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COMMENTS & DEBATES
THE MEMORY ZONE
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COMMENTS & DEBATES
Extract from Suzan F. Foley- Women in France since 1789, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2004, pp 215-216.
In Vichy ideology, women were envisaged, above all, as mothers. In the words of one Vichy writer, women should be ‘rooted in nature without horizon beyond their hearth and without any aspiration beyond the joys of motherhood. The regime’s iconography abounded in images of ‘the mother’, babe in arms and surrounded by children. Mothers’ day was promoted as an important Vichy celebration, and a Little Guide to Mother’s Day was published to assist (and regulate) its observance. People were urged to reflect at home on what they owed their mothers. State officials, clerical and secular, led public celebrations. Pétain’s address to French mothers in 1941 captured the reverence surrounding motherhood under Vichy: ‘Mothers of our dead, mothers of our prisoners, mothers of our cities who would give your lives to save your children from hunger, mothers of our countryside, who, alone on the farm, bring in the harvest, glorious mothers, suffering mothers, today I express to you the gratitude of the entire nation’.
Mothers were characterised by self-sacrifice and devotion to others. An education manual for young peasant women reiterated that theme constantly. Devotion was described as woman’s ‘vocation’; she must be ‘ready for every sacrifice’ without complaint. ‘[Women] must think of others! If we don’t, who will? The language of motherhood thus expressed the overarching Vichy ethic of devotion to the nation, to the ‘larger’ family. It also reflected the idea that people were not valuable in themselves but in the roles they played and in the social institutions of which they were part. It articulated the anti-individualist message behind Vichy’s corporatist social model. Women were not individuals with different talents and aspirations, but ‘mothers’ biologically destined to reproduce the French ‘race’, just as men were workers or farmers producing the necessities of life. Motherhood was defined as ‘woman’s National Service’, but unlike men’s military service ‘it lasts for all her life in the home and it is through motherhood that she pays her “blood tax” ’. The feminist argument- that the risks of childbirth equalled those of military service and thus entitled women to the vote- was here turned against women. Duties, not rights, and certainly not desires, were what mattered.
from Hanna Diamond, Women in France during the Second World War,
London, Longman, 2000, pp 82-83
Sexual collaboration has dominated all accounts of women’s
collaboration. The film documentary Le
Chagrin et la Pitié
is a good example of this. Here men’s collaboration is political and
women’s collaboration is sexual. Many commentators share the opinion
expressed by one male resister that ‘for many people, to have seen a
woman with a German was enough to condemn them’. Contemporary French
police were aware of this and often reported that French women were seen
with Germans. Indeed, at the Liberation women who had been seen with
Germans were in danger of being punished by the local population. However,
there was clearly a difference between the women who spent time with
Germans to get a decent square meal or simply to have a good time, and
those who sought out the Germans and ended up in complete agreement with
their activities and political ends. That both motives for this type of
behaviour existed there is no doubt. For obvious reasons the sources, both
oral and written, do not necessarily tell the whole story. What were the
influences at work here? What motivated the women to behave in the way
they did? Are there distinctions to be drawn between having a few drinks
or dances with German soldiers and establishing regular intimacy with
them? Sexual collaboration is a complicated and guilt-ridden issue, but to
assume that all women who spent time with Germans were necessarily
displaying an in-depth commitment to collaboration would be to
oversimplify women’s motivations.
Extract from Jean-Pierre Azéma & Olivier Wieviorka, Vichy, 1940-44, Paris, Perrin, 1997, p 134
toujours, en même temps qu'il honore, Vichy réprime. Inversant la
jurisprudence des années trente, la procédure du divorce devient
difficile et plus lente: il est interdit de divorcer avant un délai de
trois ans de mariage. Puis, une loi du 23 septembre 1942 'tendant à protéger
la dignité du foyer' réprime lourdement l'adultère commis avec la femme
d'un prisonnier. Les contemporains ont été encore plus frappés par le
fait que Philippe Pétain- contrairement à la règle non écrite qui
voulait que les femmes condamnées à mort ne fussent jamais exécutées-
avait refusé de gracier une femme, condamnée pour avoir provoqué des
avortements et guillotinée le 30 juillet 1943 malgré sa qualité de mère
de famille. Si Pétain avait voulu faire un exemple, c'est qu'à ses yeux
l'avortement n'était pas seulement un crime au sens courant du terme mais
un geste asocial, accompli par des 'individus dangereux [....] coupables
d'actes de nature à nuire au peuple français'. Cela dit, la mère au
foyer vertueuse n'aurait pas été astreinte à demeurer cloîtrée dans
un gynécée. Sans qu'elle outrepasse la modestie inhérente à son sexe,
il lui était recommandé de participer ès qualités aux activités de la
cité: elle pouvait notamment siéger dans les conseils municipaux et un
des projets du Conseil national prévoyait même que la nouvelle
constitution en fît une électrice
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
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.
Simon KITSON, "The Marseille police in their context, from Popular Front to Liberation", D phil , Sussex University, 1995, pp 188-189
Women were the third group to be encouraged to join the police. A special structure, the Corps des Surveillantes Auxiliaires, was set up in the police to incorporate these women. By May 1944, their number had reached 685 throughout France, made up for the most part of married mothers, and there were plans to increase this figure to 1572 by the end of that year, with 228 scheduled for Marseille. This encouragement, in apparent contradiction to Vichy's notions of the place of women in French society, can be explained by three factors:
-the shortage of men of working age owing to the conscription of large numbers for the STO;
-the perception that women were generally more influenced by the recommendations of the catholic church, which despite its protests concerning the deportation of Jews and conscripts for the STO, still overlapped philosophically in a number of areas with Vichy;
-the belief that women would not be tempted by their professional contacts with the world of prostitution in quite the same way as policemen.
There was reference to their femininity in both the type of work they were allowed to assume and the categories of society they were allowed to police. They were not allowed to engage in office work unless they were in a state of obvious pregnancy; their powers of arrest were limited; they were not to perform night shift; they were to be excluded from dangerous missions and not to be armed. Their duties were largely concerned with the supervision of the distribution of food; questions of hygiene and morality. The society that they policed was more or less restricted to old people; animals; children and other women. The policing of men of active age was kept in the hands of men.
Sarah FISHMAN, We Will Wait, Wives of French Prisoners of War, 1940-45, Yale UP, New Haven, 1991, pp 169-170
Defenders of women's right to vote in 1944-45 used the same arguments heard in the 1920 debates. Certain areas of politics fell within the female domain of the family and children. An editorial vindicating female suffrage answered several hypothetical objections to women voting. 'Should not women's roles be distinct from those of men?' Women had the right to speak on issues such as hygiene, education, and child welfare, but as for finance, economic policy, and labor law, should a woman not 'give precedence to her companion?' The editorialist responded, 'Precisely, hygiene, education, and the protection of children are regulated by laws, and it is those laws about which women must be able to have their say: which is why it is absolutely necessary for them to vote'.
That women should vote not because they were equal but because they were different had its roots in nineteenth-century notions of women as social housekeepers. Women were experts at cleaning up their own homes, and a community was nothing more than a large home. The first female mayor in France explained, 'Women in their homes have, on a small scale, the same concrete and urgent problems to resolve. You can be sure that they will contribute to public affairs the same common sense, the same realism, the same instinct for finding quick and effective solutions.' Also, because women are more moral and caring in nature, their influence in politics would mediate men's calculating and self-serving nature. 'A harmonious and balanced society cannot allow the masculine to predominate, for then a mechanistic order will reign from which is excluded all sensitivity'. As in 1920, favoring female suffrage indicated altered perceptions, not about the nature of women, but about the nature of politics.
On different gender reactions to defeat
Kernan was an American who was the Director of the French language edition of the Vogue magazine and a representative of Conde Nast publications in Europe. In 1941 he published a book France on Berlin Time recounting what he had seen and experienced in occupied France
Extract from Thomas Kernan, France on Berlin Time, New York, 1941, pp 115-116.
In addition to strengthening the family tie, the French defeat has demonstrated once again that women stand up to adversity better than the men. I was constantly amazed at the courage and initiative displayed by the Frenchwoman, who seemed to shoulder the burden of maintaining her husband’s morale as well as the task of feeding the children. It recalled to mind the legends of our own women in the South, who undertook the job of rebuilding home and hearth after the American Civil War. The significance of such stories as Gone with the Wind lies not in the single character of Scarlett O’Hara, but rather in the fact that her indomitable independence was representative of her whole sex after disaster had broken the will of the men. In France, as in our own post-bellum South, women will be most instrumental in restoring backbone to the nation and re-forming the pattern of family life. I know of many French families where the men were ready to leave their homes and positions in the cities and retire to some little property in the countryside without further struggle to maintain their place in life. It was the woman of the family who insisted on not giving up, on continuing the education of the children, who awoke in the dark hours of the Paris morning, now on Berlin time, to prepare the children for school. Then, market basket in hand, they would wait long hours in the endless queues that formed before the food shops to get a few potatoes, some turnips, perhaps a few ounces of meat, to feed the family.
I suppose the amateur psychologists will have no difficulty figuring out the reasons for this contrast in the attitudes of the women and men of defeated France. The women, enmeshed in a hundred practical tasks, had not time for the brooding and self-conscious recrimination of the men. The woman’s day was filled with the minor successes of procuring rations, fastening the children’s scarves, reviving her man’s spirit. The Frenchman did not have the same outlets. Whatever the reasons, the Frenchwoman in the future must be credited with playing a major role in the reconstruction of France.
THE MEMORY ZONE
The following testimony as gathered by Rod Kedward of Sussex University. Madeleine Baudoin was an active member of the 'groupes francs' (resistance units specialising in armed attacks and sabotage). The testimony underlines the isolation felt by some Resisters who, in their life of secrecy and danger, sometimes felt cut off from their compatriots. Obviously this is just one person's account and like all historical sources needs to be subject to the utmost critical scrutiny. The comments she makes about public opinion in France are at odds with most of the historical research carried out on this theme. Although few did hear de Gaulle's speech of 18 June 1940 at the time it was on the front page of a Marseille newspaper the following day- although significantly they misspelled his name ('de Gaule').
The testimony is reproduced in H.R.KEDWARD, Resistance in Vichy France, OUP, Oxford, 1978, pp 276-278 where one can find a number of other eye witness accounts (not to mention Kedward's excellent text).
|In 1940, I
had just finished my first year in the Faculté des Lettres at
Aix-en-Provence and was 19 years old. I came from a family whose politics
were in the centre, but from the time of the Popular Front in 1936 I
myself had been passionately left-wing although I had not joined any
party. I felt angry about the Munich agreements because France had
repudiated its pact with Czechoslovakia. I had also supported those who
called for intervention in Spain against Franco. The declaration of war
seemed logical to me. But no one wanted to go to war. The people of France
were more afraid of Bolshevism than fascism. So too was the
The Nazi-Soviet pact deeply shocked me. I found it inexcusable. It was more than a non-aggression pact: the Germans and Russians made several agreements to aid each other with petrol and raw materials. The pact caused all the ambiguities in the French communist party before June 1941.
The Armistice was inevitable. The whole public wanted it. I was against Pétain from the start because he was defeatist. But the people of France were to blame. They wanted him. They followed him blindly. At the time it was said, 'Pétain is France, France is Pétain'. It was absolutely true. I approved of the English attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir. I understood why the English had done it. The French fleet ought to have gone over to the English side in defiance of the Armistice.
We talked about all these events in the Faculté. Most students were very shocked by the events and when the Dean made an obsequious speech in homage to Pétain there were a lot of shouts from the audience.
No one heard de Gaulle's appeal of 18 June: it was far too badly jammed. People in Marseille were fairly content with the situation because there was no occupation. They talked about nothing else but rationing. The more the Germans took the more they thanked Pétain for saving what was left. However bad the food situation was they believed it would have been worse without Pétain. Their attitude was 'Pétain saves every day'. The word 'resist' was used right from the beginning. but it meant resisting the system of rationing, getting round it, finding a bit more food somehow from somewhere.
The communists in the Faculté were completely blocked by the Nazi-Soviet pact. It's true they were hostile to Vichy and Pétain but they had nothing to say about the Germans. They were against the valet but not his master.
To stand out against all this and to resist by wanting to go on fighting against the Germans was like being in a foreign country. No one agreed with you and they happily denounced you. They were obsessed by day-to-day problems of food and any goods in short supply. If hunger could have caused Resistance, everyone in the south would have been resisters. there was hunger everywhere, but very, very few Resisters. In Marseille the hunger was even worse than most places, but did it produce more resisters? No.
What was done before 1942? Very little. A few students circulated tracts, and demonstrated against the raising of the colours on the festival days authorized by Vichy. But there was no really active Resistance until after 1942. I don't believe that there was anything called 'Resistance ideas' or 'Resistance opinion'. You either did something or you were one of the mass who wouldn't do anything. France was Pétainist and attentiste to the end. If you wanted to do anything you had to mistrust everyone.
The Légion was very popular and when Pétain visited Marseille the enthusiasm was enormous. People at first believed that the Germans were protecting them against the Bolsheviks. And there was a lot of Anglophobia. members of the Légion made continuous speeches against Russia and against England.
Everyone found ways of getting bread, more vegetables, more food. But they didn't resist the Germans. There were a few individuals in Marseille before 1942: a few small groups of Resisters. That's all. Combat was the first to be established, but it was mostly a question of discussion and writing tracts. Very few of those who wrote or read tracts went into active, armed resistance after 1942. Even after 1942 there was no patriotic upsurge; that's a myth. There was no national insurrection; that's another myth, created by the gaullists and the communists for different reasons. real Resistance was anti-fascist; a small minority, fighting international Fascism. It was 'gauchiste' before the word was known: independent action without orders from the top and without a hard political line. This was the character of the groupes francs in the area after 1942 in which I was involved. I myself was no patriot, though I was prepared to fight to defend the Canebière [one of the main streets in Marseille]. But I would have fought in the same way in Spain or anywhere else against fascism. It was an international fight.
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