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Where I live part of each year in the Southwest of France, I have two neighbors one on each side of me, Monsieur D. and Monsieur B. Since both of them are old enough to remember WWII, I have asked them (separately) to tell me what they thought of the French maquis, as the resistance fighters were called. I was shocked at how exactly opposite their memories and opinions were. My natural inclination is to accept the version of history that I prefer to be true, but I'm also old enough to know that I do this and to push back against it. Mr. D. tells me that the maquis were the only heroes of the war years and that he would have joined them had he been older than he was. Mr. B. on the other hand refers to all the members of the resistance as the "maquis noir" or black resistance (meaning that they were basically social outcasts, trouble,makers, often thieves). Which version is correct?

As I say, my natural inclination is to see Mr. B. as wrong, but I'm not so sure. Here's what he says (paraphrased). Those so-called resistance fighters were the reason why the Germans did so many awful things to the French people. If it were not for them, the Germans would have been content to leave us alone. When they attacked transports or killed German soldiers, they brought about the reprisals that the Germans were forced to make. The Germans did not want to terrify the French populace; they wanted to pacify and exploit it. Most of these guys were unemployed troublemakers looking to join a gang that would let them roam free and grab anything they could get. That's the view of Mr. B. a retired carpenter whom I like and respect in many ways.
Mr. D. is a retired elementary school teacher and his political views are mostly to the left. He sees the maquis as heroes. He agrees that the reprisals often followed raids by the maquis, but he asks the not entirely rhetorical question "What were we supposed to do, just lie down in the road like dogs and let them kick us?" He argues that the resistance played a vital role in both occupying German troops who would have been available for combat elsewhere and in slowing the movement of German troops to the north after D Day.
There is some truth obviously in what both of them say. They are not close friends with each other as you can imagine. Here's my take on it. There is one fatal flaw in Mr. B's case. He is burying the fact that the Germans would not "leave the French alone." When German soldiers came to the front door (after 1943)they gave men one choice only, to be shipped to Germany for work in war-related industries. That's it. Many thousands of young men went out the back door when the soldiers came and they joined the maquis. The Germans in France also promulgated a vast series of laws that made it, for example, illegal to NOT inform the Germans of the presence of maquis in the area or for doctors to treat wounded maquis. They forced people to take sides. I think that Mr. D. is much closed to an accurate historical memory.

Originally posted to 123frenchwine on Thu Feb 14, 2008 at 05:20 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  History is always multi-faceted. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    As you have stated it is all a matter of perspective. Unfortunately what gets know as truth is what people are more comfortable in believing. For everyone who fights the power, there are those who would rather conform to the new regime. It is only over time that will reveal who made the right choice.

    Let me do right to all, and wrong no man. - Dr. C. Savage, Jr.

    by pwrmac5 on Thu Feb 14, 2008 at 05:34:38 AM PST

  •  Now, let's hypothetically transpose all this to (5+ / 0-)

    present-day Iraq and the "insurgency"...

    We're shocked by a naked nipple, but not by naked aggression.

    by Lepanto on Thu Feb 14, 2008 at 05:34:55 AM PST

    •  The Partisan (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      When I listen to Leonard Cohen's song about the maquis, I am struck by how apropos it is to Iraq. Its time to be done with the demonization of the Iraqi resistance and to recognize the Vichy-like nature of the regime the US has installed as a million Iraqi civilians have been slaughtered.

      Sick of candidate diaries? Kasama!
      "Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories" -- Amilcar Cabral

      by Christopher Day on Thu Feb 14, 2008 at 06:04:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The way WWII turned out (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lightfoot, Psychotronicman

    ...there of course was a natural tendency to overplay the extent and popularity of the resistance, at least in propaganda (movies, etc.). Mr. B. may be reflecting more of the real sentiment at the time. After the war, oh you know, we were all in the resistance.

    In the US, the nation was completely divided on the war until Pearl Harbor happened and basically all dissent was crushed or at least forced into silence. Thus Americans have our own mythology of a unified populace against the fascists.

  •  Nice catch! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cfk, Psychotronicman

    There's an interesting criminal charge in France, it's called Non-assistance à personne en danger. It means you can be prosecuted for not coming to the help of the victim of a crime or an accident. I always thought it was a pretty civilized concept until recently, when I found out it had been promulgated under Vichy France to punish French people who, when they saw an act of resistance, did not rush to help the Germans.

    Your réac friend is just mouthing the Vichy line, that "it's all the fault of those who resist us." In fact,the Germans and Vichy did have an initial policy of friendly cooperation, but the back-and-forth of spying, deportations, denunciations and so forth eventually showed their true colors.

    There's a superb book that undermines the Vichy scenario of the "good" German just trying to get along, one of the great books produced by the Resistance press: "Le Silence de la Mer," by Vercors.

    Je vous souhaite une bonne nuit...

  •  Thanks for an interesting peek at how (0+ / 0-)

    ...history is often laid out in terms of black and white but the truth is always deeper.

    'I don't want any commies in my car. Christians either!' Repo Man

    by Psychotronicman on Thu Feb 14, 2008 at 06:13:59 AM PST

  •  perhaps some criminals, but... (6+ / 0-)

    Perhaps there might be some truth to the contention that SOME of the maquis were criminals.  And some may have continued in their criminal ways as maquis.

    But, it might be handy to have someone used to living outside of normal social constraints in a resistance situation!!

    The Nazis were NOT leaving people alone.  

    Let us remember that the Nazis perfected the notion of total war and included civilians as equal targets to military.

    From the perspective of my mother, who lived in Belgium, the Nazis were pushing, pushing, pushing on the locals.  The 5th columnists destroyed all phone communication, and a lot of the electric lines in the Ardennes area in Belgium the 2 or 3 months before the invasion.  Is this a good way to pacify the locals?  Nope, they were softening things up for the invasion.

    My mother and grandmother briefly attempted to refugee to Paris after the invasion.  They were on a passenger train which was repeatedly strafed by Nazi planes while en route.  The engineer finally gave up on stopping the train when planes dove at them on strafing runs -- too many people were being killed in the ditches by the tracks.  He opened up the engine and roared into Paris.  

    My mother still has the Nazi order to report to the train station for service in Germany.  She was a legal secretary so had office skills.  She also was around 22 and beautiful.  Yeah, right.  She just slipped out of town and went back to the farm country where she had grown up.

    Later she was able to work with her attorney employer to help paperwork disappear from the courthouse.  "Who do you want?  Who?  Why, we have no record of that person!"

    Mama downplays what she did during the war.  "Everyone was against the Nazis." she said.  "No one cooperated with them."  It appears the citizens' non-cooperation turned the social environment into a thick sticky morass as far as the Nazis were concerned.  "Sorry, monsieur.  My watch is broken.  I do not know what time it is."  "Sorry, monsieur.  We are out of soup for your lunch."  "Sorry, monsieur.  I have no coal to heat your bath water."     "Sorry, monsieur.  I don't understand you. I don't speak German."

    My mother is nearly 90 now.  She is having some trouble with flashbacks to the war when she sees news about Iraq.  I look at what she went thru and the stories she has told me, and I turn and look at the people of Iraq, and see so many parallels.

  •  My Diary about So. France (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Wrote a diary about my experience in Southern France two weeks ago. The gentleman in the photo was in the resistance.

  •  You have to have lived it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Imagine yourself an adult--say 40 years old--in 1938. Two thirds of the men of your country died in WWI. The graveyards are full of kids, your fathers, brothers, and cousins. War wasn't popular in any form in France at that time.

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