THE masses of the French people simply did not understand what was happening to them when the German military machine rolled across the Loire and, with hardly a pause, down to Bordeaux and the Pyrenees. In those horrifying days of June 1940 there was almost no news either on the radio or in the press. Almost nobody tried to analyze the causes of the disaster. The pain of the moment was too acute, the catastrophe was too brutal, to permit generalizations or long views; immediate personal worries monopolized the thoughts of almost everyone. France fell, and lay in a kind of stupor.

When people did think, it was not old Marshal Pétain alone who imagined that a new world was about to be born, and that it might not be such a bad one after all. The Marshal told the French people -- and each one of them in his heart wished to believe it -- that the Germans were, after all, men like other men; that peace could not at any rate be harsher or more terrible than war; and that the sacrifices which the Germans would exact would be only temporary. Sooner or later there would be a resurgence of French life and what had been lost would be regained. So the peasant returned to the land, ready to work to earn that peace which the armistice had brought dimly into view.

Only slowly and gradually, when it became apparent that the Germans had no intention of treating France as a free and independent country, did French resistance begin to take shape. The peasants in the occupied territory were the first to realize the fact. They had seen the Germans arrive, smiling and with hands outstretched; they had read the posters on the walls of the town halls inviting "the abandoned population to trust the German soldier;" they had been prepared to believe them. But the day after the entry of the German troops, the mayor of each community was summoned before the Kreiskommandant, usually a haughty reserve officer, to hear a lecture in broken French. While the mayor stood, the Kommandant told him that the Germans and the Führer wished the French no ill, but that from now on they would have to change their way of living. Frenchmen were lazy and dirty; this had to stop. In future, the roads and villages were to be kept spick and span. France was to be put on a rational basis of production, under German supervision. It was fallow ground; the Germans were going to see to it that it became fertile and productive.

This first contact with the occupation authorities brought a feeling of disillusionment to all the peasants in the occupied territory, and this grew into antagonism as the Germans started to interfere with their daily life. German time was imposed -- two hours ahead of the sun -- and a system of requisition and control established. The French peasant, always resentful of any interference either from above or from outside, began to hate the invader profoundly. Appeals from Vichy urging him to collaborate fell on deaf ears. The Germans had humiliated him, had intruded on his personal domain. This he would not accept and could not forget.

One or two German companies of troops settled down in each of a thousand little French villages. The town hall became the Orts-Kommandantur, the best buildings were used as barracks, and everywhere the nicest rooms were requisitioned for the officers and non-coms. Before dawn each morning the village would be wakened by the strident call of the bugle and, peering from behind their window curtains, the inhabitants could see the small garrison lined up on the main square of the village and could hear the shouted commands of the little Nazi lieutenant and watch the jerky motions of the soldiers. The peasant clenched his fists in silence. Later, when it was dark, he repaired to the nearby woods to oil the automatic gun which he miraculously had found on the road one evening in June and which he now was keeping for a better day.

The hostility between the French peasants and the occupying forces took on a new character as soon as the troops were withdrawn from the little villages and concentrated at strategic points throughout the country. This happened early in 1941, when fresh troops were needed for the Russian campaign, then already in preparation. From that time on the resistance of the peasants almost everywhere in occupied France took on the form of sabotage of agricultural production. It has continued and increased. Each farmer plants and cultivates only enough for his own immediate needs because he knows with absolute certainty that any surplus would be used to feed, not his starving compatriots, but the German Army. The repeated appeals of the old Marshal and of his associates for increased agricultural production have been in vain. Now that the French peasant has seen the enemy at close range he will never assist him in any way to dominate France.

The people of the cities took much longer than the peasants to realize that the Germans were oppressors and not collaborators. When the workers returned to their factories and found that their old labor organizations had ceased to exist they blamed the fact on some of their union leaders and on the former Socialist and Communist politicians who had betrayed them -- or so they thought, for they had no newspapers of their own to give them the facts. "Why resist?" many of them said. "The first thing is to live." Soon, however, they learned who it was that was responsible for the way things were. It was the Germans who had ordered that wages should remain at the prewar level notwithstanding the great increase in the cost of living. It was the Germans who seized the cattle arriving at slaughter-houses in the cities and the vegetables and potatoes which were shipped to the central market in Paris. But the Germans ruthlessly suppressed any and every attempt at organization in the plants, and soon most of these were under complete German control: the French worker had no choice but to submit.

Businessmen and the well-to-do bourgeoisie were the slowest to comprehend and to react. Many of them regarded the defeat as punishment for those who had toyed with democratic ideas and had strayed from the traditional ways of healthy conservative politics. Others felt that France no longer was able to stand on her own feet and that she could recover her prosperity and greatness only by fitting herself into a new Europe under German leadership. They had lost all real faith in their country. The insidious semi-Fascist propaganda which much of the French press -- and especially poisonous weeklies like Gringoire and Candide -- had been spreading long before the war, had led many to believe that National Socialism was a doctrine which defended private property and promoted social order, and hence one which they might be able to accept, even welcome. Numerous business people, then, hoped to find some modus vivendi with the Germans.

This illusion did not last long except in a limited number of cases. Immediately after the armistice, the Germans began putting into effect a plan by which all French industry was transferred into German hands. The general procedure hardly was varied. When a French industrialist or merchant needed to transport merchandise or to obtain raw materials he got in touch with the proper German authorities. Within a short time a representative of some German business group was sent to see him. This group agreed to collaborate with him in exchange for a participation in the business. Those who refused were simply dispossessed. Thus all the most important French firms -- chemical, metallurgical, textile, automobile, as well as the railroads and the Paris subway -- passed under the control of the Germans. The great German trusts, beginning with the I. G. Farben, simply helped themselves to what they wanted. But the looting did not stop there. Small plants or business firms which were not worth bothering about in the eyes of German big business nevertheless aroused the greed of medium-sized German industrialists, and a swarm of "buyers" representing the latter descended upon occupied France as well as the unoccupied zone. The occupation authorities strongly encouraged this raid, and few concerns escaped. Today, almost half of the capital invested in French industry is "legally" held by the Germans. In case of a German victory it would remain in their hands. No German peace, however lenient, could ever be expected to free French business from this hold.

In consequence, nearly all French industry is at present working for Germany, turning out all sorts of equipment as well as arms and munitions. Uniformed German comptrollers direct and. supervise the workers in every factory. The French industrialist is merely a partner in his own business, often not much more than an employee. The factory owners and other business people who in the autumn of 1940 expected to get on with the Germans have had to abandon their hopes. The immense majority of them collaborate with the Germans because they cannot do otherwise. Of course there are some who believe in a German victory and think Franco-German collaboration is the only possible foundation for profitable business. Some actually desire a German victory. But these really are few. Most resent collaboration and regard it as simply a makeshift arrangement to be endured somehow until events take a better turn.

Most of the middle class quite early joined the anti-collaborationist ranks. This was especially true of the school teachers -- both of primary and secondary schools -- and of large numbers of university professors. Efforts have been made by the Marshal's friends, of course, and particularly by M. Abel Bonnard, the present Minister of Education, to remove those who were pronouncedly hostile to the policy of collaboration. In spite of these efforts the majority of the school teachers and professors, especially those belonging to the lower middle class, have continued to resist. The same cannot be said of some of the upper university professors, especially in the Faculté de Droit at Paris.

Churchmen were on the whole slow to reach a decision. The Catholic Church did not need to oppose Vichy; indeed, the French Government, far from trying to diminish the power or influence of the Church, solicited its support.[i] On their side, German authorities were wise enough not to interfere directly with the Church in France. But the neutral attitude which as a result the Church has adopted towards personalities and events since the armistice must not be mistaken for active approval of Vichy's policies, or even for friendly complicity in them. It must be said, however, that in the main the high clergy have remained personally loyal to the Marshal, even though some of them in private condemn M. Pierre Laval and his henchmen. The small clergy, on the other hand, and especially the country priests who live in close contact with their rural parishioners, appear to be decidedly hostile towards collaboration, even though at times they accept some of Pétain's political tenets.

The attitude of the Protestant Churches in France is harder to appraise correctly. As recently as a year ago, ardent supporters of Marshal Pétain could be found among members of the Reformed Church. Laval's rise to power, however, seems to have produced a change in those quarters. As for the French Lutherans, they could hardly remain indifferent to the Nazi attacks on their church in Norway and its fierce struggle for existence; this in turn developed and reinforced their own spirit of resistance.

At the beginning, French resistance sought rather timidly for means to express itself and undertake active work. The example of General de Gaulle and the information supplied in the French broadcasts from London certainly played an important rôle in crystallizing the determination of those at home not to accept Hitler's new order and not to be won over by Vichy to collaboration. I remember many evenings spent in little French farmhouses in occupied territory, listening with a group of peasants to the French voice coming over the air. Those who have not had that experience will never be able to grasp the enormous psychological influence of these voices. General de Gaulle soon became a kind of deity, to whom people listened almost religiously. The Germans naturally made intense efforts to jam the foreign broadcasts, but they were unsuccessful except in the large centers; and by means of them Frenchmen remained in constant contact with the outside world. Indeed, it is a usual experience to find that in the countryside the peasants know of some event in a distant part of the world 24 hours before the Berlin or Vichy press publishes the news of it.

Vichy has done everything it can think of to discredit the exiled General. Sometimes de Gaulle is pictured as a Free Mason and an enemy of labor; at others he is described as a mouthpiece for the royalists; at others he is called a Communist; and at others he is said to have joined with Jews and demagogues to plan the destruction of the French social hierarchy. The Germans naturally have given strong support in this campaign. They covered walls with posters in which General de Gaulle was accused of starving the French people because he did not protest against the British blockade. All sorts of absurd calumnies were directed against him in the German-controlled newspapers and in pamphlets. Yet no amount of slander could alter the fact that it was de Gaulle who had organized the continuation of French military resistance to the Nazis and who was fighting alongside of Great Britain and the United States. As such he was, and increasingly is, the symbol of eventual liberation.

It is interesting to note, by the way, that people show little interest in politics as such in either the occupied or the unoccupied zone. The one thing upon which they all agree is that they do not want to see the return of the men who ran French politics before the war. Men of all the parties -- Socialists and Royalists, Communists and Conservatives -- follow the Marshal and sing the praises of the invaders, just as men from all the parties fill the concentration camps and face the firing squads. Frenchmen who risk their lives every day to help liberate their country care little whether this man or that is a Communist or a Free Mason, a Jew or a Breton, a bourgeois or a laborer, a priest or an officer. They may worry about it later, when they have regained their freedom. But when German propaganda spreads rumors from London or New York of misunderstandings within the Fighting French movement, or tries to work up party feelings, the average Frenchman only smiles sadly.

Politics have been put aside; they simply do not exist. The one important thing is that the United Nations shall win the war and save the world. Whether a man is for that or against it is the sole criterion by which he is judged.

Such is the general tenor of French reactions to the German occupation and to Vichy collaboration. Let us now look more closely at some of the groups which support resistance on the one hand, collaboration on the other. The most active resistance is to be found among the labor organizations and groups of former army officers. The only political party which survived the catastrophe is the Communist Party. Having been forced to work clandestinely even before the defeat of France, it possessed an underground machine ready to function immediately even if not quite smoothly. In spite of the fact that the Germans and the Vichy Government are constantly on their track, the Communists have developed their activity to a considerable degree. They have revived the slogans of 1789 and, as numerous Socialists have joined them in their struggle, they seek to present the picture of a common patriotic front under their aegis. This does not mean that such a front exists on a nationwide scale, or that it will ever exist, for Frenchmen on the whole have no leaning towards Communism. But for the time being local contacts have certainly been established throughout the country between the Communist cells and various patriotic groups. Many of these groups publish their own papers. The underground press is extremely active and has an ever-widening circulation despite ruthless repression by the Gestapo and the police agents of the Vichy Government. The repression is somewhat eased by the fact that many postal employees, and even some of the Vichy administrative personnel, resent collaboration and are either indifferent or hostile towards the régime they serve.

At first the army officers stood behind Marshal Pétain. But the lengthening series of humiliations imposed on the French people as a result of the Vichy policy, and the stories told by escaped officers, brought about a decided change. Today a number of former officers head small resistance groups in the occupied zone. It is these officers, the Communists and the heads of labor groups in touch with de Gaulle who issue the orders for all acts of sabotage committed in the war factories, on the roads and in the arsenals of the German army of occupation.

Such prisoners of war as have been sent back to France are decidedly anti-collaborationist. The same is true of escaped prisoners. These manifest not merely hostility but a real hatred for the Vichy Government and for Marshal Pétain personally. This seems to indicate that the same state of mind prevails in the prison camps in Germany. I happen to have talked with many of these escaped prisoners -- with some of them as late as May 1942. From them, too, I got the impression that the men in the camps in Germany stand uncompromisingly for continued French resistance and that the return of them en masse would certainly have grave consequences for the Vichy régime. This is why the Pétain Government prefers to see them come back gradually; it is easier to handle and watch a few at a time. The Germans also have something to fear from the returning prisoners, for they tell their countrymen not only how badly they were treated in captivity but how weary and discouraged the Germans are, especially the civilian population. They speak of the huge losses on the eastern front and of the shortage of food. The few contacts that the prisoners in Germany have had with the representatives of the Vichy Government, either M. de Brinon or the blind war veteran Scapini, an unofficial French envoy to Germany, have confirmed them in their distrust of Vichy. When the million Frenchmen who are still prisoners return to their native country, they will seek any available means to avenge themselves on the men of Vichy whom they hold responsible for their misfortune.[ii]

In addition to the innumerable open revolts that have been occurring for more than a year in occupied France, and apart from the undisciplined behavior of the people of the other zone, about which the Vichy administration frequently complains, there is also a general passive resistance which creates many difficulties for the occupation authorities.

Even the attitude of the French towards German attempts to recruit labor is a form of resistance. In answer to Germany's demands, the Vichy Government has tried unsuccessfully for two years to supply French workers for the German war factories. The favorite instrument of compulsion is the withdrawal of food cards. In spite of using or threatening to use this method, Vichy has not been able to send more than one hundred thousand French workers to Germany. Those who come back refuse to return to the Reich; and those who go today do so only because their families are starving and they have no other choice left. It is certainly the most ignoble slave-trading seen in modern times.

People coming from France in recent months have not always agreed concerning the extent of French resistance. It depends on which part of France they saw. Some who stayed either in Vichy itself, or in a city of unoccupied France like Clermont-Ferrand, where the Vichy influence is strongly felt, have been in contact mainly with personalities who have emerged since the so-called National Revolution and who depend on it for their livelihood. All they saw was the confusion, the compromise, the cowardice. On the contrary, those who were able to travel through the country, even in unoccupied France, noticed that the London broadcasts penetrate almost everywhere, that the prestige of the Marshal is on the wane, that de Gaulle's is rising, and that collaboration is coming to be considered "bad politics." In the large centers like Paris, Nancy, Le Havre, the temper of the masses seems to be almost unanimous. Resistance, even when not aggressive, is widespread.

Only certain sections of the people, of course, take part in sabotage, in the distribution of underground papers or in street demonstrations; but the vast majority are at heart with those who make the decisions and carry on the active struggle. A "popular movement" never includes the entire population of a country. But it can be said nevertheless that all of the French people achieved the French Revolution even though not all of them actively participated in it. In that same sense the French people will achieve the overthrow of the present transitory régime. In every profession, in every class, in every area, a small group organizes and leads the resistance. The mass follows, and will do no more than follow. But the general trend of its thinking and feeling is unmistakable, and it will, as a whole, have its way.

One thing is sure, and that is that Frenchmen who are now living under German occupation forces have returned to their traditional feeling about the Boches. On the eve of the war they had begun to doubt even their own memories. They had been told by propagandists that they must not believe the "propaganda" of "war mongers" and "nationalists." They wanted to believe in peace, and succeeded. When the Germans arrived they of course were somewhat anxious, but still were rather prejudiced in their favor. All this is gone. To the Frenchman of 1942 the German is again the hated Prussian; and the abyss separating France and Germany is deeper than it ever was before.

Of course, attempts have been made on both sides of the demarcation line to destroy resistance by grouping the public in various organizations which support collaboration, or, at least, support Marshal Pétain. In the occupied zone these attempts have failed completely. The phantom organizations created by Déat, Doriot and various traitors to the labor union movement have a total membership of only a few tens of thousands, and most of these joined only because it promised to bring them some personal profit, because it was one way to earn a living.

In the unoccupied zone, the attempts have been partially successful. Laval brought together all the faithful supporters of collaboration and of the National Revolution in the so-called Tricolor Legion. The Legion numbers several hundred thousands, recruited as a result of official pressure and the offer of innumerable advantages to its members. Each member acts, in his own little sphere, as the personal representative of the Marshal; and many municipal jobs or honorary positions are open to him. Before the war most of the Legionnaires belonged to the old pro-Fascist organizations, and many were or still are members of the Croix de Feu and the Action Française. In all likelihood most of them do not believe in Franco-German collaboration, even though they are in favor of the National Revolution. Both the Marshal and M. Laval look upon the Legion as the structural framework of the new France, the shock troops of Vichy if the day comes when the régime has to defend itself against the angry French masses. I do not believe that the importance of the Legion should be too much emphasized. The pro-Fascist organizations were unable to seize power in France before the war. In order to achieve a semblance of power they had to wait until the arrival of the Germans. The departure of the Germans will deprive them of that power. The Legion will probably prove of little use at the moment the Vichy Government really needs its support -- unless, of course, the United Nations victory is so long delayed that more able reactionary leaders come to the fore than ever did in the past, and that these begin to indoctrinate the French youth more intensively than has so far been the case.

The small clique of genuine collaborators so far counts for remarkably little. It is composed mostly of those who decided immediately after the armistice that the British would soon be defeated and who rushed to identify themselves with the new order. Today, unable to reverse their position, they are forced to go on. A few second-grade journalists, mostly in the occupied territory, and a handful of well-known personalities in the theatrical and artistic worlds of Paris, swell the list of collaborators whose names are known abroad. But out of the total population of France they are really a very small group. In the unoccupied zone, contrary to the general belief abroad, the number of out-and-out collaborators is very small. Even in the entourage of the Marshal, many are at least as anti-German as they are anti-Communist. The author, who lived in both zones for more than a year, has often heard it said in circles close to Pétain that, at heart, he "is for de Gaulle." This is probably only a joke. On the other hand, there can be not much doubt that the Marshal does not really wish to see a German victory. The truth probably is that he thinks -- and most of his associates with him, except for men like Laval, Bonnard, Paul Marion, Benoit-Méchin and a few others -- that he is pursuing a "policy of minimum risks," and that through it he will save what remains of France. It is the riskiest policy of all.

The general attitude towards collaboration reveals clearly how the French people feel about Germany. It is more difficult to know what they think of the United Nations. The unfortunate incident at Oran is now forgotten, but at the time it did shock the French people profoundly. On the other hand, the British occupation of Madasgascar was generally greeted with satisfaction. Any doubt which remained concerning the real feeling of public opinion in France towards Britain was swept away by the reception given the British bombardments of the Renault factory in Billancourt and the Matford plant in Poissy. Even the unfortunate families which lost near relatives had not a single word of reproach for the British, and all the propaganda spread by Radio-Paris to stir up hatred remained without effect. On the contrary, the bombardments aroused real enthusiasm in all the factories of the Paris region and were looked upon as harbingers of the eventual allied victory. The same attitude is apparent among the populations living under the constant British bombings along the Atlantic coast. Every bomb which falls on occupied French territory fortifies the people in their belief in the final German defeat.

How will French resistance evolve? Will it some day reach the point of armed revolt or at least guerrilla warfare? There certainly are millions of Frenchmen ready to pick up arms once more, and it is true that there are many weapons of all sorts in French hands. But it seems doubtful whether they could accomplish anything effective against a modern army, even if that army were depleted. Probably French resistance will be able to change its present subterranean or passive character only when the troops of Great Britain and the United States have gained a foothold on the Continent or when Germany collapses from the inside. Then the French masses will doubtless attempt to seize power in large cities like Paris, Bordeaux, Lille and Le Havre before the Vichy Government -- if it still is extant -- has time to take any action. Everything will depend upon how much confidence the United Nations have shown in General de Gaulle and whether, in turn, he deserves their confidence. The degree of his prestige when he reaches French territory is highly important. If he arrives as the respected leader of all the Fighting French forces, recognized as such not only by Britain and the Soviet Union but also by the United States, Vichy will collapse quickly and effortlessly; and those who have conducted French resistance inside France through these times of peril will have someone about whom to rally. Without such a leader, even if only a temporary one, the disorder will be greater and the internal struggle will be much more prolonged.

[i] Attempts were made by some Vichy ministers, among them M. Jean Jacques Chevalier, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Grenoble, to reintroduce religious teaching into the primary schools. The Church apparently feared that a return to clericalism might provoke a strong reaction in the opposite direction later on, and refrained from giving the proposal open support.

[ii] Some of the high-ranking French officers in the prison camps, even though anti-German in their feelings, may perhaps be more favorable to Pétain than are the prisoners in general.

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  • VICTOR VINDE, for many years Paris correspondent of Swedish newspapers, including service after the fall of France in both the occupied and unoccupied zones; an editor of the Göteborgs Handels-och Sjöfartstidning
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