Vichy France, Collaboration and Resistance by Chris Millington

Click the link to download this lecture as a PDF: Vichy France Millington

I gave this lecture on my course ‘From War to Revolution: France 1914-1968’ at Swansea University this year.  The text below is exactly the text that I used in class – so bear in mind it was intended to be read aloud.  If you’d like to know more about Vichy France’s role in the Holocaust, you can find an essay on this site – click this link:

NB: I have removed references from the document to save space.  In writing the lecture I referred to several key works, all of which are required readings for the student of Vichy.  They include: John F. Sweets, Choices in Vichy France (NY/London: OUP, 1994); Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (NY: Columbia University Press, 1972); Julian Jackson, France: The Dark Years, 1940-44 (Oxford, 2001); Stanley Hoffmann, ‘Collaborationism in France during World War Two’, Journal of Modern History, 40 (1968), 375-395; John F. Sweets “Hold that Pendulum! Redefining Fascism, Collaborationism and Resistance in France” French Historical Studies 15:4 (Fall 1988): 731-58; Fabian Lemmes, ‘Collaboration in wartime France, 1940-1944’, European Review of History 15.2 (2007), 157-177; R. Vinen, The Unfree French: Life under the Occupation; R. Kedward, Resistance in Vichy France (Oxford, 1978); R. Kedward, In Search of the Maquis (Oxford, 1994); Philippe Burrin, Living with Defeat – also published as France under the Germans.

Vichy France, Collaboration and Resistance : A lecture by Chris Millington for second year undergraduates, 2012

Following the armistice in June 1940, France was divided into several zones: a small zone in the north-east of France known as the ‘forbidden zone’, an Occupied Zone in the North (which included the Atlantic coastline) and an Unoccupied Zone in the South.  An internal border, known as the Demarcation Line, separated the two zones.  Germany wanted to keep the Empire out of Allied hands and Hitler believed the best solution was for France to defend the Empire itself.  The unoccupied zone was therefore technically an independent state.  This zone was known as Vichy France, named after the town where the French government set up its headquarters.  Pétain was head of the Vichy state and he governed with a team of ministers.

The period 1940-1944 is known as the Dark Years in France and not without good reason.  During these years, 650, 000 civilian workers were deported to work in Germany; 75 000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz; 30, 000 French civilians were shot as hostages or members of the Resistance, another 60,000 were sent to concentration camps.

Yet in August 1944, when France was liberated, General Charles de Gaulle, recognised leader of the French forces, was asked to proclaim the restoration of the Republic.  He refused: on the grounds that the Republic had never ceased to exist.  What did he mean?  He meant that Republican France, the ‘true’ France, had always existed – in the form of himself and the Resistance.  Vichy was an abnormality, an aberration – it was ‘not really France’.

According to this history, the horrors inflicted on the French people had been the work of the Germans; Pétain had worked hard to spare the French people from German excesses – he was the shield and de Gaulle had been the sword.  The Resistance movements had incarnated the ‘true’ France and the mass of the population had been behind it.  This is now known as the Gaullist Resistance myth.  In the post-war years, it provided a comforting image of French wartime conduct at a time when national unity was vital to the reconstruction of the country.  Intellectuals, journalists and filmmakers reinforced the myth and it went largely unchallenged until the 1970s.

From the 1970s though, the myth began to crumble.  Films such as Marcel Ophuls The Sorrow and The Pity showed the wartime French to have been selfish and attentiste – which means they preferred to ‘wait and see’ what would happen, rather than resist.  In 1972, American historian Robert Paxton’s book Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, shattered the resistance myth for good.  Based on research in French and German archives, Paxton showed that collaboration was not a policy imposed on France, but one that originated in France itself.  Furthermore, Paxton concluded that the majority of French people did little to oppose Vichy; in fact, their very apathy had allowed the regime to remain in place.  The resistance myth was thus turned on its head – the French had not been a nation of resisters but a nation of collaborators.  There was a danger though that one myth would be replaced by another – but since the 1980s a more balanced view of Vichy has emerged, which we’ll look at later.

Today’s lecture will look at the issues of resistance and collaboration in light of this scholarship.


From summer 1940 to November 1942 (when Germany occupied the whole of France), Pétain and his government made a concerted effort to step beyond the armistice and agree a more permanent treaty with Hitler.  Historian Stanley Hoffmann has called this ‘collaboration d’état’ or state collaboration.  State collaboration was informed by the view that Hitler would defeat England, win the war, and that a new German and Nazi order would prevail in Europe.  Vichy therefore needed to get the best deal possible for France.

1)      State collaboration reached its highpoint in May 1941 when France agreed the so-called Protocols of Paris with Germany.  The Protocols were a set of agreements in which France hoped to regain some political powers in return for military concessions to Germany.   Germany wanted access to French military facilities and bases in Syria, so to exploit the Iraqi rebellion against the British.  Meanwhile, France wanted a new era of Franco-German co-operation and political concessions from the occupier.  When the Allies invaded Syria and the Germans no longer needed French bases there, Hitler lost interest in negotiations.

The story of the Protocols of Paris is representative of the pitfalls of state collaboration.  We see a Germany willing to negotiate only when it suited it; and the French overestimating their importance to Hitler because Vichy was desperate to reach a permanent arrangement with Germany.  In reality, Hitler was more concerned with planning the rest of the war than hammering out a French peace treaty.

2)      Collaboration was not totally pragmatic: Certainly there were men in France who were fervent collaborators.  In the occupied zone, committed French fascists vied with each other, and with Vichy, for political influence in Paris.  Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union gave collaboration a further ideological base.

3)      Laval seen after the war as arch collaborator; the evil mastermind behind the policy.  According to the Gaullist resistance myth, Laval was the real force behind collaboration, a shady character who operated without Marshal Pétain’s consent.  Laval was a former deputy and had been prime minister for a time during the thirties.  In Vichy France, Pierre Laval, saw collaboration as part of a long-term strategy of Franco-German reconciliation.  He was powerful at Vichy because his close relationship with the German ambassador in Paris, Otto Abetz, meant he had the ear of the Occupier.   As Vichy’s prime minister, in June 1942, Laval infamously stated ‘I desire the victory of Germany because without it Bolshevism would install itself everywhere.’ Yet since the breaking of the resistance myth, historians have shown that Pétain was just as bound up in collaboration as Laval; the Marshal was not an innocent old man.

4)      There were other issues that influenced collaboration.  Vichy went above and beyond what the Germans asked it to do because it hoped to stave off German intervention in French domestic affairs.  The Forced Labour Service is a prime example.  When Vichy failed to meet the target for volunteers, Laval drew up a law in September 1942 that allowed the French government to recruit workers by force.  By the end of the year, the target had been reached.

The story of French relations with Germany between 1940 and 1942 is therefore one of Vichy persistently trying to negotiate with a very indifferent Hitler.  Germany allowed Vichy to believe that France would be a partner in Hitler’s New Order and not just a satellite state.  In reality, the reverse was true.  Vichy therefore grossly overestimated the degree to which France mattered to Hitler.  France was only useful to the extent that Germany could milk the French economy.  In fact, practically the only negotiations the Germans were willing to enter into were economic.  For Hitler, there was no connection between economic and political matters.

By November 1942 one could argue that Vichy had had ‘negative’ success – France had not re-entered the war and the southern zone was still free.  This state of affairs was shattered when the Americans landed in North Africa on 8 November 1942.  At 7 a.m on 11 November 1942, German troops crossed the demarcation line.  France was now occupied in its entirety.


Let’s now move on to the resistance.  When considering the resistance, a distinction must be made between Charles de Gaulle’s ‘Free French’ movement, which was based in London, and the resistance movements based in France itself.  They were separate entities and though their histories begin to converge by the end of 1941, they nevertheless remained distinct and there was sometimes tension between the two.

De Gaulle arrived in London on 17 June 1940, the day after Paul Reynaud’s government fell.  On 18 June he broadcast to the French nation via the BBC – his speech is on the handout.

He stated that France had lost the battle but not the war.  The government had given into panic and, forgetting its honour, had delivered the country to servitude.   This speech is taken as the beginning of the French resistance – it has acquired huge symbolic importance, and a plaque with part of the speech on it can be found today under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, near to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Yet in June 1940, few French actually knew who de Gaulle was, let alone listened to his speech.  In fact, though de Gaulle claimed to embody French sovereignty, he had attracted no great political personalities to London and the French Empire had largely remained loyal to Vichy.

De Gaulle’s relations with the Allies were difficult.  Only the British government immediately recognised him as leader of what they called the ‘Free French’.  The British vetted all speeches made to France via the BBC – de Gaulle was permitted to speak for five minutes each evening.  If Britain wanted to punish de Gaulle they would withdraw this privilege.  Following a disastrous Anglo-French attack on the Senegalese port of Dakar in September 1940, Britain froze de Gaulle out of all military planning involving France.

But what of contact between de Gaulle and France itself?  As well as de Gaulle’s nightly BBC broadcasts, the Free French co-operated with the newly created British Special Operations Executive.  By the end of 1941 the Free French had sent 29 agents to France.  Yet even 18 months into the war, the Free French and de Gaulle knew virtually nothing about the resistance within France.

This did not deter de Gaulle from claiming to speak for all French.  In September 1941 de Gaulle set up a National Committee with himself at its head – it began to take on the appearance of a provisional government, though it was not recognised as such.  Furthermore, on 2 October 1941 de Gaulle announced that he was directing resistance in France.  The problem was that this was patently not the case.  He had no means of applying his orders in France.  Lack of information and contact meant that the French resistance was not integrated into any strategy that the Free French had.

In 1940, the resistance in France was disjointed and diverse; there were many different groups.  Before mid-1942, few people had probably heard of the resistance movements.  It is only in the second half of 1942 that we see the first signs of mass public disaffection from Vichy.  On 14 July 1942, for example, the resistance movements requested the French demonstrate in the street wearing the national colours.  66 demonstrations took place, two-thirds of them in the south.  This was the first mass public demonstration of discontent.

One of the problems confronting resisters was the division of the country.  Apart from the practical obstacle of the demarcation line, the different conditions in the Occupied and Unoccupied zones complicated matters.  It was much more difficult for groups and newspapers to survive in the German-occupied North than in the South.  In the north the resistance was fragmented and groups found it difficult to produce propaganda.  But, in a sense, the need for propaganda in the north was less urgent.  The French living in the Occupied Zone didn’t need to be made aware of the conditions of war – the German presence sufficed for this.

But in Vichy France, the resistance had to work harder to break public complacency because, if many French were anti-German, fewer were anti-Vichy.  Even some early resisters were sympathetic to the regime and to Pétain.  Only by the end of 1941 did the southern resistance movements come to realise that the underground war against Germany necessitated a form of civil war against Vichy.

The first tangible contacts between the Resistance in France and de Gaulle in London came through a man named Jean Moulin.

Moulin first met de Gaulle in London on 25 October 1941.  He provided the general with information and suggested that resistance movements could make a military contribution to the war effort.  De Gaulle sent Moulin back to France to persuade the Southern movements to recognise de Gaulle as their leader and co-ordinate their meagre military forces under Free French control.  In return the Resistance would receive material aid from London.

Resistance leaders may not have wanted to bring their movements under the general but they desperately needed funds and arms.  Some resisters were suspicious that de Gaulle was not committed to the restoration of democracy in France.  To reassure them, the general wrote a ‘Declaration to the Resistance Movements’ of June 1942 in which he stressed his commitment to democracy and promised elections after the Liberation. On 13 July 1942, the British agreed that the Free French now represented all French opposed to the armistice – inside and outside France.

There was a section of the resistance that would never recognise de Gaulle as its leader – the Communists.  Daladier had outlawed the French communist party (PCF) in August 1939, forcing it underground.  Because of the Soviet Union’s non-aggression pact with Hitler, the PCF followed a neutral line until June 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union.  It denounced the war as an imperialist venture and condemned both Vichy and the German occupier in equal measure.

After June 1941, Moscow ordered French communists to disrupt factory production, commit acts of sabotage and organise armed groups.    Activists assassinated German officers and soldiers, sometimes in broad daylight.  But this was not the beginning of an armed insurrection.  These murders were limited to a handful of men who possessed the necessary weapons and strong stomach for killing.  This paramilitary action made them different from other resistance groups, including de Gaulle,  who condemned communist anti-German violence as it often led to the shooting of hostages.

Even by mid-1941 most non-communist resistance movements still opposed violence.  Rather they encouraged boycotts of collaborationist press and the sabotage of industry.

The tactics of the communist resisters raises an interesting question: What counted as an act of resistance?  I would suggest that when we think of the resistance we probably think of the tactics the communists used – assassinations, attacks on trains, the sabotage of communications.  But the underground press was one of the most important forms of resistance.  Newspapers served as a source of information and of moral support, urging the population to help patriots and containing debates about the future of France. These papers were not mass produced and it’s impossible to know how many people read the newspapers.  In some cases only a handful were printed.  They were be left on train carriages, on park benches or in the foyers of apartment blocks.  People read them and then left them for someone else.

The Ordinary French

So far then we’ve looked only at what we may term ‘activists’ of collaboration and resistance – that is, the people who were actually involved collaborating with the Germans and those who were members of resistance movements.  But what about the ordinary French, the mass of the population?  Historians have disagreed about how to judge the actions of the ordinary French.

According to Robert Paxton, immediately after the defeat, the French public were in shock.  The growing hardship that French civilians encountered in daily life meant little attention was paid to politics.  Most people were worried more about getting by from day-to-day.  Such apathy gave Vichy a broadly compliant public support base.  In the early years of the war, anti-German feeling was not as widespread as one might expect – and it was actually weaker than anti-Allied feeling, especially after the Allies bombed parts of France.  It was only in 1943, when the Forced Labour Service began to affect many French that the tide of public opinion turned definitively against Vichy and Germany.  Paxton estimates that 2% of the adult male population were resisters, so about 400,000 French.  He estimates that 2 million people, about 10% of the population, read the underground newspapers.

Consequently, Paxton concludes than that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of Frenchmen, though they longed to be rid of the Germans, were not prepared to do it by violence. Paxton’s most controversial claim is that anyone in France who did not actively oppose the regime through the Resistance was essentially a collaborator in a ‘functional’ sense – a sort of collaboration by default

The second historian I shall look at is Philippe Burrin.  Burrin rejects the term collaboration and favours ‘accommodation’.  He argues that from winter 1940 most of the French population wanted victory for England and were sceptical or hostile to the policy of collaboration.  This rejection of collaboration though was neither general nor immediate.  The French were grateful to Vichy for sparing them total German occupation and they believed that the government was working to improve their living conditions.  By spring 1941 though, the postal censorship authorities reported that the public was ‘hardly favourable at all to Vichy’ and even affectionate feelings for Pétain were declining.  This feeling grew during 1941 with the German attack on the Soviet Union and increasingly repressive measures against acts of resistance, such as hostage taking.  By spring 1942, Vichy surveillance reports showed that  ‘Down with Pétain propaganda’ was no longer a rarity and that images of the Marshal were no longer greeted with applause in cinemas.  In June 1942, Laval’s wish for a German victory was met with quote ‘intense emotion’ and ‘general stupefaction’.182  By October 1942, many French had come to believe that there was no longer any justification for the Vichy regime.

Burrin concludes that for the period of June 1940-November 1942 it is reasonable to suggest that between 1/5-1/6 of ALL French ‘favoured collaboration’ – so between 6.6 million and 8 million.  However, Burrin makes the important point that support for collaboration was not continuous, coherent or committed from all people.  Most believed that collaboration was an expedient measure.  They were not confident in an English victory, therefore, if collaboration could win concessions for France then why not? A lot of French simply wanted to ‘get through it all’.187

Finally historian John Sweets has criticised historians such as Paxton for replacing ‘the myth of the nation of resisters’ with another myth – that of the ‘nation of collaborators’.  Sweets argues that the popularity of the Vichy regime declined from 1941, much earlier than Paxton suggests(1943).  Sweets questions Paxton’s definitions of collaboration and resistance – in short did apathy really mean collaboration, and was resistance limited to the Resistance movements themselves?  Clandestine newspapers and graffiti probably didn’t win people over to the resistance but they would have reinforced anti-Vichy and anti-German feeling.  If Paxton argues that the apathy of the French public created an atmosphere that was favourable to Vichy, Sweets counters that in 1943-44 public opinion was overwhelmingly favourable to the resistance.

Sweets also reminds us that French reactions during 1940-1944 were diverse – they involved a multitude of daily choices over which one had limited control.  Furthermore, should we limit the definition to members of active resistance groups?  What about the men and women who contributed to the resistance in a meaningful way but who were not on membership lists, who were not killed, who were not deported or arrested?  Sweets gives several examples.  First, the village priests who sheltered resistance fighters from the Germans.  Second, the men and women who gave work, food and shelter to resisters?  Third, the doctors who signed false certificates of physical incapacity for men called to work in Germany. Fourth, workers who while working in factories producing goods for Germany produced faulty parts for German airplane motors.  These people were not ‘official’ resisters but their contribution was not negligible.  Sweets argues then that what is required is ‘…a reformulation of the definition of resistance is required’.


At the end of this lecture, I stress several key points to students:

1) We must bear in mind that the opportunities for collaboration and resistance were affected by one’s location.  To resist in the North was much more difficult due to the presence of German soldiers and the German authorities.  On the other hand, in the South, though we could argue that resistance groups had more room for manoeuvre, it was more difficult to convince ordinary citizens to resist.  This was because the Occupier was not visible (at least before November 1942) and many French still held an affection for Petain – and one question we might ask is ‘Was resistance to the Germans the same as resistance to Vichy?’

2) If geography affected collaboration and resistance, then so did chronology.  When examining all things to do with Vichy we must consider the date, and with it the course of both the war and the Vichy regime. Developments in the wider war affected France.  For example, it was only after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union that the French communist party passed to active resistance.  Before then, it had been hamstrung because Germany and the USSR were technically allies following the Nazi-Soviet pact in August 1939.  As for Vichy, the regime in 1944 was much different to the regime in 1940.  As the war progressed Vichy developed a much more repressive apparatus, the most visible expression of which was the paramilitary Milice under Joseph Darnand.  The Milice was charged with hunting down resisters and often executed them without trial.  This represented an escalation in the war between the resistance and Vichy, with evident consequences for resistance groups.

3) Collaboration and resistance were not monolithic.  We must remember that there were many different resistance groups even if it is tempting to think of the resistance as a single movement under de Gaulle.  Each group had its own agenda and politics – and the communists never accepted de Gaulle as their leader.  We must bear in mind too that there were different types of collaboration, from Vichy to the Parisian fascists – what did each want?

Finally, if we no longer accept that the French resisted en masse, is there a danger of replacing the resistance myth with a collaboration myth?  It is worth asking ourselves how satisfactory the terms ‘resistance’ and ‘collaboration’ actually are.  When historians argue that the French resisted or collaborated, should we ask whether the people at the time actually understood the choice between the two?  Was it even a question of choosing one or the other?  The Vichy years were complex – they should be viewed in shades of grey, not black and white.




  1. I’m preparing a concert: “Paris 1940s: Cabaret Songs from the City of Lights and her Allies.” I’ve been focusing on the women who entertained, and the image they were expected to uphold as “the girl waiting back home.” Your lecture is adding more fuel to my thoughts about myths and the histories told to either maintain or debase them…and how we’d all probably prefer to play French and simply view la vie en rose. Thanks.

  2. Is a reading-list available re Vichy and resistance in the south, including biographical and ‘fictional’ accounts?
    A clear and interesting article/lecture which I would like to think through further, particularly concluding questions re need to re-examine the value / problems of the collaboration v resistance model. All best wishes.

    • Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Do you know the book ‘A Bag of Marbles’ by Joesph Joffo (in French: Un sac de billes)? It’s an autobiographical account of the author’s travels with his brother through the Vichy zone as a child.

  3. !!! Sorry! Found the extensive course listings. Am just a member of the public reading re these matters. But…biog / ‘fictional’ works would still be of interest. I have enjoyed the discussion of L’Armee du Crime.

  4. A very thorough and concise description of the divisions in France during ww2 Iam interested in the role of the SOE and have been reading as much as I can find about it. Your lecture has provided me with a road map in my mind which makes it easier to locate the events,and the attitudes of the various factions.
    Thank you very much

  5. Is there not a argument that the vast majority of Paxtons’ estimate of 400,000 resisters (A highly exaggerated amount in my opinion) did not come into being until after the allies invaded? Then claiming that they were actively involved in the Resistance throughout the German occupation when in fact they had done little or nothing to resist. How many acts of validated sabotage were accredited to the French Resistance during the occupation? I would suspect very few. Finally, does Douglas Porch have an argument that the Resistance was paid money – todays equivalent $50,000 – for each serviceman they aided in repatriation?

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment; I really do welcome feedback on what I post here. You’re right that there were so-called ‘eleventh hour’ resisters – those men and women who wanted to end the war on the winning side, and who joined when the risks of resisting had diminished signifcantly. Paxton’s figure is an estimate, and may well be high, but it concerns those who were members of an actual movement. We should not underestimate these movements and the role they played in opposing the Occupation. We also need to take into account the many acts of ‘resistance’, which though less spectacular than an act of sabotage, nevertheless contributed to undermining the government and the German authorities (even if only in a moral sense)- and which carried no less a risk of punishment for the perpetrator.
      I’m not familiar with Porch’s work, but you raise a very interesting issue here – that of the ‘business’ of resistance. It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. The resistance groups needed money to survive and in certain instances they did provide a service for payment – such as the forgery of documents. I think this reflects the reality of the situation in which they found themselves, and whether one provided help for free, or for money, again the risks run were still great.

  6. I am no historian but it seems to me, reading your comments, that if the Resistance existed in any numbers they were in it for there own monetary ends. Perhaps nothing more than groups of criminals who exploited a given situation. They certainly were not the beret wearing patriotic heroes as portrayed in films.
    Many years ago I watched a TV documentary about the French ‘resistance’ in the South of France. A very brave British lady was interviewed. She explained that she, together with other British officers, was parachuted into France with one express proviso – to organise groups of French citizens to resist the enemy. She had first hand knowledge of this operation as she was head of all the officers who were deployed along the southern region of France.
    She then explained, rather cynically, her total frustration with the French. Nobody was the least bit interested in any form of resistance. She went on, bitterly, to explain that on the contrary two of her men were betrayed by the French. One was shot dead & the other barely escaped with his life. Only when the French were promised arms did they show any form of interest. They listened to the British, promised them co-operation, took the arms – & were never seen again. When asked what she thought of the French she declined to answer but what she did say was that, in her opinion, the French Resistance was a myth & simply did not exist. (In her area of operations anyway)
    I do not believe that 400,000 French were active resisters. Perhaps a few brave patriots played their parts but not very many.
    Finally, I would be more inclined to believe the brave soul who had first-hand experience, she remained in France till the end of the war, than historians* who pick figures out the air, from no apparent source, to justify the French ‘Resistance’
    * This is no reflection on yourself. On the contrary I have enjoyed your article & this little chat. You obviously know far more about the subject than myself but sometimes a feel that history is not as compiled by historians. But there again………………..
    …………….I am no historian.


    • Thanks again for the response. Given the complexity of the situation, some may have exploited their contacts – but we must appreciate the reality of life in an occupied country and the day-to-day struggle for survival. The story you mention is interesting, and it adds to the rich archive of personal experiences during the war. Yet for each story like this, there will be one that exposes the selflessness and sacrifice of the French resisters too. Along with archival documents, it is these stories that historians rely upon in their research. Of course, historians bring their own preconceptions, whether conscious or unconscious, to all the subjects they approach – but then so do we all. Historians usually rely on a huge amount of research and investigation before coming to a carefully considered conclusion, and rarely do they come up with such conclusions without a good deal of evidence to back it up. If you’d like to read more on the Vichy years, I can recommend Julian Jackson’s France: The Dark Years, which is very accessible yet also incredibly detailed.

  7. I’m actually working on a paper regarding the Vichy Government, and this paper has proved invaluable with supplying resources. I unfortunately cannot use internet websites, but the resources you’ve given me are spot on. Thanks!

  8. This has really helped me with an independent research project at college – very informative and to the point with a good range of views! Thank you so much for publishing this.

  9. You give such an informative background on the various historians’ approaches on resistance/collaboration/accommodation. Yet not once do you mention Jews or anti-Semitic actions.

      • Thanks, I just found that. It would be good to provide a link here to this important aspect of collaboration and resistance, as it is easy to come across this essay on the Internet and read it by itself, without the context.

  10. Very interesting and informative. I had long suspected that there was a great deal of invention surrounding the idea of “the resistance,” and your lecture helped clarify what was clearly a very complicated situation. Thank you for making it available.

  11. Thank you for your study and the lecture. How people and organizations behave under stress is fascinating. Reading “The Hunt for Nazis”, by Simon Kitson, prompted me to try look for material on France in the early 40’s and your lecture popped up. It is VERY interesting that s substantial portion of the French thought there might be advantages to doing business with the Reich.

  12. I have to thank you too. Your paper has highlighted the difference between collaborators, the Vichy Government and the ordinary people. In particular the comparisons you make between Paxton, Burrin and Sweets brings home the importance of not jumping to conclusions and believing the first things you read. Cheers 😀

  13. First of all thanks a lot, very informative. I was just wondering if there was much work out there on why exactly the Vichy regime collaborated? It seems to me that much of the historiography centres on whether there was collaboration or not and what this collaboration involved. An opposition to communism, affinity to authoritarianism (and opposition to republican/parliamentary institutions), anti-Semitism, and pragmatic considerations (secure post-war alliance with Germany on favourable terms) seem to me from the reading I have done to be the main causes of Vichy’s collaboration. If you could give your view on this, and any useful sources to address this issue, it would be much appreciated. Thanks

    • Thanks for taking an interest Cameron. You’re right that the historiography (or certainly the historiography in the immediate post-Paxton period) centred on establishing that collaboration did actually take place. As for the reasons behind this collaboration, you’ve actually given a pretty good summary of them. What I’d add is that we need to bear in mind that different people/factions within Vichy and in Paris wanted collaboration for different reasons. So while some of the most enthusiastic collaborationists in Paris wanted to work with Germany because they believed in Nazism, this is less clear for those men who worked at Vichy. It’s not possible to argue that Petain, for example, was a committed Nazi! As for Laval, yes he stated that he desired a Nazi victory but this was because he saw in a German-dominated Europe the certain defeat of communism. We also need to take into account that people often act to safeguard their own positions and careers – essentially acting out of self-interest. Overall, the motivations behind collaboration were complex and there’s o straightforward answer to the question ‘why?’.

      • Thanks a lot, would you say that Pétain’s ‘National Revolution’ made collaboration more likely in that it emphasised values such as anti-Semitism and xenophobia and as such put Vichy on the same page as the Nazis? Or would you rather say that the reason collaboration occurred was because Vichy wished to preserve its sovereignty and therefore implement the national revolution?

      • Thanks for the comment. I’d say that much of the National Revolution was aimed at creating a France in which those deemed to be ‘unFrench’ were excluded from national life. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this put Vichy on the ‘same page’ as the Nazis, if that means that Vichy desired the extermination of the Jews – this is less clear, and it seems that while Vichy wanted to exclude Jewish people, it didn’t give much thought – or didn’t want to give much thought – to what was happening to deportees in Eastern Europe. Collaboration was certainly a means by which to try and claw back some autonomy from the Nazis, though I’m not certain that this meant Vichy had a freer hand for the National Revolution. The National Revolution drew on some quite old ideas in French society, and it depended less on collaboration.

  14. Thanks a lot, would you say that Pétain’s ‘National Revolution’ made collaboration more likely in that it emphasised values such as anti-Semitism and xenophobia and as such put Vichy on the same page as the Nazis? Or would you rather say that the reason collaboration occurred was because Vichy wished to preserve its sovereignty and therefore implement the national revolution?

  15. When one discusses Vichy France and collaboration and resistance, I believe it is essential to reconize that France had a population of 40 million people and between 1.9 and 2 million of the men of fighting age were in Germany in POW camps. That doesn’t leave much of a population group to sustain resistance. In addition, from June 1940 to June 1941, the French communists were sitting on the fence because the Nazis and the USSR were active allies in as much as the USSR shipped stargetic metals, oil, food and cotton to Germany to fuel the Nazi warmachine..The USA was not actively at war with Germany so until December 1941 so Britain and its Commonwealth Allies were the only ones fighting the Nazis. If the Nazis had managed to defeat the French army and caused its British allies to evacuate France in six weeks, what sane person would believe their resistance stood the proverbial “hope in hell” of success? On top of that, once the Nazis attacked Russia, there were many in occupied Europe that took the view Hitler was saving Europe from the Red Menace. That was one of the reasons many in occupied Europe joined military units going to fight aginst the Soviets in Russia. I believe that for many in France, adopting a minimal collaboration with the Germans was viewed as a necessity, Active organized resistance, at least until mid-1943 was a very attractive proposition.

    • Thanks for the comment. I agree, we have to appreciate the difficulties faced by the French at that time, and understand the very limited choices they felt that they had in 1940.

  16. Very informative piece of work. Has there been any work on whether the Vichy government was growing in popularity in the occupied zone ; and was there support ( collaboration ) for the Vichy regime in Britain at the time ? Also how much were the French people in the occupied zone aware of the politics and governance taking place in the Vichy zone . Really enjoyed the article. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the comment Danielle. Collaboration seems to have been more unpopular in the North than in the South, simply because of the German presence there. The laws passed at Vichy applied to the whole country, but the French authorities in the North had to contend with the German military administration there, and the fact that Germany could impose laws and sanctions as it wanted there. As for support from Britain, I’m not sure, but the British government recognised de Gaulle’s legitimacy pretty early on in the war – far earlier than the US, which continued to consider Vichy to be the sovereign government of France.

  17. Thank you for the article which I found informative and balanced, particularly when dealing with the myths surrounding resistance and collaboration. I was brought up in South Africa where the black population was brutally repressed. The vast majority of black people did not belong to the ANC or actively resist in the form of attacks on the regime. The resistance was complex and divided. Most people with families were simply trying to exist. No-one refers to them as collaborationists.

  18. I believe that French collaborators had a more disastrous effect on the Wehrmacht than the resistance, even Hitler admitted this.
    Wine, women and song sapped the morale and fighting strength of his soldiers and made them unwilling to fight. Hitler vowed that if France were recaptured he would never allow his soldiers leave there.

  19. Very interesting, well structured, with a clear vivid, informed description of occupied life in France in the WW2. After watching channel`4 French film Noir “Resistance” about war time clandestine activity, based on true events, I decided to examine and explore further readings on the subject, and came upon a author and lecturer named Robert Gildea “Fighter in the Shadows” and also your fantastic piece. It really has got my Gallic juices flowing on this particular subject and genre. Also I have a book “The Man who is France” The Story of Charles De Gaulle by an author and ex army Brigadier Stanley Clarke which conveys a sympathetic, almost pitiful expose of De Gaulle`s struggle to be recognised as a series figure not only by his own country but Churchill and Roosavelt. Have you read or come across it?.

    • Thanks for the comment – I’m glad it has piqued your interest in the topic. I haven’t yet watched the Channel 4 series on the resistance but intend to do so soon. I’m not familiar with the book that you mention, but de Gaulle did have problems in his relationship with the allies.

  20. I found your lecture to be incredibly informative and I enjoyed the discussion of contemporary historian’s analysis on the issue of collaboration and resistance. I am currently working on my undergraduate thesis and my topic encompasses Vichy France’s collaboration and how that impacts the memory of World War II in post-war France. I’m having some difficulties finding diaries, letters, personal testimonies, or other primary sources from those who collaborated. I was wondering if you’d help direct me to some of those types of sources. Any help would be greatly appertained.

      • Sadly it is basic. I only began learning French this year. I know becoming fluent in French will be extremely important if I want to continue research on Vichy in graduate school.

      • No problem; I encourage you to keep trying with the French! Off the top of my head, it’s difficult to think of any primary sources in English written by collaborators. The people who chose that side were less keen to publish their memoirs than the resisters, for obvious reasons! You could try France during the German occupation, 1940-1944 : a collection of 292 statements on the government of Maréchal Pétain and Pierre Laval / translated from the French by Philip W. Whitcomb. Stanford, Calif : Stanford University Press. I would also suggest that you look up the names of ministers under the Vichy regime, as some of them may have left diaries and memoirs that were subsequently translated. Paul Baudouin published a diary, I think – but remember to treat them with the same caution you would any historical source.

  21. Please read Irene Nemirovsky’s notes (the Appendix) in the novel she wrote ‘Suite Francaise’. This book that contains her diary of what was happening to her and the French people in 1942, how she could foresee her own death coming which did occur in Auswich oncentration camp, and her 12 year old daughter kept her notes hidden for 64 years, and then, finally ‘Suite Francaise’ was published in 1996.

    What is amazing about this author is her insight to mankind, history and behaviours of mankind and how this book, which never was completed as she still had 3 parts to finish writing, was what she was actually experiencing at the time. Irene states that within a certain social class, everything done in France was because of fear. She believed this was happening for years. She states, that this particular social class caused the war, the defeat and the current peace. Eg ‘For years, everything done in France within a certain social class has had only one motive: fear. This social class caused the war, the defeat and the current peace.’ She felt betrayed more so by the French government than by the Germans. I feel you might be interested in getting into her mindset as this will tell you the truth of what was going on with the French people during that time.

    • Thanks for the comment, Christine. I’ve read this novel and I use sections of it in my classes at Swansea University. It’s a moving and, at times, funny work, and is very evocative of the mood of France during the Exodus of refugees and the early years of the Occupation. My students eems to like it a lot. Have you seen the film? It was released earlier this year.

  22. My French is bad so no source material for me. I’m looking for real human stories of friends or relatives who chose different paths during this period. Especially in southern France and in the non-jewish population. Like the stories of brothers that fought on different sides during the American civil war – what about their parents and friends? How did they reconcile after the war was over? I’m looking for stories that encompass 30 or 40 years. The “collaborators” of the Channel Islands seem similar in terms of myth making. What’s the true human story?

    Real humans dealing with the banality of evil and trying to survive or trying to resist. How did they deal with each other? What was that conflict like?

    • Hi Marty. Thanks for the comment. I don’t know of any stories about families who were split by the choice between resistance and collaboration. There are many memoirs of resisters – I’d suggest starting with Lucie Aubrac’s ‘Outwitting the Gestapo’ – it tells the story of a leader of the resistance and her husband fighting the Nazis during her pregnancy.

    • Hi,
      It will not exactly address your question but when it comes to a grey zone, there are so many stories coming up. What I just remembered is about Duras and her neighbor and friend, Ramon Fernandez, well known critic, defender of Proust and also a true collaborator and fascist. You may find the story below interesting. Not to mention that Duras was working for Vichy and a member of a resistance ring at the same time.

  23. What an interesting and informative piece you have written. I am currently a student at the University of Kent and answering a question on whether Wartime France was a “Nation of Collaborators”. The basis of my argument is looking at the collaboration of the Vichy government, compared to that of the resistors. With this i am looking at the less clear cut groups of the ordinary french and deciding whether or not they were collaborators or that of the resistance. My main argument is essentially that no, wartime France was not necessarily a “Nation” of collaborators in the literal sense of the word however there were clear cut collaborators evident in the form of the Vichy government. I was wondering on your thoughts of the matter, do you think that France was a nation of collaborators? and also do you think an argument could be made that the Vichy government were simply looking for the best deal for France, by constantly undermining the German demands (what I have decided to call “resisting behind the curtain”)? Thank you for taking the time to read my comment.

    • Hi Callum, thanks for the comment. You would need to consider, as your write, different types of collaboration, from the collaboration of the Vichy State, to that of ordinary people, without forgetting groups like the Paris collaborationist fanatics. The idea that France was a nation of collaborators surely refers to Paxton’s very narrow definition of resistance, and his argument that apathy was tantamount to acquiescence to Vichy/the Occupier. We also should consider the motives behind collaboration, too. I agree that Vichy was looking for the best deal for France, and that this was what motivated their collaboration generally in the early years of the war, though it did not really undermine the Germans – often Vichy went further than what was being asked of them (if anything was being asked at all!) I’d be careful with ascribing any form of ‘resistance’ to Vichy, as you risk reproducing the famous ‘shield thesis’ which has been discredited. I hope this helps!

  24. As an historian who lived through the period and written about it extensively, I refer you to my NY TImes Magazine piece on Georges Pompidou and the ensuing controversy, Debut-bRIDEL & cO. P’s reaction was dismissive, but the whole passage cited should interest you. Prof Emeritus Keith Botsford.

  25. Backing into history having been stimulated by reading fiction regarding this period- “Charlotte Gray ” by Sebastian Faulks in particular. Your lecture helps me understand what was going on in France when the British were trying to deal with the Nazi occupation of France. Know for a fact that many, many French people still alive who lived in Vichy France have put it all in perspective but keep their distance from older Germans who love to vacation or even maintain second homes in the area. They haven’t forgotten or maybe even forgiven.

  26. This draft lecture and, indeed, this whole website is a really great resource for young scholars such as myself. Thanks so much Chris for making it available to us all. Dónal

  27. I enjoyed reading this very much. I am interested in what life was like in rural France (the occupied zone) during those early years of war. I imagine it had to be a difficult period. Are there any good sources for this information?

  28. Great article. I am interested in what life was like in rural France in the occupied zone during the early years. Are there any good source materials in English for that time period? I imagine it was a little more difficult than life in Vichy.

  29. I found your article very interesting and informative. I am halfway through a fictional novel I have been trying to write which takes place between 1939 and 1943. Part of the novel involves a British Officer being parachuted into France to meet and train a small group of resistance people in Paris, try to expand their activities and numbers, and evaluate them in order for them to receive drops of arms, radios, etc. from the British. I am trying to find out more about the lives of ordinary people in Paris during the occupation, eg. what food was available, ration cards, restrictions, how difficult was it to go from Vichy to occupied France etc. ? As part of a sub-plot I am interested in who issued things like travel permits and documents i.e. was it the French under German supervision? or purely a German Dept. ? I am not very good on computers ( born 1944 ) and find it difficult to narrow down the information that is relevant. A lot of the relevant stuff I have found is in French. My French is minimal. Although the novel has fictional characters and plots I am trying to get the historical facts as accurate as I can. I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction for source material.

  30. Thanks so much for posting this thorough and fascinating review of French resistance and collaboration during ww2.


  31. Thanks for this article. Interesting subject indeed. One of the major reasons that the “resistance” could actually act militarily was because thaey enjoyed the support of the exiled Spanish (Republican) officers and soldiers with military training with the addition of anarchist and socialsit militiamen equally in exile in France.
    The amount of combatting french national was very reduced and an unproportional amount of succesful armed actions was conducted by Spanish and Yugoslav nationals – needless to say that this is also part of the post-war re-writing of the history.
    The Spanish “maquis” were far more efficient due to their experience from the war. There was also regular troops of Civil War veterans under Leclerc. Actually the first troops to enter Paris were civil war veterans. Not that this is a central theme in your paper but maybe something worth diffing into a bit more.

  32. Thank you so much for this article, it is highly informative and has cleared a lot of potential confusion up about the resistance for me. I am currently writing a paper questioning ‘what were the factors that made the resistance so effective?’. However my study so far merely demonstrates that the resistance initially was nothing but a lack of organisation and coordination of internal and external resistance. I would love to know your opinion on what was the turning point, or what were the key factors were that changed this/what actually demonstrated the efficacy of the resistance? Please let me know your thoughts and once again, great article.

    • Thanks for the comment Charlotte (it didn’t appear starightaway as I have to moderate all comments before they are posted). I have two comments:

      1) As I tell my students, the thing we must consider when looking at anything to do with France during 1940-1944 is the fact that things changed during these four years – Vichy changed, the course of the war changed, the resistance changed. So you’re right that during the early years of the war, the resistance was diverse and groups were based more around social networks and workplaces. It was only when Jean Moulin travelled to meet de Gaulle in London that the beginnings of a united resistance movement came about. De Gaulle was only recognised as leader in May 1943 when the internal movements created the National Council of the Resistance (the CNR). Perhaps we could say then that as an organisation, the ‘Resistance’ could now operate in a more co-ordinated fashion from this point on.

      2) But your question assumes that the resistance WAS effective and this might be something you want to consider in your paper – how effective was the resistance? Whatw as its contribution to the Liberation? Did the Allies involve the resistance in its plans? The efforts of the resistance were not negligible – but we can hardly claim that it overthrew the Occupation single-handedly.

      I’d recommend looking at Julian Jackson’s book, ‘France: The Dark Years’. It has a lot of information on the resistance and how it developed.

      Hope that helps!

      • Hi there,

        Thank you so much for your fast response, I cannot tell you how helpful it is! I am sorry to keep pestering you but would really appreciate your advice. The actual paper I am doing is in French with the title of ‘Quels sont les facteurs qui on permis à la résistance de faire preuve de son efficacité?’ (ie. what are the key factors of the resistance that made is effective?).

        I understand that the resistance itself may not have been initially organised, and in general its effectiveness (especially in a military sense/as a fighting unit) has lots of debate however I am uncertain I will use this in my essay because it may not stay truthful to what the question is actually asking..

        So i thought the best way to answer the question would be:

        – highlighting the movements initial inadequacies

        – identify the key factors:

        * its success in eventually organising itself and becoming a united movement (ie. the turning point with the creation of CNR and Jean Moulin’s trip to London)

        * then how it operated in this coordinated fashion and its subsequent exploits (intelligence, sabotage, strategic effectiveness) and its contribution to liberation…

        – to conclude that it was predominantly effective morally and strategically however as you highlighted, could hardly be held responsible for the overthrow of the occupation.

        Please let me know what you think of that vague plan. However a few things, I was wondering where you thought the role of the clandestine press came into this, since it is evidently very key? And also, was the resistance a key role in the running up to D Day?

        I am ordered Julian Jackson’s book, it is arriving tomorrow, thank you for the recommendation. I really would be so so grateful if you took the time to get back to me as soon as you can, thank you!



      • Hi Charlotte. Thanks for the reply. You may want to think about how you define resistance, though it seems from your comment that you make a distinction between moral/spiritual resistance (this is something that John Sweets emphasises in his ‘Choices in Vichy France’) and military resistance. The question is, how effective was moral resistance, since it may not have actually led to any concrete action. Your question about newspapers fits in here. The people who produced and distributed these newspapers certainly committed an act or resistance – but how about those people that read them? Perhaps you might consider structuring the paper around different types of resistance. HOWEVER, this is just my opinion and impression from what you have written and it may not be what the paper requires. It’s best to speak to your professor about it.

      • Hi Chris,

        Thank you for your feedback. I really am sorry to keep emailing you but my professor is currently away and very hard to contact so I am appreciating your advice a lot, do not worry I understand it is just advice and not a given must to write.

        I think it would be good to structure the question, the main body anyway, on different types of resistance and how they made it effective. I was just trying to organise them in my plan however the resistance is clearly such a wide phenomenon, I am finding it tricky to pick out the key factors (since the essay is only 2000 words).

        – the underground – movements and networks – I do not quite understand the concept and the difference between a network and a movement? does the underground involve everything from clandestine newspapers to intelligence and guerrilla warfare ie. the Marquis etc? Are movements the propaganda and networks the intelligence and connections with allies? I am slightly confused.

        – the left – The communists (and socialists) clearly had a big role in the Resistance, but is this enough for a whole section? Was de Gaulle left or right? I am a bit confused by the political side of the resistance, and whether it aided its effectiveness or whether it was mostly the power of the people?

        – day-to-day civilian reistance

        To me, the reistance seems like such a complicated subject in terms of its true effectiveness so I wold be so grateful for your help in clearing up which are considered the principal factors so I can direct my research more specifically, it all seems a bit vague!

        I understand you must be very busy but I really would appreciate a response as your help thus far has been invaluable. Thank you!



      • Hi Lottie. Thanks for your comment. A movement is more like a single group, while a network is a web of smaller groups or people, and they both operate ‘underground’, which means secretly and illegally. As for your question about the communists and socialists, it’s up to you to decide. You may think that the communist contribution was small, but it was often the most violent. And de Gaulle was essentially right-wing, a conservative, though he tried to present himself as above party politics. I hope that helps.

  33. Was reading about the British secret agent Betty Pack and her efforts to break into the safe of the Vichy Embassy in the USA to find out what info the French were ready to pass onto the Nazis regarding British warships in port in America. Are there any instances in which Vichy France caused significant British or Allied deaths by supplying information a bit too voluntarily?

    • Hi Paul. Hmmm, don’t know much about this I’m afraid. I wonder if this book may be of use: Colin Smith, ‘England’s Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-1942’. It’s available at Amazon. I haven’t read it, but it sounds like a good starting point for your research.

      • Ok thanks. I got a copy on Amazon for buttons, there were still a few hardback copies there for under £1.50. I was very glad to find this page – as up til then my reading (all online) had rather discredited the French in WW2. So I was very much in need of some reading to balance things up, and explain the reasons behind their actions. I think this was about fourth or fifth in google under whatever it was I searched for. Anyway it knitted nearly all the gaps that I was seeking to close-up.

  34. I read this as background for the film la Rafle which is now on the French A level syllabus. For all its cinematic faults la rafle du vel d’hiv considers an important episode in French history. I agree with your pragmatic conclusion that labelling people as either collaborator or resistor distorts the realities of many different individual situations and individual responses. Some Historians have an uncomfortable need to label and to put history into packages, assuming that mere mortals can’t process the shades of grey. Another film, Lacomb Lucien puts an interesting perspective on motivations and general ignorance of the wider picture particularly in the south. I ‘m not sure if it is as embedded in as such historical fact as la rafle but it gave me a good insight.
    Many thanks for making this available on line.

  35. What a wonderful piece you have put together, As keen fan of history I’m always looking for areas to research and learn and France from 1914 to the late 60’s is a fasinating period of time that still echos today. One question I would pose on Petain’s role in the Vichy regime is do you think he was striving towards creating a France in his own image. Regardless of the German occupation. Was he an opportunist as oppose to a collaborator who believed he could rescue France not from the Germans but from its pre-war self.

    • Thanks for the comment Michael. Vichy’s raft of policies – the ‘National Revolution’ – was certainly intended by some of the regime’s leaders to put right what they thought the Republic had done wrong. From the perspective of 1940 it was easy to believe that democratic ‘decadence’ had led to the defeat. But the National Revolution was a complicated project, with sometimes contradictory aims, and it was pursued with energy only until 1941. After that, the pressures of the Occupation and the war saw France’s collaboration deepen. We could perhaps consider Petain to have been an opportunist in that he sought to take advantage of the circumstances of the defeat to implement a political project. But we should also be under no illusion that he endorsed collaboration and was involved in some of the worst deeds of the regime.

  36. Thanks for the comment Michael. Vichy’s raft of policies – the ‘National Revolution’ – was certainly intended by some of the regime’s leaders to put right what they thought the Republic had done wrong. From the perspective of 1940 it was easy to believe that democratic ‘decadence’ had led to the defeat. But the National Revolution was a complicated project, with sometimes contradictory aims, and it was pursued with energy only until 1941. After that, the pressures of the Occupation and the war saw France’s collaboration deepen. We could perhaps consider Petain to have been an opportunist in that he sought to take advantage of the circumstances of the defeat to implement a political project. But we should also be under no illusion that he endorsed collaboration and was involved in some of the worst deeds of the regime.

  37. Superb ,informative and balanced lecture. Very interesting . I have heard lots of local ,remembered history on the war years from people in the small French village in Dordogne,about 3 km from the V. Line, where we lived for 20 years. I m sure you’re right ,most people did nt know what was going on in the bigger picture. In our village some informed on the Jews to the milice others risked their lives as ” passeurs” helping those Jewish families cross the line at night .

  38. Thank you for this article on the Vichy régime. I arrived here via a Google search after reading an article in yesterday’s (Sunday’s edition) of La Montagne, a French regional newspaper. I live in Creuse, a sparsely-populated département in the Limousin which, as I am sure you know, saw quite a few “actions” by French résistants and reprisals against them and the local population. Just in my small commune there are 2 roadside memorials within a kilometre of each other on the same stretch of road where several French résistants were executed by the Germans after capture. However, the article was an interview with Jean-Pierre Roux, founder and editor of the publication “Vingtième siècle”. At the weekend he presided over a round-table discussion in Vichy on the recent opening-up of the national archive material on the Vichy period from 1940-1944. It was this interview which led me to search further and discover your article above.

    Do you know of this person? I’m sure you were aware of the opening of these archives.

  39. Thanks for the article – really interesting and informative. I would like to ask a question about an error in the text – why do you (and so many other historians) refer to England when the correct term is actually Britain? (Obviously I’m not English but I promise I’m not being snide, it’s an honest question on an issue I struggle to understand).
    Many thanks

    • I suppose the correct term would be the United Kingdom! Perhaps it’s my Englishness, though I’ve generally found in France that the British are referred to as ‘les Anglais’. Where are you from?

      • I think ‘les anglais’ / the English is probably a fairer term in this particular instance. Obviously the hostility between France and Engand had gone back centuries – then in the First World War the French had a problem with the English soldiers apparently not pulling their weight on the battlefields. Whereas the French felt the Scots, Irish, Canadians, Australians and other troops showed more heart when it came to getting on with the hand-to-hand fighting. And this feeling – whether justified or not carried on until the Second World War.

  40. I think this page is absolutely great. It is very informative, very easy to understand and gives great context and analysis. I like how historians have been added in also, so we understand how contemporary historians perceive this time in France.

  41. Thank you for such a clear and informative piece. My reason for looking up the topic is to give background to the excellent French TV series Le Village Francis, the final season of which I am currently watching, and your piece has done that very effectively. Watching this series has made me aware of just how morally complex living under occupation must be, and I am inclined to agree with the historian you cite who prefers the term “accomodation” to “collaboration”. This final season covers the post-war reckoning and it is interesting (and saddening) to see some who accommodated publicly scapegoated whilst others seem to be relatively easily assimilated back into society.

    An earlier comment asks about the reasons for accomodation, and I think the series portrays very powerfully that for some people it was simply so that life could go on and, for others, with a real intent to save French lives.

    Interestingly, too, the rewriting of history (revealed in the series through reference to a new history curriculum giving the impression that the resistance were a much greater force in French society than they were) also serves to make the actions of the accommodators appear of greater moral culpability than they probably were.

    Sadly, the impression I end up with after watching hint the series is that it is often the pragmatic accommodators who are more concerned about human life than the absolutist resistors. Maybe a warning to us all …

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