Simon Kitson's

 

 

VICHY WEB

 

EVERYDAY LIFE 

 

 

This page presents some information on these subjects. It is currently divided into the following sections, (although there are plans to develop it further over time):

 

 

COMMENTS & DEBATES 

CONCERNING EVERYDAY LIFE

Rod Kedward on everyday life

 

Robert Gildea on the effects of the occupation on hunting

Ian Ousby on food shortages

Hanna Diamond on Women in Toulouse during the occupation

Rod Kedward on links between everyday life and resistance

 

 

DOCUMENTATION CONCERNING EVERYDAY LIFE

The human losses resulting from the war: deaths

 

Any suggestions on improvements or supplements to this page will be gratefully received at s.k.kitson@bham.ac.uk

 

HISTORIANS' INTERPRETATIONS CONCERNING EVERYDAY LIFE

 

Rod Kedward on everyday life

(taken from H.R. KEDWARD, Occupied France, Collaboration and Resistance, 1940-44, Blackwell, Oxford, 1985, pp 13-14)

 

A question which always arises when discussing the occupation is whether the increasingly unpleasant realities of the Nazi presence made a significant difference to the day-to-day preoccupations of the French. It is not difficult to discern a certain level of contempt in many memoirs and histories of the period for the way in which, under the occupation, cafés continued to function, plays were staged, films were made and projected, popular songs were sung, sport was enjoyed as never before, and routine domestic life centred on the permanent struggle with the Ministry of Provisions. In the same vein it is often pointed out that night clubs were quickly back in business after the defeat, that horse racing started again at Auteuil on 12 October 1940, that romantic love was seen to flourish, that illegitimate births increased, and that film stars commanded more publicity than in the golden years of Hollywood's silent screen. Such a list of observations could be extended indefinitely by moving out of the towns, and particularly out of Paris, to indicate the continuity of gossip in the village square and the continuing presence of what the urban administrators called the 'the incurable egoism of the peasant'.

It is not the accuracy of such observations which provokes discussion and disagreement, but the fact that the same details of everyday life can be used to suggest either an almost treasonable indifference to the occupation, or, on the contrary, a heroic determination to maintain French life and vitality in the face of the occupiers. In some ways the argument is merely part of a wider disagreement about the value that should be attached to everyday life at any period of history. There are always some historians who are ready to give the everyday lives of people a positive quality and see them as full of character and value, while others treat them as insignificant or even contemptible. But the problem of daily life under the occupation goes a little further. In Britain, where there was no occupation but where the brutality of the Nazi war machine made a severe impact in the bombing of civilians, there is little debate in assessing the day-to-day activities of the population. When the milk bottles were distributed as usual to the bombed houses of Coventry, or when the theatres of London insisted that the show must go on, no one accused the British people of a ritual obsession with fresh milk or an indifference of theatre-goers to the carnage outside. There is a consensus on the meaning of such acts. In France, on the other hand, the severe divisions caused by the defeat and occupation ensured that no such consensus emerged either at the time or since. The customary disagreements over the value of la vie quotidienne were perpetuated and intensified. 

For this reason there can be no simple conclusion about the French day-to-day existence under the occupation, and no single answer to the question of whether or not the severity of the Nazi presence was directly reflected in daily behaviour. 

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Robert Gildea on the 

effects of the occupation on hunting

 

 

Extract from Robert Gildea, Marianne in chains, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 2002, pp 146-147. 

 One of the great passions of French country life was hunting. A privilege confined to the nobility on horseback during the ancient regime, the practice had been democratized since the Revolution, and every Frenchman with a permit duly delivered by the mairire was entitled to stride out with his gun and shoot game. For security reasons the Germans could not tolerate this licence; orders were given that all firearms were to be handed in at the local mairie on pain of the severest penalties. Some guns were wrapped up in cloth or leather, hidden, buried or sunk to the bottom of ponds, but hiding a gun made an individual vulnerable to denunciation by a resentful neighbour or even a spouse, and was not taken lightly. In the autumn of 1941, the Germans realized that to turn town halls into arms dumps was also risky and required mayors to hand over their stocks to safe sites like the Caserne Blucher at Tours, where 11,000 weapons fetched up. While they were about it, they ordered any remaining firearms to be handed in, and the mayor of Bléré reported that he had received eight hunting rifles, five revolvers and fifty-two cartridges. Earlier on the Germans showed no concern for weapons of merely historic interest such as muskets and blunderbusses, but in the spring of 1942 they demanded even these, together with swords, sabres and bayonets. Such were their doubts that all these weapons had been handed in that in August 1943 they declared an amnesty for any firearms still to be declared, and one mayor reported that he had taken to the Blucher barracks: ‘1) a rifle without a butt; 2) an old pistol in poor repair and 3) an old musket’.

 Without their guns the French were unable to hunt and the privilege reverted to the German military, which was only too happy to indulge its taste for sport on its own terms. Touraine, with the forests of Amboise and Chinon, teeming with the wild boar and deer the French were not allowed to touch, was particularly attractive, and Dr Herbig in Tours served as the Germans’ hunting officer. Herbig in fact liaised with the president of the Hunting Federation of Indre-et-Loire, the Baron de Champchevrier, and its secretary and treasurer, Louis Théret, an accomplished gamekeeper with indispensable knowledge of local game. The result was that the Germans issued licences to hunt to a few dozen individuals, such as the Baron de Champchevrier and the Comte de Blacas of Rigny-Ussé, effectively restoring the hunting privileges of the nobility abolished 150 years before. At the same time they allowed these landowners’ gamekeepers to carry guns in order to combat poaching. Some hunts involved Germans and Frenchmen together, a form of collaboration that Frenchmen were reluctant to admit after the occupation. But in 1942 the mayor of Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux complained that not enough Frenchmen with guns were to go on a Franco-German boar hunt: only one had a gun whereas what was really needed was ‘twenty-five or thirty good hunters’, knowing their paths, and armed. It should be added that the German military applied their own hierarchical rules to their own men, issuing permits to select officers and NCOs but never to ordinary soldiers.

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Ian Ousby on food shortages

 

Extract from Ian Ousby, Occupation, The ordeal of France, 1940-1944, London, Pimlico, 1999, pp 126-127

The meat shortage was the most galling of all. In Paris some people who lived in flats took to keeping guinea pigs, and respectable folk could sometimes be observed braining the pigeons in the public parks. They mediated even more desperate expedients: in October 1941 the authorities found it necessary to publish warnings that it was unsafe to use cats in stews. In the country, of course, people could more easily rear their own chickens, pigs and rabbits, as well as grow their own vegetables. So city-dwellers found the Occupation a convenient time to remember their rural ties, and from 1941 people in the country were officially allowed to send them colis familiaux, or family parcels. Thirteen and a half million of them passed through the strictly supervised postal system in 1942 alone.

They did not always arrive in an appetizing condition, as Simone de Beauvoir discovered with the meat she got a friend to send from Anjou. The beef had to be soaked in vinegar and boiled for hours; a joint of pork had white maggots in it, but she and Sartre cooked it anyway. Sartre was usually oblivious to what he ate but even he found the state of a rabbit so revolting he insisted on throwing it in the dustbin- an action whose difficulty can really be appreciated, perhaps, only by someone who has lived through such times of hardship. City-dwellers who lacked obliging friends or relatives in the country set out at weekends on expeditions, returning with meat or sacks of produce slung over their shoulders. Such forays became so regular a custom that the train services from Paris were nicknamed after vegetables: the train des haricots, the train des pommes de terre and so on.

 

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Hanna Diamond on 

Women in Toulouse during the occupation

Hanna Diamond, ‘Women’s aspirations, 1943-47: an oral enquiry in Toulouse’ in H.R.Kedward and Nancy Wood (eds), The Liberation of France: Image and Event, Oxford, Berg, 1995, p 92.

As elsewhere, the war and the Occupation of Toulouse brought considerable disruption and change to households. Women were forced to reorganize the home to cope with the difficulties of wartime daily life. They tended to be affected differently according to whether they were married or single, or whether their husbands were present or absent. In the latter case, where husbands and fathers were absent as prisoners of war or because of their involvement in the Resistance, wives were obliged to take on extensive new responsibilities becoming chef de famille. The absence of the men often also meant the loss of the main wage earner in the household; wives soon found that the state allocations were inadequate to sustain a family and were forced to go out to work and thereby take over financial responsibility for the home. Women I this situation returned to jobs they had left before the war or before marrying if they could, but for a large number of women this was their first experience of the workplace. Fortunately, the conditions of the War, in Toulouse in any case, made it possible for most women to find a job if they wanted to, although these tended to be menial and unskilled. This was particularly true from early 1943 onwards, when the Germans reorganized the munitions and aviation factories of the area to work for their war effort. Labour was in short supply, so many women were employed.

The problems of daily life were exacerbated by the conditions of the war and the Occupation. The scarcity of foodstuffs, rationing, the need to queue for food and household goods, the dependence on the goodwill of the shopkeeper all added to the burdens of the housewife. Oral sources repeatedly described the search for the basic essentials as being a full-time (pre)occupation which normally fell to the female members of the household. This was generally experienced as one of the most trying aspects of the Occupation, although it has to be said that those in the Toulouse region did not suffer as much as in some other areas of France.

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Rod Kedward 

on links between everyday life and resistance

Extract from H.R.Kedward, ‘French Resistance: a few home truths’ in William Lamont (ed), Historical controversies and historians, London, UCL Press, 1998, pp 7-8. 

 

First of all the curfew, couvre-feu (literally, covering lights). It was imposed in most towns by German ordinance from 10 pm or midnight until 6 am, but often lengthened for various reasons in specific places to a full ten hours or even twelve. Confined for longer periods in the home, people read more, wrote more letters, and made love more often (the birth-rate finally begins to go upwards). People were more conscious of neighbours, of other houses in the neighbourhood or flats on the same staircase, and more reliant on the concierge. Visitors were noticed, and unexpected happenings observed more sharply. This was not, on the face of it, ideal for clandestine purposes, and yet there was also far more noise of home activity, of repairs, hobbies, music-making, family quarrels, and listening to the wireless. Typing and duplicating tracts, together with tuning into the BBC or Radio Suisse were covered by the ambient noise, and much preparation of resistance material, including explosives, was done in the home. For example, France Bloch-Sézarin, who was eventually executed for resistance, set up a small laboratory in her two-room flat in Paris where she made explosives and detonators. Breaking the curfew was not just leaving the house but returning undetected. People discovered, often for the first time, the geography and topography of their home and their neighbourhood, the roofs, the fire-escapes, the back entrances to blocks of flats and the interconnections of ancient town centres. The Croix-Rousse in Lyon was a paradigm in its lay-out of houses which connected on different levels through covered passages known as traboules. Many resisters in their oral or written memoirs will point to windows through which they leapt to safety or to passages which swallowed them into the darkness. And the discovery was prolonged into daytime activity, in the endless comings and goings for food and fuel, and the ingenuity of returning home and beating the police patrols. It is often said that the only authority that French people resisted was the Ministère de Ravitaillement (Ministry of Provisions), and among some resisters there is a real contempt for the popular obsessions with food. But once resisters start talking about the day-to-day mechanisms of revolt, one finds the same dynamic: the ingenuity used in cramming a flat with rabbits in the sideboard and goats on the balcony, and of working out substitute recipes by using long-neglected ingredients, also went  into the production, hiding and disposing of documents, false identity cards, arms and ammunition. Beating the system for food was most people’s first, and often only, brush with illegality. But for many by 1944 it had gone much further.

 

 

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DOCUMENTATION CONCERNING EVERYDAY LIFE

 

The human losses resulting from the war: deaths

The following table outlines the numbers of deaths suffered in France as a result of war and occupation. The figures are provided purely for indication and for a couple of reasons need to be subjected to the utmost caution. There is at least one discrepancy between the figures presented here and those usually accepted. The figure of 100 000 deaths of racial deportees would appear at variance with the usually quoted statistic of 76 000 Jewish deportations. A second reason for caution is in the use these figures can be put to. A lot of historians make straightforward comparisons between the suffering of different European countries during World War Two basing their comparisons on global figures of the numbers of deaths incurred in the various countries. Such a practice is historically unsound and should be avoided. The statistics below are too diverse in nature to serve any useful purpose in comparisons of global death totals. The '1940-45' military deaths for instance presumably contain both those killed fighting for the Germans and those fighting with the Free French against the Germans. Using this global statistic of 600,000 may therefore confuse those who are victims of the Nazi occupation with those who were killed whilst acting as willing allies of the Germans. 

In some cases there are gray areas of responsibility regarding these deaths. The racial deportees were more often than not arrested by the French not the German police but their ultimate fate- death by gassing- was the result of a Nazi  policy rather than a French one. 

Source: I.C.B DEAR (ed), The Oxford Companion to World War Two, OUP, Oxford, 2001, p 321 

 

An example of the use of such global figures for comparative purposes can be seen in I.C.B DEAR (ed), The Oxford Companion to World War Two, OUP, Oxford, 2001, p 225 although the authors of that text do at least underline that 'casualty statistics are notoriously unreliable'

MILITARY

1939-40

92 000

1940-45

58 000

FFI in 1944

20 000

Alsace-Lorraine conscripted into German Army

40 000

 

TOTAL

 

210 000

CIVILIAN

Bombings

60 000

Resistance losses and German atrocities

60 000

Executions

30 000

 

TOTAL

 

150 000

PRISONERS AND DEPORTEES

Prisoners-of-War

40 000

Racial deportees

100 000

Political deportees

60 000

French workers in Germany

40 000

 

TOTAL

 

240 000

 

GRAND TOTAL

 

600 000

 

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French Studies, University of Birmingham,

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