the powers granted him by the chamber of deputies. In the succeeding government of Camille Chautemps, Blum stayed on as deputy prime minister. He was briefly premier again in 1938, but refused to serve under his successor, Edouard Daladier, who was to become one of the men of Munich.

During these years in France, there have been much conservatism - partly as a reaction to Communist and working-class strength, and partly in reaction against such reforms as Blum's 40 hour work week - but there was also a good deal of pro-Nazi sentiment represented by such organisations as Croix de Feu Cross of Fire), a Ku Klux Klan-like gang with admiration for Hitler.

Daladier, a man of middle-of-the-road tendencies, resigned in May, 1940, and was followed by Paul Reynaud, who shortly afterward had the responsibility of moving the government out of Paris (first to Tours, then to Bordeaux) at the time of the German invasion of France. Winston Churchill, who had just become prime minister of England, flew over to discuss matters with Reynaud at Tours; Churchill urged the French continue the war and even form a union with Britain. The ancient French marshal, a hero of the First World War, Henri Phillipe Petain, said that's such alliance would be "fusion with a corpse." Italy entered the war, fighting against French in the south - what President Roosevelt called stabbing France in the back - and General Maxim Weygand surrendered the French field forces opposing the Germans in the north. Paris was declared an open city, and by June 14 the Germans began to appear in the suburbs.

Two days later, Petain at eighty-four took over the government, which on July 2 moved to Vichy in central France. By agreement with Germany, part of that central section of the country and all the south except the Atlantic coast were declared to be unoccupied territory, theoretically under the control of Petain's government, but repeatedly taking orders from the Nazis. Petain's associate at Vichy was the former Socialist, Pierre Laval, so notorious as a reverser of his positions and a turncoat that it was a standard joke in France to point out that 's name came out the same whether you spelled it frontward or backward.

In England, the wit who turned out topical verses for the New Statesman and Nation under the name of Sagittarius, wrote:

The people of France who wouldn't fight
Were the pacifist left and the fascist right;
But the enemy pulled a coup de main,
And now they're hoist with their own Petain.

The unoccupied zone lasted, as such, only until the 1942 anniversary of the First World War armistice day, November 11. Because American and British forces had landed in North Africa just before this, the Germans took the occasion to seize the rest of France, though keeping on Petain and Laval as collaborative heads of the French government. Later attempts to defend the actions of these two promiment Frenchmen led to statements to the effect that they had really saved France by acting as intermediaries and softening the Germans intentions. The thousands of young men who were to become workers in Germany wouldn't agree with this position. Indeed, many of them when called simply disappeared into the resistance movement. The Vichy government, among other activities, set up the Milice, a force of French police with some of the characteristics of the German storm troopers. The Milice was fiercely hated in France.

In 1942, Blum, Daladier, Reynard and others were "tried" at Riom, supposedly for war guilt. But the court sessions also, quite contradictorily, became involved in the question as to whether these men were responsible for France's lack of preparedness for the war of which they were supposedly guilty in starting! The confusion was ended when the Germans simply took the defendants away and imprisoned them in concentration camps from which the United Nations forces freed them a few years later. General Charles de Gaulle, who had been a member of b>Reynaud's cabinet and had escaped to England to set up opposition to the Vichy government, was condemned to death in exile. De Gaulle, severely wounded in the First World War and, before the collapse of France, a heroic commander in the Second, had in the days before that war openly criticized the French defensive policy of depending on the Maglinot line to keep the Germans out. In England, and on his visits to the United States, he often irritated Churchill and Roosevelt, and he lacked the official status of the head of government-in-exile, but he rallied many displaced Frenchman to his cause, and his reputation - helped by his radio broadcasts - spread through in France, where the people regarded him favourably. He was proud, even arrogant, but tenacious, and his career as a future leader of France seemed virtually foreordained.

Paris, always in the occupied zone, was a sad city in those days. The Germans who moved in seemed friendly at first, not raping or pillaging, and paying for what they chose to pick up in the shops. But gradually it became apparent to the people of the city, many of whom returned after fleeing in 1940, that the smooth-speaking Germans were stripping France of metals and materials necessary to the German war effort. Food was scarce, and people with ration cards had to stand in line for hours to get meager bits of it. Fuel was almost non-existent, so that the chimneys of Paris didn't smoke; as evening came down, people had to go to bed, wrapped in overcoats, in order to stay warm. But there was no lack of food and fuel in the luxury hotels where German dignitaries stayed, and Maxim's was always warm and gay, especially when Goering came to town to give parties there.

As time passed, the Germans became less friendly; when one of their number was killed by a Frenchman, the Nazis would put to death a group of hstages - innocent people who had nothing to do with the affair. This brutality did not, however, stop Frenchmen from kikking Germans. And each mass slaughter of hostages helped the cause of the French resistance underground.

Source: Twentieth Century French Literature


France During World War II: Text >> Daily Mail 2nd May 1945 - Hitler Dead >> Daily Mail 3rd May 1945 - Goebbels Dead >> Daily Mail 8th May 1945 - VE Day >> Camus >> Posters available at Allposters.com >> Advertise here >> Simone de Beauvoir Books and Dvds available @ amazon.com

Top of Page >> Search Site

Releases & Links

France During Wartime text here. Who Helped Goering Escape The Hangman here.

Buy 2nd World War Books

Enlarge Image

Website design/enquiries: Lenin