Paris after the liberati.., p.3
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949,
One might have imagined that the atmosphere in Paris under German occupation was oppressive, but most Frenchmen found Vichy far more claustrophobic. The regime’s morality was harsh. A woman accused of procuring an abortion was sentenced to forced labour for life. Prostitutes –‘femmes de mauvaise vie’ – were rounded up and sent to an internment camp at Brens, near Toulouse. It was not long before the regime had its own political police. The Service d’Ordre Légionnaire, an organization which incorporated Colonel de la Rocque’s henchmen from the pre-war Croix de Feu, finally became the Milice Nationale in January 1943. Each member had to take the following oath: ‘I swear to fight against democracy, against Gaullist insurrection and against Jewish leprosy.’ Officials and army officers had to take a personal oath of allegiance to the head of state, just as in Nazi Germany. Yet the regime which was supposed to put an end to the rot of scheming politics was riven by factional jealousies.
The personality cult of the Marshal depicted him as far above such concerns. Hundreds of thousands of framed prints of his portrait were sold. For a tradesman it was almost obligatory to display one in his shop window. But these prints were not just amulets to ward off political suspicion. They were also hung in thousands of homes as household icons. Adults sometimes coloured in the ‘kindly blue eyes’ for themselves, as if they had become children once again. Posters of the man who saw himself as the serene grandfather of France proclaimed his simple pieties with the slogan Travail, Famille, Patrie – the National Revolution’s replacement for the republican trinity of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.
The idea certainly seems to have formed a psychological barrier against de Gaulle’s attempt to rally the French to ignore the armistice and fight on. The twelve-year-old Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie heard a woman say in outrage: ‘This General dares to take exception to Marshal Pétain.’
On 18 June 1940, the day after his arrival in London, Charles de Gaulle made his famous broadcast on the BBC. The British Foreign Office had been opposed to letting him make a speech which was bound to provoke Marshal Pétain’s new government while the question of the French fleet and other matters were unresolved. But Winston Churchill and his Francophile Minister of Information, Duff Cooper, won the Cabinet round. De Gaulle’s brief speech calling on Frenchmen to join him was immensely powerful. Although few people in France heard it, word spread.
De Gaulle was not an easy man and, unlike Napoleon, did little to encourage warmth or loyalty, except in his immediate entourage. Yet this was the source of his strength. His appeal, like Pétain’s, evaded the politics and factionalism which had been the curse of France.
Spears had observed that the main defeatists were conservatives, yet not all of vieille France had surrendered easily. The defence of the cavalry school at Saumur, when a group of lightly armed subalterns fought off a panzer unit until they ran out of ammunition, was just one example. And many members of the aristocracy were to prove in the next few years by their service under de Gaulle or in the Resistance that they held honour above politics. Such decisions split a number of families.
De Gaulle had accomplished the vital first step: recognition and support from Churchill. On 27 June, Churchill summoned him to Downing Street and said: ‘You are all alone? Very well, then I recognize you all alone!’ The next day de Gaulle received a message through the French Embassy in London – then in a curious state of interregnum – telling him to place himself in a state of arrest in Toulouse within five days. A subsequent court martial in Clermont-Ferrand condemned him to death in absentia for desertion and for entering the service of a foreign power. De Gaulle sent back a message rejecting the sentence as null and void. He would discuss the matter ‘with the people of Vichy after the war’.
Among the few who joined de Gaulle was André Dewavrin, who soon began to organize the Gaullist intelligence service, the BCRA (Bureau Central de Renseignement et d’Action). Dewavrin, best known by his nom de guerre of Colonel Passy, had many enemies, particularly among the Communists. They put it about that he was a former member of the Comité Secret d’Action Révolutionnaire, whose members were known as cagoulards, or the ‘hooded ones’. This organization was dedicated to the suppression of Communism, by assassination if necessary. Dewavrin always strongly denied that he had been a member.
Nevertheless, he did recruit two other cagoulards, the half-Russian Captain Pierre Fourcaud and Maurice Duclos. It was Duclos who suggested that the members of the BCRA take their code-names from Paris métro stations, a customary precaution in the Cagoule. The idea was adopted, so Dewavrin’s code-name of ‘Passy’ for his clandestine activities is cited as evidence of a cagoulard past.
The presence of cagoulards, however few, in de Gaulle’s ranks provoked a great deal of suspicion among liberals, socialists and, of course, Communists. There were also whispers that Passy’s subordinates used brutal methods on anyone suspected of attempting to infiltrate the Gaullist organization.
The other important figure to declare his allegiance at this time was Gaston Palewski, later de Gaulle’s chef de cabinet and most trusted adviser. Palewski, an outstanding young member of Marshal Lyautey’s staff in Morocco, had first known de Gaulle, then a colonel, in 1934. The young man was so impressed by this extraordinary soldier that he resolved to serve him as soon as the call came.
De Gaulle’s supporters, however much courage and talent they possessed, were still very few in number. The only significant military figure to endorse him in the summer of 1940 was General Catroux, while the troops of Free France amounted to no more than a couple of battalions, mostly evacuees from Dunkirk or from the expeditionary force sent to Norway. A number of officers and sailors had managed to escape metropolitan France, individually or in small groups. Although the trickle of volunteers continued, de Gaulle’s only hope of building an army lay overseas in the colonial forces of the Levant, French West Africa and, most significantly, North Africa. The future leadership of France would be decided there.
Like collaboration, the resistance which grew up in France had degrees of commitment and took many forms. It included anything from hiding Jews or Allied airmen, distributing leaflets and underground newspapers, writing poems, minor sabotage or involvement in military action right up to the all-out battles which delayed the Das Reich Division in its advance north against the Normandy bridgehead in June 1944.
Men and women in most cases joined because a particular experience or event opened their eyes to the reality of Nazi occupation. Jean Moulin, who was to become the most important martyr of the Resistance, had been Prefect of the département of Eure-et-Loir in 1940. At the time of the defeat, two German soldiers taking over a house in the village of Luray shot an old woman because she had shouted at them and shaken her fist. They tied her corpse to a tree and told her daughter that it was to be left there as a warning. Moulin telephoned the local German headquarters from his office in Chartres to demand justice.
That night, he received a summons to the headquarters. A junior officer asked him to sign an official statement which asserted that a group of French Senegalese infantry had committed a terrible massacre in the area, raping and murdering women and children. Moulin, knowing that he would have heard if any such incident had taken place, demanded proof. He was beaten savagely with rifle butts for his persistent refusal to sign and thrown into a cell. Fearing that he might weaken after further torture, Moulin slit his throat with a piece of glass. This desperate act was probably more of a bid to escape than an attempt at suicide, for he took care to cut close to the jaw: deep enough to spill a lot of blood, but not deep enough to let him lose consciousness or sever an artery. He was taken to the hospital and released soon after. Moulin spent four more months as the Prefect of Eure-et-Loir before being sacked by Vichy. He moved back to his native village of Saint-Andiol, near Avignon, and for a while it looked as though he was settling into semiretirement. It was not until April 1941 that he started making contact with the Resistance.
There were numerous Resistanc
One movement – the French Communist Party – did not lack for clandestine experience, having been proscribed in 1939. It had, however, been deeply disorientated by the Nazi–Soviet pact of August 1939. Twenty-seven members of the National Assembly had resigned from the party. The following year, Communists hardly knew how to react to the invasion of France. Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, sent Hitler a message of congratulation on the fall of Paris, and some party loyalists welcomed the conquerors.
When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the news came almost as a relief. The Nazis were once again the enemy. But the bitterness did not entirely disappear. A blacklist of party traitors was circulated, with orders for their assassination. A number of those on the list had collaborated with the Vichy regime, but many were fighting bravely in the Resistance; their crime was to have criticized the Nazi–Soviet pact openly in 1939 and 1940. These renegades – falsely accused of being ‘agents of the Gestapo’ – had to keep looking over their shoulder for the Germans, for the Milice, and also for killers sent after them by the Stalinist leadership, usually a fanatically loyal young militant mounted on a bicycle and armed with a revolver.
The Communist Resistance organizations were the most difficult for the Abwehr and the Gestapo to infiltrate, partly because of their structure, based on three-man cells. But the most important innovation was a set of ruthless security measures established by the young Auguste Lecoeur, who, like the absent party leader Maurice Thorez, was a tough and intelligent miner from the northern coalfields. One can only guess at the number of innocent men and women killed or sacrificed to maintain Communist security during those years of clandestine existence.
Whether or not the Communists were the first to strike openly against the Germans – the question is still not clear – the party claimed the first casualties. Martyrs were very important for propaganda: the French Communist Party later called itself ‘le parti des fusillés’ – the party of the executed – with the grossly inflated claim of 75,000 casualties.
The first assassinations of German officers had unpredictable and far-reaching consequences. On 21 August, two months after the invasion of Russia, a Communist militant who later became the Resistance leader Colonel Pierre Georges Fabien shot down a very junior officer of the Kriegsmarine called Moser in a Paris métro station. A retroactive decree was passed which effectively made every prisoner, whatever his crime, a hostage liable to execution. To appease the German authorities, three Communists who had nothing to do with the attack were then sentenced to death and guillotined a week later in the courtyard of the Santé prison. Pierre Pucheu, Vichy’s Minister of the Interior, who rejected their appeal, was regarded as the organizer of this violent repression.
Not long afterwards, another German officer was shot in the streets of Nantes. Twenty-seven Communists were executed on 27 October and twenty-one were shot at Châteaubriant the following day. On 15 December, the Germans shot a Communist member of the National Assembly, Gabriel Péri. In his last letter he wrote that Communism represented the youth of the world and it was preparing ‘des lendemains qui chantent’ – ‘tomorrows full of song’. His execution prompted the party’s poet laureate, Louis Aragon, to write a fifteen-verse ballad. Péri became one of the leading martyrs of the party, and the phrase ‘les lendemains qui chantent’ came to symbolize all the revolutionary hopes that the day of liberation promised.
The Resistance of the Interior and the Men of London
Acts of resistance achieved little for as long as the German occupation and the Vichy regime appeared unshakeable. But perceptions began to change dramatically around the end of 1942, when the battle of El Alamein was followed by Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa, and then by the psychologically decisive battle of Stalingrad. The myth of Axis invincibility was broken.
The landings in Algeria and Morocco proved a double blow to Pétain’s regime. Vichy lost the North African colonies, while the German invasion of the southern zone destroyed the basis of the Montoire agreement with Hitler. The Marshal’s justification for having taken the ‘path of collaboration’ lay in ruins. Even most of his supporters expected the old man to escape his deceiver by fleeing to North Africa, but he swallowed the humiliation. This lost him the trust and respect of many who had followed him faithfully until then. The only senior officer who attempted to oppose the German takeover was General de Lattre de Tassigny. He had to go into hiding and was later picked up by a Hudson aircraft and flown out to England. Vichy’s ‘army of the armistice’, as it had been known, was disbanded. Many of its officers and men joined the Resistance.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Operation Torch was that it managed to achieve a measure of surprise. For several months the whole project had been the subject of numerous overtures to Vichy loyalists within the unoccupied zone and in North Africa. Yet, to his fury, de Gaulle and his followers were allowed no part in it.
De Gaulle’s relations with Churchill had started to deteriorate rapidly after the ill-fated expedition to seize Dakar from Vichy in September 1940. The British were said to have accused the French in London of loose talk, but in fact they knew that the real problem came from the refusal of de Gaulle’s headquarters to adopt a modern code system for their signal traffic. French officers refused to believe that the Germans were breaking their codes with ease. Not until 1944, when a British officer broke their code in front of their eyes, did they finally switch to one-time pads. The result was that the British and Americans avoided warning de Gaulle’s headquarters of any operations, including those involving French territory. The American government feared that the French colonial army in North Africa might resist the Torch landings, and was keen to prevent this happening. Robert Murphy, Roosevelt’s personal representative, had therefore been seeking a leader who would be acceptable to the mainly pro-Vichy officers stationed there. Various figures, including General Weygand, were considered and approaches made, but with little success. Then an apparently ideal candidate appeared in the form of General Henri Giraud.
Giraud had become a hero in France after escaping from the prison fortress of Königstein in Germany. A good soldier, he proceeded to Vichy to report to Marshal Pétain, but this represented an embarrassment for Vichy’s relations with the Germans. The Americans recruited him and he was brought out by submarine.
Admiral Darlan, the commander-in-chief of all Vichy forces, then entered the scene. After being ousted from the premiership by Laval on 17 April 1942, he had made cautious approaches to the Resistance and the American authorities. (The veteran politician Édouard Herriot had said of Darlan just after the armistice: ‘This Admiral knows how to swim.’) Darlan flew to Algiers from Vichy on 5 November, two days before the American invasion, to see his son in hospital. His arrival caused great confusion in the American camp. They did not know whether he would serve their purposes or oppose the landings. Meanwhile their chosen leader Giraud, then in Gibraltar, started to change his mind at the last moment, causing even greater confusion.
The landings which took place two days later succeeded largely because Admiral Darlan and General Juin in Algiers secured the ceasefire. The deal which the Americans
De Gaulle had not been told of the landings on 7 November. He was furious when he heard the news the following morning. ‘I hope the Vichy people will fling them into the sea!’ he yelled. ‘You don’t get France by burglary!’ When the implications of the American deal with Darlan later became clear – that Roosevelt had no scruples about using unrepentant Pétainists – it looked as if de Gaulle faced political oblivion. The new regime in North Africa was nicknamed ‘Vichy à l’envers’ – Vichy back-to-front – because Darlan had hardly changed his coat, let alone his views. He still acknowledged Pétain as leader, the Gaullist cross of Lorraine was still outlawed and Jews had to continue wearing the yellow star. But on Christmas Eve 1942 the balance of power in French affairs was fated to change when a young monarchist, Second Lieutenant Fernand Bonnier de la Chapelle, assassinated Admiral Darlan with a .38 Colt automatic issued to him by Colonel Douglas Dodds-Parker of the SOE (the Special Operations Executive).
The overall organizer of the operation was Henri d’Astier de la Vigerie, brother of Emmanuel, the leader of the Libération Resistance movement. Henri d’Astier, an officer in military intelligence, was part of a royalist group in close touch with the Comte de Paris, the pretender to the throne of France. In fact he was a monarcho-Gaullist, a combination which was less paradoxical then than it might appear. De Gaulle was seen as a regent who might bring about a restoration of the French royal family.
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949 by Antony Beevor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes