Myths of World War Two

Via Arts and Letters Daily, a review of Robert Gildea, Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance (2015):

The truth behind the French Resistance myth

Nicholas Shakespeare

Thirstily swallowed by a humiliated France, the dominant narrative of the French Resistance was cooked up by General de Gaulle – “Joan of Arc in trousers”, Churchill testily called him – when he addressed the crowds outside the Hôtel de Ville on August 25, 1944. “Paris liberated! Liberated by its own efforts, liberated by its people with the help of the armies of France, with the help of all of France.”

Yet, as Robert Gildea exposes in this comprehensive survey of the French Resistance, the myth that the French freed themselves is largely poppycock, like de Gaulle’s boast that only “a handful of scoundrels” behaved badly under four years of Nazi occupation. (One example: by October 1943, 85,000 French women had children fathered by Germans.) Most of the population didn’t engage with their revolutionary past until the last moment, when the chief thing they recaptured was their pride. The first French soldier into Paris was part of a regiment “called ‘la Nueve’ because it was composed mainly of Spanish republicans”.

More at the link. I had thought that the full extent of French collaboration had been understood for some time now. For instance, when I was studying in Lyon in 1992 there opened the Centre d’histoire de la résistance et de la déportation (emphasis added); among many objects on display I remember seeing a cushion sewn to commemorate “10,000 masses” said for Marshal Pétain. But I suppose it is always good for a clear-eyed, primary-sourced-based view of history to get wider publicity, at the expense of politically expedient Gaullist myths. (Lest you think I’m being partisan, I believe that the Churchill myth also needs to be taken down a peg or two, even if Churchill was ultimately right about some important things.)