The Spirit of Resistance [Excerpt]

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 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.

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