Saturday, June 19, 2010

What resistance ?

We read that Nicolas Sarkozy visited the BBC radio studio in London where the general famously urged his compatriots to resist Nazi occupation.The visit is the first by a French president to mark Gen de Gaulle's broadcast on 18 June 1940. The general had fled his country the day before as a new administration, headed by Philippe Petain, sought an armistice with Hitler. In the stirring radio appeal General de Gaulle declared himself leader of the "Free French", spawning the French Resistance, which went on to play a crucial role in defeating the Germans.He told his nation that "the flame of the French resistance must not and will not be extinguished". But historians point out that he was not seen as a saviour in 1940. They say his now revered broadcast went almost unnoticed at the time, with a very limited audience on the BBC French Service.

Only about 5 percent of the French were even nominally members of the underground, perhaps 200,000. Of these, scarcely any ever fired a shot in anger, dynamited a train or sent a clandestine radio message.French Communists coined a slogan - "the party of the 70,000 martyrs" - the number they claimed to have been executed by the Germans. The true figure, according to Porch, was fewer than 350. Even those few French who helped downed airmen often did so for the money. The standard reward for getting an escapee into Spain was about $50,000 in today's money according to a book by historian Douglas Porch, "The French Secret Services". Also Marcel Ophuls’ documentary, “The Sorrow and the Pity” cast a reproachful eye on the legions of French citizens who quietly supported the collaborationist government in Vichy. “They all tell me they did their share for the Resistance,” an aging veteran tells the camera. “I have to listen to these fairy tales without wincing.”

Oxford historian Robert Gildea makes the argument that the occupation presented “ample opportunities for profit and pleasure that many were only too ready to take.” The French were “only too delighted to procure wanted goods and sell them to the Germans.”, farmers and winegrowers “generally did well under the occupation.”, that the “French women, for their part, were equally fascinated by the Ubermenschen who had taken control of their country.” and the “Germans did their bit to tackle France’s demographic deficit by fathering between 50,000 and 70,000 children.”
The French were only too happy to turn one another in” to Nazi authorities he says in “Marianne in Chains,” a book that attempts to recreate the complex world of France during the German occupation. Regular, average citizens sent thousands of the correspondence identifying members and supporters of the resistance, black marketers and Jews. In many cases the letters were intended to get back at somebody for personal reasons and not politics or ideology. About one fourth of all accusations received by the authorities were of this kind.

Albert Speer was asked after the war about the effect of the French Resistance. He replied, "What French Resistance?”