The our understanding of this episode in France’s history

The historiography ofFrance in the Second World War and her experience of the Occupation, VichyRegime, and Liberation is precarious terrain.

Even when the scope is narrowedto only one aspect of this period such as the Resistance, attempts to documentand define it become problematic, subjected to a multitude of personal,political and historical perspectives. Recollections of the Resistance were,and to some extent still are, indissolubly tied with personal experiences andheavily coded by the political climate post-liberation, both internal andexternal, that ‘necessitated’ the promotion of a very specific version ofevents. Comprehending the Resistance is also complicated by geography and thespatial terrain of Resistance movements, with the physical distance of externalResistance efforts by French nationals reflected also in an ideologicaldistance with many internal Resistance movements; the division of France intothe Occupied and Free Zones and the specific Resistance needs within each; andthe distinct activities and enterprise of urban guerrilla Resistance groupsversus the rural maquis. Even thenotion that the Resistance was unified by a single goal is negated by the factthat most Resistance factions each had aspirations to actualise their ownenduring vision, toward which the liberation of France was the initial step. Deconstructingthe label of the French Resistance inan attempt to clarify our understanding of this episode in France’s historyestablishes a further conundrum pertaining to the definition of “French-ness”;what specific factors qualify what it is to be French? The Resistance issituated in the midst of a turbulent national politics swept up in gatheringglobal political, economic and religious agitations. The decade preceding is categorisedby a rooted and violent divide between the left and right, and severe politicalinstability in the decade following prompted the re-evaluation of the nation inthe creation of a new, Fifth Republic. In light of this, how is it possibledetermine what was categorically French about the Resistance, rather thansymptomatic of broader political, ideological and religious conflicts that hadafflicted Europe and the world in the decades building up to war?            As intimated by the geographical division of Francefollowing its fall in 1940, the Resistance was characterised not as a unitaryevent, a single national project stretching from Calais to Cannes, but as aphenomenon comprised of varied and distant groups conducting a variety ofoperations to different ends. This diversity was not simply the product of thearmistice agreement of 1940, but reflected the specific skills, needs, andinterests proposed by people who grouped themselves along the lines ofreligion, class, political ideology, industry, location, nationality, oftenalso through a combination of these factors.

Reflecting on this diverse, sometimescontradictory, plurality, Jean-Marie Guillon has suggested that ‘lesrésistances’ is a more apt signifier for what is commonly understood as ‘la Résistance’.1 In light of this, itbecomes necessary to distinguish the similarities in the actions of thesemovements in order to determine an understanding of the Resistance.             Definingthe Resistance, in its multitude of disparate forms, should begin byestablishing the parameters that constitute an act of Resistance, or rather, anact of the Resistance rather than an act that simply showed resistance to Nazior Vichy jurisdiction. Julian Jackson outlines the difficulties in thisendeavour, warning of both an excessively narrow definition that is solelymilitary, and affixing the criteria for resistance activity too broadly. Hesuggests that Resistance activity should be defined by intent; subvertingauthority on the basis of personal motives/necessity, rather than subvertingauthority for the service of others, does not amount to Resistance, in the sameway that actions with unintended consequences that aided Resistance movementsdo not qualify either.2 Thus, the Resistance canbe defined as a series of meditated acts, conducted with the intent to disrupt,subvert, undermine, prevent, and, ultimately, attack the Nazi military,political and social authority in both the Occupied Zone and Vichy.              Within Jackson’s paradigm of intentions andactions, operates a general classification of the genres of resistance methods exercisedthroughout France.

Denis Peschanski recognises these as falling into roughly 6categories: propaganda, social struggles, intelligence missions, armedresistance, resistance in internment camps, and rescue and escape networks.3 This is suggestive of thefluidity of the Resistance and its groups, emerging in response to the needs ofthe population and allied forces, and perceived threats that arose as Vichy andGerman oppression continued. The human composition of each group was arguably alarge contributing factor to this fluidity, as it determined the type ofactivity that they could carry out. For instance, prior to the formation of Libération de zone sud, Emmanueld’Astier and a few others formed the group LaDernière Colonne with an aim toorganise attacks on collaborators.

This focus then diverted to propaganda whenit became clear that the people involved were ill equipped to carry out suchattacks. It took a series of failed attempts before d’Astier was able tocoordinate a successful act of Resistance in the creation of the newspaper Libération-Sud, which printed 10,000copies in its first issue making the group one of the most influential in theunoccupied zone.4Conversely, refugees of the Spanish Civil War aggregated a pool of Resistancefighters experienced in armed combat who had fought either amongst the SpanishRepublicans or in the International Brigades that joined the struggle; theywere able to use the routes and networks across the Pyrenees established yearsearlier during the war and La Retiradato both aid the escape of stranded allied forces and clandestine subjects, andambush tobacco smugglers to accumulate the funds for weapons and resources tobe used in armed Resistance.5 Thus, the capacity ofResistance movements and networks was largely determined by its composition. Asorganisations expanded, it furnished the occasion to expand the genre and scopeof the operations it carried out.

However, Resistance groups also frequentlylost members of their organisations due to capture or death; the survival rateof the Carmagnole group in Lyon in 1943 was said to be 3 months.6  In this sense, the capacity of Resistancegroups was shifting, able to expand, change track, and also diminish.Therefore, the Resistance cannot accurately be attributed a fixed definition,but must be understood as a fluid, dynamic, sporadic, process that unfolded indifferent ways during 1940-1944.            However,this definition of the Resistance as multitudinous, fluctuating and determined tookmany decades to emerge. Indeed, even as late as 1995 Guillon, as editor,introduced a comprehensive volume of essays on the Resistance stating that its historyremains to be written.7 This proposed historicaldearth on the subject is in large part owing to the image of the Resistancefervently propelled by de Gaulle from the outset of the Liberation in Paris inAugust 1944 of ‘France in combat.

The one France, the true France, eternalFrance’ that had been ‘liberated by its own efforts’.8 During the Fourth andearly Fifth Republic, the French administration exerted the full weight of itspolitical, legal and educational structures to suppress any interpretation of thewar years in France that did not align itself with that of a united Frenchpeople taking up arms against German oppression, with the few, anomalouscollaborators purged during heavily publicised trials known as the épuration. While there was some literaryand cultural scepticism of this Gaullist myth during the 40’s and 50’s arousedin the works of right-wing, anti-parliamentary writers such as Roger Nimier andAntoine Blondin who have been grouped under the name Les Hussards, for the most partthe release, in 1969, of Marcel Ophüls’ two-part television documentary Le Chagrin et La Pitié (although notaired until 1971 in the cinema and 1981 on French television) marks the turningpoint in perceptions of life in France during the Occupation and Vichy regime. SimoneVeil, head of the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française at the time,refused its broadcast on the grounds that it manipulated memory and did not,for her, reflect the reality of the time.9 This indicates the extentto which national perceptions of the Resistance, and its historiography, were impactedby personal memories which were sometimes ‘too heavy, even for loved ones’.10 Yet, when exploring howthe Resistance can be defined, unearthing individual experiences of Resistanceand Collaboration alike, so long suppressed by de Gaulle’s myth of a unanimous ‘Francein combat’, provides the key to a more nuanced understanding of the scope,diversity, and in short, the reality of how the Resistance materialised acrossFrance and abroad.              DeGaulle re-established French national identity after the Liberation around theconcept of French Resistance, however, remarks by members involved withinternal Resistance groups reveal a trend pointing to the idea that activeengagement, in a lot of cases, was the consequence of the exact opposite to anaffinity with a particularly French identity. Jackson notes that d’Astierrecognised resisters as ‘maladjusted’, while others such as Claude Bourdet andJean Cassou suggested that Resisters were made of those who experienced acertain social and professional marginality.

11 Although Jackson warnsagainst taking these cases as representative of a whole, they certainly refutethe notion of a patriotic French resistance given that some of the foundingmembers of Resistance movements considered themselves and their associates tobe somewhat socially detached from the rest of the nation. Elsewhere,participation in the Resistance can be witnessed as dictated much less byFrench patriotism than external circumstances.12 The threat of Service de Travail Obligatoire in 1943drove many young men to the arms of the Resistance, and it was not until thedissolution of the Nazi-Soviet pact in June 1941 that Communist Resistancestruly galvanised their force. Thus, the idea that it was a French Resistance, the unique production of a nation of patrioticcitizens, is dubious.

            Indeed,many consequential Resisters were not considered citizens under the ThirdRepublic, Vichy regime and Occupation, while others were citizens but not ofFrench origin.  The protracted omissionof the contribution made by other nationalities to Resistance efforts in Francehas accompanied and accommodated de Gaulle’s prevailing false image of theFrench Resistance. Acknowledging the extent of activity conducted by foreignResisters, Gildea suggests that a more accurate designation would be’Resistance in France’.13 Economic migrants, andpolitical and religious refugees from Italy, Germany and Eastern-Europe who immigratedto France during the inter-war period, as well as Spanish Republicans seekingasylum after the Spanish Civil War, in a lot of cases came to encapsulate themarginal, maladjusted figure suited to the Resistance.

For some, integrationinto France was impeded by hostility from its citizens, hostility thatflourished under a struggling economy, global political tensions, and steadilyincreasing numbers of refugees during the 1930’s.14 The internment of SpanishRepublicans, established not by Vichy but the Third Republic, demonstrates theextent of the animosity that foreigners contended with in France. As Communistsand other advocates of the left were targeted for internment, and the 1940Statute on Jews and ensuing rafles endangeredJewish people, this had in some cases the adverse effect of galvanising forcesof potential resistance as people were forced underground, or gathered in campssuch as Le Vernet. The religious and political affiliations of immigrants meantthey were especially targeted, so that out of the total population offoreigners in France, the proportion engaged in the Resistance was higher thanthat of the French population.15            Foreign Resistance movementsalso had distinguished experience and success in their operations. The POWN, anon-communist Polish group operating in the Occupied and free zones, carriedout roughly 300 sabotage missions. In Paris, four immigrant detachments of theFTP (Communist Resistance group Francs-Tireurs et Partisans) were all thatremained of the Communist Party after 1942; with roughly 60 immigrants theycarried out 92 attacks in the first 6 months of 1943 alone.

16 In Lyon, the FTP-MOIgroup Carmagnole-Liberté conducted 241 confirmed actions, believed to be anunderestimate of their activity. When a rescue operation of the group in August1944 resulted in an armed shoot-out with German troops, crowds gathered inVilleurbanne joined them in building barricades, forming an insurrection;although it failed, it bears noting that it was immigrants who led the exampleof Resistance for the French public. 17             Particularlyfor the FTP-MOI, the Resistance in France was not a unique struggle. Divisionswere headed by those with experience in combat, largely from the Spanish CivilWar in the International Brigades or as part of the Republican army.18 In this sense, theResistance was to some extent shaped by the Spanish Civil War, its fightersrepurposed for the liberation of France. For younger recruits, it seems theyinherited the fight from their parents; ‘the war simply continued for thesepeople; their parents had fought in Spain, they went on in this struggle’,19 others were ‘trained inthe hard school of Polish illegality’.20 In both instances, there isevidence to suggest that immigrants were predisposed to fight in theResistance, in some instances continuing political, ideological or religiousbattles wrought in their home or parents nation.             Itis perhaps a very lack of French nationality, of explicitly French patriotism,which in some ways sustained the Resistance on a wider level.

The idea that theexperience of social marginalisation equipped many immigrants to be Resistershas already been mentioned, however it does not account for the intensepsychological ordeal of accentuated isolation, perpetual fear, and spells ofacute violence pinpointed by Simmonds as the experience of members inCarmagnole-Liberté.21 After the 1940 armisticemost French ‘muddled through’, looking inward to their family andneighbourhood.22Meanwhile, it was the project of Communist and immigrant Resistance groups ‘tomake our towns inhospitable to today’s victors’, conducting attacks in vastlypublic domains such as the street, trams, hotels, restaurants, cinemas, and stations.23 They were certainly inthe minority, and armed Resistance groups struggled not just against the Germanauthorities and its French agents, but also to some extent the attitudes of theFrench public; it was many years before the prospect of Nazi defeat and anallied invasion buoyed more widespread encouragement for acts of Resistance, orthat the STO highlighted the realityof Nazi subjugation. Their acts were perceived in some cases as terrorism, andit was often the MOI divisions of the FTP that bore the brunt of thisantipathy. There is some speculation that the FTP used their partner MOIdivisions as scapegoats to divert the authorities and public condemnationtoward foreigners, such as the Marcel Langer brigade in Toulouse and theManouchian group in Paris.24 The covert armed actionof immigrant resistance groups throughout most of the war paved the way for theopen street battles of the Liberation, however in this environment its agentswere vulnerable and largely unschooled. All this is to say that, in some cases,while de Gaulle stoked the flame of French resistance abroad, immigrantResistance movements payed a fundamental effort to keep it burning in France, adopting a role that otherFrench and Communist groups could (or would) not.

            Themotivations of immigrants and refugees in the Resistance are commonly believedto be governed by the pursuit of liberation for their birth nation and/orreligion. However, it is not just these groups who acted with their sights setbeyond the borders of France. At its base, WWII was ideological; the forces offascism, communism, and all that falls between, were embroiled in a globalstruggle.

The allied nations, while united in their goal to defeat NaziGermany, also sought to maintain and promote their political sovereigntypost-war. This phenomenon is reflected in the Resistance among both French andimmigrant groups aligning themselves with de Gaulle’s Free French, theCommunist Party, or otherwise. This contributes to an understanding of theResistance as a multiplicity of disparate political, religious, and nationalinterests that actively refused the military, political, social, and culturalauthority of fascism in France.

While the Liberation may have been France’s,the Resistance was not.1 Jean-Marie Guillon, ‘La Résistance, 50ans et 2000 titres après’ in Jean Marie Guillon and Pierre Laborie (eds), Mémoire et Histoire : la Résistance, (Toulouse :Editions Privat, 1995), p.42.2Julian Jackson, France: The Dark Years,1940-1944, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp.

387-8.3 Denis Peschanski, ‘La RésistanceImmigrée’ in Mémoire et Histoire, p.211.4 Julian Jackson, The Dark Years, pp.406-7, “Dictionnaire d’Histoire de France”, éd. 2005, Archives Larousse, p.709 available at

larousse.fr/archives/histoire_de_france>13/01/2018. 5 David Gildea, Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance, (London:Faber & Faber, 2016) pp.225-6, GenevièveDreyfus-Armand, ‘Les Espagnols dans la Résistance: incertitudes et spécifités’,Mémoire et Histoire, pp.220-2. 6Léon Landini, Interview with Léon Landini (Bagneux, 2012) as cited in DavidGildea, Fighters in the Shadows, p.208.

7 Jean-Marie Guillon, ‘La Résistance’, Mémoire et Histoire, p.15. 8 Charles de Gaulle, Discours et messages I, (Paris: Plon, 1970), pp.439-40.9 Aurélien Veil, ‘Echos d’une vie: SimoneVeil’, ETUDES, November 2017, p.36. 10 Simone Veil, trans. by essay author,’Simone Veil: “J’ai ressenti une grande solidarité”, l’Express, February 2008 available at

lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/simone-veil-j-ai-ressenti-une-grande-solidarite_473233.html>14/01/2018. 11Emmanuel d’Astier, l’Aventure incertaine,pp.26-7 and H.

R Kedward, Resistancein Vichy, pp. 76-7 as cited in Julian Jackson, France: The Dark Years, p. 403. 12Colin Nettelbeck, ‘Getting the Story Right: Narratives of World War II inPost-1968 France’, Journal of EuropeanStudies, 15(2), 1985, p.83. 13David Gildea, Fighters in the Shadows, p.

239.14Greg Burgess, Refuge in the Land ofLiberty: France and its Refugees, from the Revolution to the End of Asylum,1787-1939, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp.141-3. 15Julian Jackson, France: The Dark Years, p.494.16 Ibid, pp.

495, 496. 17J.C Simmonds, ‘Immigrant Fighters for the Liberation of France: a Local Profileof Carmagnole-Liberté in Lyon’, H.

R Kedward and Nancy Wood (eds), The Liberation of France: Image and Event, (Oxford:Berg Publishers, 1995), p.37.18David Gildea, Fighters in the Shadows, p.224.19Jean Ottavi, Interview with Jean Ottavi, (Paris, 1992) as cited in J.C Simmonds’Immigrant Fighters for the Liberation of France’, p.32.

20 RHICOJ, Les Juifs dans la Résistance et la Libération, histoire, témoignages,débats, (Paris: Editions du Scribe, 1985), p.174.   21J.C Simmonds, ‘Immigrant Fighters for the Liberation of France’, p.36.

22David Gildea, Fighters in the Shadows, (EPUB:Faber & Faber), ch.2 par. 5.

  23Leon Landini, Letter to Vittori, as cited by J.C Simmonds in ‘ImmigrantFighters for the Liberation of France’, p.37.24Julian Jackson, France: The Dark Years, p.497.