Women during history’s most devastating modern kind of warfare,1939-1945.
War is not always men’s business, nevertheless, men always forget, once wars are over, the women’s key role in conflicts. Right after world war two, no claims were made by thousands of women from the French resistance. They went back to their homes forced into modesty by centuries of masculine morality. Only 10% of the resistance medal recipients were women. In 1945 Only six women were made companions of the liberation, against 1030 men. It was the first time French women were enlisted in the army. They were thought to be English as the French could not even imagine a woman in Uniform. Soon in our collective imagination, the images of shaved-headed women for collaborating would overshadow others. Such women were ideal expiatory culprits for a country that had narrowly escaped absolute ruin.
Women are eternal victims of war, they are eternally forgotten by history. As if women suffering and heroism were eventually absorbed into men. Women were also at war. And telling their stories means facing the harsh reality of war. Women are going to recount world war two. In its most painful and courageous form. These chunks of life and bravery long forgotten, reveal better than anything else, what the world war was like for France and entire Europe.
In 1939, Frances’ 21.4 million women did not have the right to vote yet. Despite their crucial commitment during world war one, women in France were considered as political and social minors all their lives. According to Napoleonic code family law married women under their husband’s Guardianship and were not allowed to hold any bank account. Women had no rights to their babies and their body and all contraceptive methods were forbidden. Law dated 1920 even punished those who dared inquired about the birth control method.
All over the country, more and more women dared to fight against gender inequality, especially against this number one injustice, disenfranchise.
A major campaign in 1930’s FRENCH WOMEN WANTS TO VOTE..
Was one of the activists for the right of women. Known as Berty, she was born into an upper-class protestant family. Married to a Dutch banker, she settled in London, where Berty while, now Mrs, Berty Albrecht, discovered the English feminist activism. Back in Paris after separating from Albert, could, at last, militate, Berty gradually broke free from the rules of the bourgeoisie class to which she belonged to. To assure her independence inconceivable for women of her social standing, Berty decided to work. She became a factory floor female staff and Berty even published a journal that defended the rights to abortion and birth control.
The higher society did not forgive her for her journal or movement “the sexual problem”.
In her fight for the rights of women, she found surprising and loving support from a young colonial infantry officer, a conservative nationalist from Lyon’s ultra-Catholic upper class named Henry Frenay. Twelve years her junior, he was captivated by this woman who freely questioned the world and life at large. “Nothing that took place later would have been without Berty”, Henry Frenay said.
Lucie Bernard was 27
Born into a modest family, she did brilliantly well at university through hard work and privition. This young historian and member of the communist party learned the ropes of activism and fighting of the 1930s, As Adolf Hitler rose to power.
The annexation of Austria in March 1938 and the cession of Sudetelandl and Czechoslovakia, through Munich Agreement September reinforced her conviction about the imminence of war and the need to prepare for it. This woman who, faced up to far-right activists in quartlatnent, met her male alter ego in Strasbourg.
Raymond Samuel, a young civil engineer, also attended lectures at communist parties, worker’s university.
Lucie and Raymond whom France would come to know by the name of Aubrac part. This promise was swept away on 1 September 1939, when Hitler’s Germany attacked Poland and triggered a new world conflict.
As France and Great Britain being allies of Poland, declared war on Germany, Raymond reintegrated like the other 4.5 million men immediately mobilized. Lucie, like other french women, felt the pain of separation. The father, brother, and husbands. This initial sorrow heralded many more to come. The intensive air raids of Poland by the Germans were the fort of the surge of violence that would affect civilians all over the world. Women and children were the first those who are affected through this murderess blitzkrieg. Hitler defeated the polish republic only in a few weeks. In the early 1940s life in Paris was strange. The country was at war, but there was no fighting. In this virtual war without any visible enemy, the french felt protected by the Maginot Line, the fortification that defended the country’s eastern border. In total disarray, the French government decided to start by tackling the enemies inside the communist.
Joseph Stalin, at the head of the USSR, stirred up the trouble by signing a non-aggression pact with Germany by occupying part of Poland.
Young Mai Politzer was a trend by the soviet union’s choice. How could one say “black having said white’ only days before? a few years earlier Mai said Daggled philosopher Georges Politzer, whose political movements she had followed.
The director of which was her friend Danielle Casanova. Mai became an active member of the union of young girls of France. Danielle Casanova and her pacifist and anti-fascist comrades launched the newspaper ‘ Jeunes Filles de France’. Later on, their newspaper was banned as were LH umanipe and dozens of communist people also. The French communist party was heavily surprised in the early 1940s. 35 Deputies were incarcerated at the sant prison. 2,778 elected communist counselors were stripped of their mandate. 3400 activists were arrested, and thousands of state employees were penalized. Mia Politzer and Danielle Casanova paced it in cold blood, little bit they knew that it was a descent into hell for them.
Paul Reynaud’s government the name of the nation in danger, took radical and xenophobic measures in the spring of 1940. To begin with, Spanish refugees who played general Franco’s progression were interned because they were foreigners and considered communist, therefore, dangerous. After the Spanish and the communist, next on the French government’s list of undesirables were the Germans. Particularly thousand of women who had fled to Hitler Germany thinking they would find refuge in France. Over 5000 german women in the Persian area were rounded up at the Velodrome d’Hiver and interned Hundreds of kilometers from Paris in the camps of Gurs and Rieucros. Few photos remain of those thousands of german women kept in prison during the whole war.
As if we had wanted to blot out from our collective memory traces of what happened here in these hut camps of appalling hygienic conditions 4500 women 350 children. In this troubled and divided Paris arrived Virginia Hall in 1940.
Virginia’s Hall was a 34 yr old American woman who was a bright clerk at the US state department, whose dream was to become a diplomat. The following haunting accident led to the amputation of her left leg. Virginia’s career aspirations were quashed. Out of spite of her taste for adventure, Virginia quit her job and went to Paris to engage in the imminent war against Germany. Virginia wanted to be useful; she knew the only military cops that accepted the women volunteers were the army held to service. This time, her disability, a prosthetic leg, wasn’t an obstacle. The French army made the Virginia hall an ambulance driver and sent her to the east by Maginot line forts.
Near Metz, Virginia found herself among idle soldiers, arms at the ready indefinitely waiting for the Germans attack. On 10th may 1940 the Germans’ attack did take place, but far from the Metz line. The phony war was brutally replaced by the lighting war, the Blitzkrieg.
The panzer division soon invaded the northeast of France to the great surprise of the general staff. The german serged rolled over Sedan, swept through Reims, crushed Abbeville, and in weeks threatened Paris. Virginia Hall, stationed at the 9th Artillery regiment, experienced the first fighting weeks near Mitz. She transported the injured to hospitals non-stop, 92,000 French soldiers were killed. The shock had been violent, brutal, and deadly. The military debacle joined the massive exodus of civilians who flocked into the roads to get away from the fighting. In a few weeks a quarter of the French population over 6 million, abandoned their homes. Virginia haul saw the uninterrupted flow of refugees who tried to flee with overloaded carts. Sitting on the tops of those heaps were children in stupefaction. 90,000 children get lost in the exodus. History seems to endlessly repeat itself. Women and the elderly could still recall the suffering they had endured in world war I. It was supposed to be “the very last one”, it was happening all over the world once again. Ten thousand civilians were killed during the German offensive. “I cannot understand why the lies of people are now constantly threatened by the other people”. “I shall never understand it is too appalling, don’t tell me it is in the name of the nation.” Those words were written at the beginning of the war by an eighteen-year-old German girl, Sophie Scholl.
Sophie Scholl just like her brother Hans was seduced by the values defended by Adolf Hitler when he acceded to power. Nation, camaraderie, community, bread, and work for every German civilian and soldier. Hans and Sophie intentionally felt the mysterious power of this youth who paraded in tight formation, with their fluttering flags, to the sounds of drums, rolls, and singing. They were seduced by the Hitlerjugend of the Hitler’s youth, the organization set up for youngsters by the fuhrer. For the first time, girls were given a chance to practice sports and to travel unaccompanied by their parents, to meet other youngsters whom they did not know, and to be a part of the community. For the first time, children were thought children were listened to and taken seriously. They were told that they were taking part in a great cause. It was a revolution for German youngsters. Teenage siblings started to disregard their father’s warning, comparing Hitler to a fairy tale character The Pied Piper of Hamelin. He charms children with his pipes also. Everything seems perfect to the Scholl siblings, had it not been for the Jewish issue that kept coming back.
The Nazi radical discourse bothered young Sophie Scholl soo much because it soon permeated the government’s entire politics. The people’s committee defended by Hiter was above all an ethnic committee. To be preserved from racial degeneration to the Nazi, the German’s people body was threatened by an inferior committee.
By the Jews who were accused of every evil, of being both capitalist and Bolshevik Marxists, but also by the Gypsies, the black, and the slaves.
Only women of pure German extraction should procreate and contribute to the population of Germany. In their eugenic and racial madness, the Nazi’s even created ideal maternity homes, Lebensborn homes, where Aryan women could give birth to the country’s future elite. More and more propaganda films are being explained to the population. The need for radical measures against the degeneration of Germany to avoid miscegenation, to guard against hereditary and mental disease to hamper the spread of population described as “stupid and inferior”. In the propaganda, and vast sterilization was implemented.
Its goal was to protect Germany against valueless lives. Four hundred thousand people were sterilized, including two hundred thousand women. At the beginning of the war, the prevention of valueless life became the wiping out of valueless life, In other words, euthanasia. The German government named it Aktion T4 from 1939 on, 2000 elderly, ill, or disabled peopleand physiatrist hospital inmates were killed as they were considered incurable.
Little by little, in Sophie and Hans Scholl, hearts turned into flames of revolt and indignation. Sophie and Hans’s opposition to the Nazie power was only just starting.
On 10 June, Paris was Bombed massively.
Like all mothers, Berty Albrecht wanted to protect her daughter Mireille by sending her away to Paris as soon as possible.
At Gare de Lyon Berty and Mireille found absolute chaos, lost children asking for their parents.
People ran all over the place. Those were certainly the last buses and trains that would allow people to leave Paris. With a heavy Heart, Berty wants the train to go away.
Germaine was 33 and an outstanding student who had spent a long time in the Aures Mountains, Studying Berber Tribes as a CNRS researcher. On June 14 Paris was declared an open city. The government had withdrawn to tours and now reached Bordeaux. Germaine Tillion went on the road with her mother and grandmother. On 17 June, Germine and her exodus companions stopped on the roadside. The radio broadcast speech by Marsh Petein,appointed president of the council the night before. French people ” I am sacrificing myself for France to assuage her misfortunes.
It is with a heavy heart that I now say to you that we must give up fighting. Last night I contacted the enemy to ask him if he was willing to reach, with me from soldiers to soldiers from fighting and in an honor a means to put an end to hostility. For Germaine, it was a request for an armistice which was a heavy blow. Germaine was in such shock that she went through up on the road.
Genevieve de Gaulle was also Devastated by the speech of the president of the council. Accepting Petain’s proposals was unacceptable to Germaine. For these barely 20 yr old women, it felt like being hot iron branded. On 17 June, Genevieve did not yet know that her uncle Charles de Gaulle, a young General member of Paul Reynaud’s government, had left Bordeaux and had clandestinely gone to Great Britain. This topless general would send out, from London, like a bottle in the sea, and appeal to resist.
Hardly anyone heard it, but its echo soon resounded all over France. Lucie has just received a note from Raymond in the post. Raymond, like hundreds of thousands, was held prisoner by the Germans. When his battalion was taken, he had the time to drop 6in the pit. A folded up a piece of paper to inform Lucie he had just been taken, prisoner. Like so many other pieces of paper, it was sent by an anonymous passerby- to its Addressee. Lucie at once realized that if her husband was to run away, he had to do it while he was in Alsace. If he was transferred to Germany it would be too late.
Lucie was a very experienced woman as a young activist, she had learned to fight underground with communist Joseph Epstein. She had taken the following key lesson the best way to hide is to go center stage, to show yourself. Lucie immediately elaborated an action plan.
She would get Raymond out at all cost. Her strategy was to smuggle her husband a drug that would make him ill and get him moved to a hospital. Raymond had to hide in the garden and jump over a fence. The Germans sentries could easily shoot him. Her greatest fear, but Raymond jumped over the fence and met Lucie, who was waiting for him on the street.
Lucie and Raymond Aubrac became a legendary couple.
France had just experienced a waking nightmare like a dark tunnel, whose end was never insightful.
German troops paraded overall across.
The new president of the council Marshal Petain accepted the split-up of France into two zones separated by an almost one thousand km long line. The north, west, and coasts were the occupied zone under the German Administration after the split-up of France.
The south was the so-called free zone under the french Administration. Numerous men and women rejoiced silently. The French were relieved that the fighting was over. Women whose husbands had been mobilized hoped that they would come home. For a great number of people, the armistice meant no more war horror or fear of death.
The French government based itself in Vichy, and a small spa time was chosen for its central position and of its very high hotel capacity.
Here, in the strange set of a casino, the third Republic breathed its last. The republic was dead. The French State now defended work, family, and nation, values adapted as a political system. The national revolution was underway. This unprecedented cultural revolution made the French no longer free and equal before the law, but subordinate to intermediary bodies under the authority of a supreme leader. The extreme opposite of the ideals of the French Revolution. The fall of France was attributed to the spirit of hedonism the popular front had instilled into the country. Not too much effort, too much laxity. The French were responsible for what befell them. Up to them to make amends. All of a sudden women also became guilty of the country’s fall. For the Vichy ideologues, women had failed their moral duty. Especially the frivolous ones with make-up who had abandoned their households to work. With this new government, women were no longer considered as people with rights. The feminine identity was reduced to motherhood. Young French women had to mend their ways, such was the mission the French state set itself. French mothers, yours is the hardest but also the most beautiful task. You are, before the state, dispenser of education. You alone can teach everyone the love for work, the sense of discipline, modesty, and respect that make men healthy and peoples strong. You are the muses of our Christian civilization. The national revolution was based on large-scale propaganda which offered a scathing indictment of modern women’s misleads. The government distributed handbooks to social workers to help them rehabilitate girls. “a beautiful book of a social worker” The contents of such handbooks were categorical; “When a woman betrays her true mission, a household goes off course. Young women neglect their purity and dignity. Young wives have no esteem for their households and are unable to run them or make it pleasant. When the street, the cafe, and the cinema are no longer places of encounters…
The real young girl who, in her rightful place develops among her siblings from the kitchen to the garden, will bloom with the almighty power of real charms”.
Fold your towel exactly three times. These girls have not apprenticed seamstresses.
They are working to become perfect housewives. Repairing an electric plug or finding their way across town should not put them out. Of course, their chief task is preparing a meal. Work, Family, Fatherland. This new triad supplanted the republican motto and French women were precisely its first victims. Work. But who for? By the law of 11 October 1940, the state was not allowed to hire a married woman. A woman could work herself to death for her husband, but being an employee was out of the question, it means too much independence.
Family. But at what cost? Divorce was now forbidden the first three years after the wedding. A woman who abandoned her household was heavily punished. Abortion became a crime against state security. Families were turned apart by the absence of men. 1.5 million soldiers were kept prisoners by the German and did not come home during the whole war. Wars still, women were under constant moral pressure they were even the subject of a specific law that severely punished the Adultery of the prisoner’s wife. Finally, fatherland. But not for everyone. It was not good to be foreign or different in Vichy France. On October 3, the Vichy government, on its initiative, promulgated the “status of jews”, applicable in the entire national territory. Jews were excluded from a series of jobs particularly Civil services, the Arts, the press, and the radio. There was also a Jewish quota at university. On October 4, a Vichy law stipulated that foreigners of Jewish race could be inturned. It was but the first phase.
Lucie and Raymond, from their small apartment in Lion, were aware that antisemitism was growing in Vichy France. Raymond thought he was safe, a bright graduate from an American university yet, he was sacked because his name sounded too Jewish. His company wanted to do business primarily with the new masters of Europe. Blacklisted for being communist sympathizers and rejected because he was jews, Lucie and Raymond fiercely opposed the Vichy regime. Their choice was clear’ to join the resistance.
In London, a nightmare now struck the British capital at the end of 1940 for months a storm of bombs lashed the city. History called it blitz. Every night, 150 to 200 German planes dropped thousands of Bombs over the main British cities. Every night sirens blared and londernes rushed underground, into sellers and metro stations while fires ravaged the cities. Every morning, hundreds of dead bodies were found in the rubble and this daily chaos Virginia haul, the American ambulance driver arrived in London. Virginia was able to leave France after the armistice. Thanks to her American passport. The nation of Prime Minister Winston Churchill went but did not break. The blitz mobilized the whole country beginning with the women whose dedication was praised by government propaganda. In Great-Britain, unlike Vichy, France everyone supported the engagement of the women on the front line. Country women took on the children who fled the Luftwaffe’s air raids, even in the British arms forces, women insisted on driving ambulances, flew planes, saw to maintain vehicles, women kept the factories operating day and night. Whether in the civil service for the protection of the population or the Military unit of air surveillance and coastal artillery, women were on the front line.
As in 1914, women in the UK were very quickly becoming key fighters for their country at war.
Virginia hall wanted to go on fighting. Her passionate character, field knowledge, and desire to be useful quickly interested The British intelligence services, particularly a bureau that remains secret throughout the war, the SOE, Special Operation Executive, created by Churchill himself. Churchill gave only one instruction to the SOE management team, ” Set Europe on fire. ” How? Through sabotage and subversion in all territories occupied by Germans. Virginia Hall was a first-class recruit for section-F, the SOE’s France section. For the first time, an intelligence agency was sending women to the field. Almost 40 of them.
The best female agents of section F were parachuted in France. Most of them paid with their lives for one of the most painful failures of British intelligence services.
Life in Paris was dictated by the occupation Army, which hosted its swastika at the pediment of the national assembly.
German soldiers filmed themselves on the streets of the city to show back in their country that it was true, Paris did belong to them.
But behind the victor’s postcard images was the daily reality of life under German occupation. Increasingly difficult for the French, especially for the mothers who founded themselves alone in adversity. Rationing was imposed all over the country, tickets limited the amount of food someone was entitled to, but they were not enough. Women and mothers often sacrificed themselves to feed their children or their parents. Given the shortage of coal for heating, shortage of leather, textiles, and fuel, the first two occupation winters were particularly painful.
Berty Albrecht, the feminist activist, was distressed by those women who had to face the daily hardship of unbearable life. One could not be unmoved by a lot of those mothers overwhelmed by the difficulties that engulfed them.
The Vichy government recruited Berty to manage female unemployment in the Lyon area. Faced with thousands of unwaged women. Berty set up refuges where hundreds of women found some work or just a roof. For Berty, it was far from enough. She complained to her Vichy superiors that in reality she was only allowed to open hospices for women who could not take it anymore. On streets with empty shops, Berty Albrecht, a hardened activist, could feel Vichy was losing support from the French.
“French people, I have grave things to tell you. From many regions of France, I have, in the past weeks, felt a bad wind blow. Anxiety is growing in people’s minds. Doubt is taking over people’s souls. The authority of my government is being questioned. Orders are often badly executed. In this atmosphere of hearsay and intrigue, the forces of recovery are losing courage. As real malaise is affecting the French people.”
Petain was worried because police reports informed Vichy about the position of many French men and women.
Danielle Casanova and Mai Politzer, the communists’ activists of the Union of Girls of France, wanted to fight with all women who suffered because of high prices and shortages. Brave women met in front of town halls to demand milk or coal vouchers. The Union of Girls organized several demonstrations, they were forbidden and repressed. Housewife demonstrations often ended with women shouting “Down with the Boche!”
and “Down with the Vichy administration!”
The Vichy power could not tolerate this mobilization and tried to make people believe
In the happy harmony of French families.
What does it mean to be in the French Resistance in 1941, with the Germans in the north and Petain in the south?
One is not born a Resistance member. The women who stood up in the shadows and made up the great majority of the underground army often engaged in the movement, as did the men, because of their stories, their upbringing, and their political or union activism before the war. All these men and women transformed their anger, their rejection of the occupation and of Vichy, into a collective movement. Two people. Then, ten. Then one hundred.
Vichy civil servants still didn’t know they had given Berty Albrecht an ideal cover. In Lyon, Berty met Henri Frenay.
He had escaped from a prisoner camp and decided to go underground. In a few months, the lovers set up a vast intelligence and propaganda network which was named “combat”. Its goal was to fight against the German occupation.
Lucie and Raymond’s fate also changed dramatically in 1941. With Jean Cavailles and Emmanuel d’Astier, Lucie and Raymond Aubrac founded the movement Liberation. Their goal was to fight by all possible means the Nazi occupation as well as the Vichy regime, by circulating a counter-propaganda newspaper printed 10,000 copies.
Germaine Tillion, the ethnologist lost on the exodus roads, had the feeling, once back in Paris, that all of sudden she was surrounded by a huge void, by the absence of France. For Germaine, it was imperative to do something. She quickly understood that her friends at the Musée de l’Homme, near Trocadero, had decided to get organized around her friend Yvonne Oddon and ethnologists Boris Vilde and Anatole Lewitsky.
That was the Musee de l’Homme network, the first resistance network in the occupied zone. This is the network in which young Genevieve de Gaulle discovered the Resistance. In Paris, she joined her aunt Madeleine de Gaulle, an active member of Musee de l’Homme. The network that published Resistance and collected information for London became in the first months of 1941, the key target of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service. The Musee de l’Homme directors were betrayed. Yvonne Oddon, Boris Vildeand Anatole Lewitsky were arrested.
Genevieve de Gaulle and her aunt Madeleine escaped this wave of arrests as did Germaine Tillion, who became the new head of the Musee de l’Homme network. Germaine was safe for only a few months.
Mai and Georges Politzer with Helene Solomon, Jacques Solomon, and Jacques Decour founded, in the autumn of 1940, a university resistance communist network, the university Libre. Mai embraced the network’s cause. She and Danielle Casanova managed the circulation of the movement’s newspaper.
Berty, Lucie, Germaine, Genevieve, Mai, and Danielle were resistance women who, like thousands of others, risked their lives for their cause. These women soon became crucial agents, without whom the interior resistance wouldn’t have existed. By hosting underground fighters and hiding escaped soldiers, By hosting underground fighters and hiding escaped soldiers, bypassing on messages, by collecting intelligence, the resistance women enabled networks to get structured and operate. A major event changed the course of the war. Adolf Hitler in his mad expansion obsession launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 and attacked Joseph Stalin’s USSR. The Wehrmacht crushed, destroyed, and killed everything in its way.
The Fuhrer’s project was to conquer the legendary Lebensraum, the vital space Germany needed in the east to nourish its population and establish its hegemony over Europe. When they arrived in Ukraine in the summer of 1941, German officers were favorably welcomed by part of the population who immediately sided with the victors.
These men and women could no longer stand the Russian domination. Thousands of Ukrainians lost their souls to the Nazi utopia and became complicit with the unbearable mechanism that had just been triggered.
Adolf Hitler ordered the ethnic cleansing of the Lebensraum, which meant killing off inferior populations. For the Nazis, those were the Jews and the Gypsies.0
The systematic extermination of Jews in conquered territories was the responsibility of the Einsatzgruppen. Those Nazi intervention groups were made up of local militias.
About 1.5 million people were slaughtered: men, women, and children.
Only traces of them are left today.
Like these photos of mass killings in Mizoch, Ukraine, Liepaja in Latvia, and Kalevi-Lilva in Estonia. After being rounded up, women were forced to strip naked in an additional abuse.
Their executors were treated to the humiliation of their naked bodies.
Heinrich Himmler, the almighty head of the SS, explained to his troops. “What are we to do about the women and children? I have decided to opt for a clear solution. I have, on principle, ordered that women and children be killed. We must always bear in mind that we are engaged in a racial, primitive fight of paramount importance.”
Soon the Bullet Shoah, the one by one execution of Jews, was not enough for the Nazi dignitaries.
In early 1942, an industrial extermination system was designed and put in place as a final solution to the Jewish issue. The concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, and Sobibor became extermination camps with gas chambers for the mass killings of Jews taken there by train from all Nazi-occupied territories. As they got off the train, some men were sent to forced labor while the women with children were taken straight away to the gas chambers. Being a mother implied immediate death. This unprecedented crime in the history of humankind caused the death of nearly 6 million European Jews.
In France, the German occupying forces’ obsession was to crush, as soon as possible, structured resistance. Especially that of young communist activists who had taken up arms and were carrying out sabotage actions. An example was required. The sentences had to leave a lasting impression.
Simon Schloss was 22. She was a member of the youth Battalions of the special Organisation. Simone and her comrades stood trial for 34 attacks and sabotage acts in Paris. Thirty young men were sentenced to death and executed at Mont-Valerien.
The women sentenced to death were not executed in France, for fear it might shake public opinion.
Olga Bancic, from Manouchian’s FTP-MOI group, and Simone Schloss, from the special Organisation, were beheaded away from prying eyes in a German prison.
Germaine Tillion would remember that day 1942 when the Musee de l’Homme members were executed by the Germans at dawn at Mont-Valerien. Germaine herself was betrayed and arrested as was her mother Enille Tillion, a member of the same resistance network. They were held incommunicado for almost one year at Fresnes prison until they were deported to the Ravensbruck camp. Several arrests also dismantled Mai and Georges Politzer’s network.
Mai Politzer simultaneously lost the men who meant the most to her. Her husband Georges and her resistance companion Jacques Decour. Both were shot by the Germans at Mont-Valerien in May 1942. Mai had learned to love those two men passionately. Their simultaneous deaths plunged her into utter dejection, like an endless free fall.
Mai Politzer and Danielle Casanova, members of the Union of Girls of France, were transferred too Romainville Fort, and a few weeks later deported on a train for resistance prisoners to Auschwitz-Birkenau. They both died of typhus in Auschwitz in 1943.
Thousands of women in France would also be victims of the German Barbarity and its Vichy accomplices. After being forced to report to the authorities in 1940, Jews in the occupied zone had to wear a yellow star as of 29 May 1942. In It is in no way a deliberately persecutory measure. It is a simple measure for the defense of French people against individuals of a foreign race who invaded our soil silently but tenaciously, Mostly to take advantage and very few effectively work. Evil lies in the fact that most French people cannot recognize the Jews. If they could, they would put themselves on their guards. Some have it written all over their faces. Perhaps 50%. It would not be an issue if, say, Jews had blue skin. It is not so. Therefore, we need to recognise them.
Helene Berr was 21 in 1942. This young Parisian, who enjoyed hanging out at the Luxembourg Garden, like all students her age, confided in her diary her first hours wearing the star. “ My God, I never thought it would be so hard. I held my head high and looked people so straight in the face they looked away. But it’s hard. The worst is running across other people wearing it. My face muscles are strained by my constant effort to hold back tears that poured forth I do not know why. I suffered in the middle of the sunny Sorbonne Courtyard surrounded by all my colleagues. It suddenly seemed to me that it was no longer myself, that evening had changed. I had become an outsider. As if I was in a nightmare. I saw familiar faces around me, but I felt their sorrow and astonishment. It felt as if I was branded on my forehead.”
In a few months, internment camps were created both in occupied and Free Zones. In Pithiviers, Beaune-la-Rolande, Drancy, and Rivesaltes. In Paris, rumors of massive roundups were rife. Helene Berr recorded it in her diary on 15 July at 11 pm. “Something is brewing. Something that will be a tragedy. The tragedy perhaps. Mr. Simon arrived at 10 tonight to warn us there would be a roundup the day after tomorrow.” On 16 and 17 July 1942, the French police at the request of the Kommandantur, arrested and took to the Velodrome d’Hiver 12,884 foreign Jews who lived in Paris. 3,031 men, 5,802 women, and 4,051 children, the youngest were barely 2. Who could have imagined, for a single moment, that women would be massively arrested, let alone children? Vichy accepted that French policemen organize the roundups requested by the occupying forces. That very French government later asked the Germans to deport children under the age of 6, not knowing what to do about all those orphans detained in internment camps.
Helene Berr wrote in her diary that she saw trains full of children arrive at Bordeaux Belfort. She wrote that French gendarmes arrested 2-year-old babies at their childminders’, while their parents had already been deported. Dozens of other children were arrested at orphanages and then interned in Drancy. “Because we have orders,” they said. And because the departing trains had to be filled up at all costs. Between 1942 and 1944, almost all foreign Jews were arrested, as well as 24,000 French Jews. In total, 76,000 Jews who lived in France were deported to the death camps. 2,500 of them survived.
Many Jews escaped the roundup because they were hidden and protected by anonymous French people, the Righteous Among the Nations.
Helene Berr worked every day with the UGIF in Drancy and at the Parisian hospitals, until she was arrested in 1944. Deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, then moved to Bergen-Besen, Helene Berr was beaten to death by a female guard.
Suzanne Spaak, a Belgian refugee, founded the national movement against racism and fought relentlessly to find foster for Jewish children, whom she wanted to snatch from jaws of death. Suzanne Spaak was arrested and shot at Fresnes prison.
Young Marianne Cohn, a 20-year-old German refugee, joined the Jewish Guides and Scouts of France and sent several groups of Jewish children to Switzerland by train. Arrested many times, she never said a word. In her dungeon, however, Marianne wrote a poem. “I shall betray tomorrow, not today. Today, pull out my fingernails, I shall not betray. You do not know the limits of my courage. I do. I shall betray tomorrow, not today. The file is not for the executioner. The file is not for the window bars. The lime is for my wrists. Today, I have nothing to say. I shall betray tomorrow.” Marianne Cohn was removed from prison by the Gestapo, raped, and beaten to death. And finally dumped in a massive grave.
In the snow of the Soviet winter unfolded the biggest theatre of operations in history. Total war. Until one of the two belligerents, the USSR or Nazi Germany was wiped out. Both armies lost millions of soldiers each, killed on the battlefield. The Russian armament factories were at full capacity non-stop thanks to the employment of female workers. In six months, over 5000 tanks had to be produced. 30,000 were produced between 1942 and 1945. The USSR was the only nation that sent women to the front. About a million Soviet women fought in the war, gun in hands, in the Red Army or in the Partisan ranks, the civilian militias mobilized to harry the German soldiers. Aviators, machine gunners, snipers, artillerists, Russian were on the front line on a par with their male partners. During the awful winter of 1942-1943, in apocalyptic conditions, fought in the Battle of Stalingrad. The Red Army eventually women soldiers fought in the Battle of Stalingrad. The Red Army eventually liberated Stalingrad in early 1943, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. A tragic and emblematic defeat for the Wehrmacht, which was humiliated. Every German family was affected by this carnage on the Russian front. German newspapers resembled cemeteries with their daily lists of men killed and their Iron Crosses.
Sophie Scholl saw her brother Hans go away to fight in Russia. He came back from the East Front a different man. Mature and more determined than ever to fight the Nazi power, which spread nothing but terror, hate, and death. The Scholl siblings and some friends wrote tracts and printed them by the thousands. They signed them with their group’s mysterious name: The White Rose. One morning, Sophie and her brother went to the University of Munich and tossed, at the stairs, a leaflet that was blown away by the winter wind. “Students, the defeat of Stalingrad has left our people aghast. The dead Stalingrad implores us. Let us stand up against the National Socialist enslavement of Europe and for freedom and honor.” The university janitor spotted Sophie and Hans. He closed all the exits and called the Gestapo. After several weeks’ questioning at the prison in Munich, The Gestapo put its own posters all over the university. Sentenced to death for high treason: Sophie Scholl, aged 22, Hans Scholl, aged 25. The sentence has been executed.” Sophie, the soul of the White Rose, and her brother Hans had been beheaded.
While the Germans were besieged in Stalingrad, the Americans, who had now entered the whole world war allied to the British, landed in North Africa and liberated Algiers. Taken by surprise, the Wehrmacht decided to invade the free zone and occupy France from north to south. The German army, deployed everywhere, took Gestapo sleuth along with them. They were based in Lyon, under Klaus Barbie. On top of Barbie’s target list was a woman. The women whom Barbie called The Limping Lady had become a key figure of the British SOE network in France. She conveyed to London intelligence collected in France, invaluable information which was coded and sent by radio. The Limping lady was none other than Virginia Hall, the Francophile American whom the SOE sent to the free zone. Based in Lyon, She wove a big network of espionage.
Klaus Barbie considered Virginia as the most important and dangerous agent he had ever faced. But Klaus Barbie arrived in Lyon too Late. After the free zone was invaded, Virginia managed to flee and reach the American Embassy in Madrid. Virginia Hall was not one to give up. She went back to France in 1944, sent by the American intelligence services, before becoming a member of the CIA.
France was now entirely German. Marshal Petain’s government, by choosing to stay put alongside the occupier instead of joining the Allies in Algiers, made clear which side they were on. Masks fell. Pierre Laval, head of the government, stated he would prefer that the Germans win the war rather than the Russian Bolsheviks. Marshal Petain tried to put up a good show and decided to embody more than ever the role of the father of the nation, for a father could not betray his children. To mask the unstated reality of his collaboration with the Nazis, the Vichy propaganda showed over and over again the old Marshal surrounded by children and girls at schools. When Laval’s government, at the request of the Germans, introduced the Compulsory Work Service, STO, women were once again used in the propaganda.
Men had to go to work in Germany if they wanted their families to be happy. Women had to accept the departure of their husbands and sons. Women’s and children’s emotions were the best way to make people accept the collaboration policy. But the propaganda didn’t work. Women saw men go away not to Germany, but to join the Resistance, or Maquis. Their supplies were provided by women, without whom nothing would have been possible.
For Laval, men who refused to work in Germany had to be hunted down as a member of the resistance. Therefore, policing and surveillance had to be strengthened. On behalf of Marshal Petain, Laval created the French militia to hunt down the home enemies the Germans and the French had in common. 15,000 served in the militia, over a third of them were women: thousands of women were engaged in an antirepublican, anti-semitic and nationalist movement. A deadly sentiment was engulfing the country and its honor.
In the Partisan nights under German occupation, those who would later be dubbed Countesses of the Gestapo partied and danced in the arms of the German officers. At Maxim’s or the Lido, such French women as downgraded aristocrats, movie actresses or lovers of Vichy supporters chose collaboration. Their collaboration was sardonically described as horizontal. But it was above all a question of interest. Food, money, and luxury. French men and women wanted to partake of the Reich feast, its stranglehold on the French riches. In the feasts were the possessions taken from the Jews, whom people denounced hoping to keep their apartments, fur coats, jewelry, and so on. The Nazis’first objective was to get the works of art, stored at the Louvre Museum and the Jeu de Paume Gallery.
Thanks to brave Rose Valland, who worked at the Jeu de Paume, the paintings that were sent to Germany could be identified. For months on end, Rose Valland risked her life every day to secretly draw up the list of works of art stolen from Jews and Museums. The German predators would take everything. The Nazis even exhibited the interiors of Jewish homes to ensure that German dignitaries and officers, as well as collaborators and their mistresses, had priority to pick and choose.
This furniture fair was peopled by ghosts who will, for a long time, haunt our collective memory.
The Gestapo and the French militia wiped out the interior resistance, which was uniting around Jean Moulin, sent to France by General de Gaulle.
This is the last image of Berty Albrecht, who alongside Henri Franay was a key figure of the Combat movement. Bert was arrested many times. A few weeks after her last escape, she once again betrayed Macon in 1943. Unable to bear incarceration once more and to avoid the risks of betraying others, Bert Albrwecht Hanged herself in her prison cell in Fresnes. Her body was dumped in a mass grave.
Geneviève de Gaulle rejoint la défense de la France founded by Sorbonne students Philippe et Hélène Viannay. Genevieve carried out multiple intelligence actions, until she was caught in a trap set at a library by French people enlisted in the Gestapo. 68 network members were arrested at the same time as Genevieve de Gaulle.
Lucie Aubrac’s underground life suffered a tragic blow when Raymond was arrested alongside Jean Moulin in caluire in June 1943.
Jean Moulin eventually managed to reach an agreement with all the resistance movements. Combat, Liberation, Francs-tireurs and Front national communist accepted to merge and become one movement with a secret army common to all fighters.
In Caluire and the following weeks all over the country, the Gestapo dealt a terrible blow to the resistance. Lucie Aubrac couldn’t leave the man of her life. In Klaus Barbie’s hands. She specialized in helping imprisoned Resistance members escape. She headed her network’s action group in charge of the most difficult missions. Lucie, pregnant with her second child, managed to free Raymond four months later, at a commando assault. Lucie and Raymond Aubrac were safe and sound and were able to join General de Gaulle in London, then in Algiers.
But if a few were saved, so many members of the Resistance were killed between 1943 and 1944. The networks fell one by one, including the British network in France.
“Set every occupied territory on fire,” Churchill had asked the SOE. In France, such was the mission of hundreds of male agents and 39 very special female agents. They had been trained to use guns, to sabotage, and to ensure torture before being sent to the field. Their mission was to found or help a resistance network in France.
Virginia Hall: the Heckler network. Lise de Baissac: the artist network. Noor Inayat khan: the phone network. Violette Szabo: the salesman network. And Andree Borrel: the prosper network. The implacable German intelligence services turned agents and quickly dismantled the prosper network. Dozens were arrested. The SOE volunteers’ tragedy was, the British knew the network had been turned. However, they kept sending agents to France, because by playing sinister double games they hoped to intoxicate the enemy by giving false formation to their agents who would inevitably be arrested and tortured. This intelligence war cost the lives of male and female spies sacrificed on the altar of national interest.
And Andree Borrel: was arrested in June 1943. She died in the German camp of Natzweller.
The Indian Princess, Noor Inayat Khan
was arrested in October 1943. She died in the Dachau camp. Denise Bloch and Violette Szabo died in the Ravensbruck camp.
Female Resistance members arrested by the Gestapo or the French militia faced the fate of the NN, for Nacht und Nebel,or Night and Fog:the code name for the opponents whom the Nzis snatched in absolute secrecy and sent to concentration camps in Germany or Poland. The final destination of these women who were the red triangle was either the women’s camp or Ravensbruck north of Berlin, or the women’s quarters of Bergen-Belsen, Mauthausen and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Genevieve de Gaulle was deported to Ravensbruck in January 1944. The concentration camp universe was a frightful discovery. In Ravensbruck Genevieve met Germaine Tillion, deported a few months earlier. Germaine Tillion was released with a group of women by the Swedish Red Cross on 23 April 1945. Her mother Emilie Tillion, who had also been sent to Ravensbruck, was killed on March 2, 1945.
Genevieve de Gaulle was released by the Red Army, who invaded Ravensbruck on 25 April 1945. Out of 10,000 French women who were deported to that camp, only 2,000 came back alive. France was progressively liberated after the landing of American and British soldiers in June 1944. By smiling, one tried to forget the suffering and women’s bravery over which a veil was soon drawn. Even though those dark years had forced women to face daily life on their own, the return home POWs only intensified the difficulties in the couples. How could they rebuild a family life after all those years apart? How could they understand the suffering each one had endured? Many Divorced.
To punish those who had collaborated with the enemy, women became the scapegoats of the indispensable popular revenge headed by men. Almost solely because they had been lovers, women were accused of collaborating.
The humiliation meted out with extreme violence to those women often on the lowest rungs of society was indeed unfair. But those who had expressed their political support for the Germans or taken advantage of the occupation were often spared. Women are eternally victims of war, both in defeat and in victory. Thousands of French women raped by American Liberators. Tens of thousands of German women by Red Army soldiers. As if by setting upon women, men could overcome their own demons.
How many of us know it was a woman who wrote the song that became the anthem of the French Resistance? Lets not forget Anna Marly, who composed one of the most famous melodies of our history for the lyrics written by Joseph Kessel. “Le Chant des partisans” is also the song of women.
They too were at war.
Here you see,
We march, we kill
And we die
Here everyone knows,
What they want, what they do
When they go by,
Friend, if you fall
A friend comes out of the shadows to replace you,
Tomorrow, black blood will dry in the sun
On the road
Sing companions,in the night liberty is listening to us.
Note:All images shown in this information is taken from Netflix, and is not for commercial purpose and is solely used here for education purposes.