Resistance in France Under Nazi Occupation

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Walters � PAGE �1�

Derik Walters

Philip Slaby


March 1, 2010

Resistance in France Under Nazi Occupation

By 1943 Nazi armies were in command of the entire country of France. Because of the occupation, many forms of resistance developed in France. Most Resistance groups consisted of small groups of armed men and women who were willing to fight against the Nazi occupiers. Although there were many types of resistance present in France during World War II, it was largely ineffective in causing damage to Nazi forces.

Generally speaking, there are four factors that lead to resistance in occupied nations. The factors are brutality of the occupier, economic exploitation, the loss of collaboration power, and in the case of France communism was the last factor. The Germans brutally defeated France therefore leaving the country with no hope. The structural framework of the country collapsed�. The Nazi army killed hundreds of thousands of French men, women, children, and especially Jews.

People who resisted against German force were subject to extreme brutality and often death. This in turn directly heightened the efficiency of German control.�

Many French town workers were victims of rationing and exploitation by German troops in their own factories. On February 1943, they were threatened by a forced labor service and found it easier to join a movement that combined patriotic combat and class struggle than to be forced into essentially slave labor in Germany�. The Germans were also known for abusing natural resources that France was rich in. They also exploited as much labor as possible so they didn't have to mobilize Germany.

In France there was collaborationist regime in power out of the town of Vichy France run by Marshall Pétain. Vichy France collaborated with Germany, but in 1943 it became unpopular and ceased to exist because the Germans completely took over. Because the collaborationist regime lost power and popularity the people began to resort to their own devices in dealing with the German occupiers. This led to a rise in resistance activity all over France, with actions as simple as telling Germans the wrong directions on the streets or sometimes actions more severe.

An aspect unique to France resistance was the effect communism had on the French resistance movement. Before the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was rendered invalid; European communists especially French, were not able to participate in subversive activities. After the pact was disbanded, communists were able to resist Nazi occupiers. Because communism is more organized and secretive in general, this allowed resistance groups in general to be more effective�. In 1941-42 was the only movement that was organized and effective in Russia and France. This allowed it to be the most effective piece of the resistance in France.

In France the resistance can be categorized in three different ways: by terrorist attacks, organized action, more specifically organized guerillas, and finally non-violent resistance. Terrorist attacks were a big part of French resistance against the German army with the civilians of France taking seriously this quote that was popular in the underground world, "France be careful not to lose your soul". The residents of France were overwhelmed by everything the Nazis had been doing, so they set up organizations such as political parties, secret armies, churches, and unions to create boundaries with which they were able to more successfully fight. Many French people openly rebelled against Nazi rule. For example, on 17 June 1940 Madame Lemaire, daughter of President Doumer, assassinated a German-commissioned officer�.

The most common type of organized action groups for resistance were the armed men and women know as the Maquis. Organized actions played a big role in helping France resistance against the Nazi army. The Maquis terrorized Nazi troops throughout France making it difficult to do their jobs. It was important that the Maquis did this so that troops were pulled from various other areas of Europe to deal with the Maquis. Often, the Maquis and other rebel groups were supported and supplied by the Special Operations Executive and was encouraged by Churchill's policy of "setting Europe ablaze." However, the Nazi troops did retaliate back, usually with extreme damage done to the resisters. One example of this is the Vercors massacre. The Maquis who had holed up on the Vercors plateau were mercilessly slaughtered by Nazi troops that had parachuted in�.

Nonviolent resistance was a less harmful way of trying to annoy and create distractions in the Nazi operations. The French did many things to confuse and mess with the Nazi army. Some nonviolent actions taken by France were, switching street signs to confuse the German armies and get them lost, and run underground newspapers. The underground newspapers were most likely the most useful nonviolent form of resistance in France. The underground newspapers and running of intelligence networks did a great deal to sustain national pride and transmit information during the occupation years�. Propaganda was also a common form of nonviolent resistance that also gave people hope and was not easy to punish. Another common type of nonviolent resistance was listening to the BBC radio and its Allied broadcasts that often had important information coded into it. People also nonviolently resisted by repatriating soldiers left behind as well as by supplying information about the German army�.

When considering the resistance movement in France one most consider how effective as well as how counterproductive it was in the overall assessment of the war. Some historians may argue that certain forms may be considered effective, but many others feel that in general resistance was counterproductive. Effectiveness of terrorist attacks didn't always go as planned. Often terrorist attacks caused the Germans to react against civilians or people associated with the resistance movement. Germans often retaliated with civilian punishment for terrorist activities with the punishments ranging form citywide curfews to hostage taking and sometimes murder�. Frequently, in the Western Europe's pastoral and urban regions the population was very vulnerable to reprisals. Because of this typically the only type of activity was guerrilla activity supported by external forces�.

Organized action could be effective but not always in the part of resistance. On D-Day one can see the value of resistance. The Maquis were able to divert important German troops away from the beaches of Normandy allowing for an easier attack by the allied forces. In this situation of resistance was very effective. The resistance maintained an encouraged by the Allies against Hitler such military assistance to guerillas and other things such as sabotage and subversion ultimately were ineffective in counterproductive towards the war effort. Because of this one can see that for the most part resistance was largely ineffective in causing damage to the German troops�.

Nonviolent resistance, such as posters of propaganda and underground newspapers, was effective in keeping morale high. It was often organized by tiny groups, which allowed it to continue under the occupation of the Nazi army. In this way, it was effective in keeping people happier under occupation, but was essentially ineffective in its harassment of the German occupiers�.

In conclusion it's clear that the resistance in France was largely ineffective in causing any damage to German forces. Although it did help with the morale of the French people, militaristically it wasn't helpful.


Keegan, J., The Second World War. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1986.

Wieviorka, O., "France." Resistance in Western Europe. Edited by Bob Moore. New York, NY: Berg Publishing, 2000.

The Oxford Companion to World War II. 1st ed.. "France."

� Olivier Wieviorka. "France." Resistance in Western Europe. Edited by Bob Moore. (New York, NY: Berg Publishing, 2000), 126.

� John Keegan. The Second World War. (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1986), 488.

� Wieviorka, 131

� Keegan, 489

� Wieviorka, 127

� Keegan, 484

� Keegan, 489-490

� Wieviorka, 128

� Keegan, 488

� Keegan, 490

� Keegan 484, 495

� The Oxford Companion to World War II. ed. 1. 1995 "France" pg. 405.