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Resist or Collaborate?

After France fell, French citizens had to make a choice whether to resist their occupier or cooperate with them. Those who chose to cooperate were called collaborators.

Photo Credit: CDJC     Monsignor Mayol de Luppe, chaplain of the Legion of French Volunteers, speaking at the rostrum of the Velodrome d'Hiver, Paris 15th arrondissement. France, April 18, 1944



Sitting in the safety of our homes with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say, "I never would have collaborated with the Nazis." It seems wrong or immoral to us to help the enemy, and it did to the French during the occupation, too. Yet, many French did collaborate, and it is important to understand why.

Many people at the time perceived Germany as invincible. By the time the Nazis overran France, they also had taken back the Rhine, annexed Sudetenland and Austria, and conquered and occupied Poland, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Because of this, and the German propaganda campaign, the average Frenchman believed the Germans were there to stay. It seemed more rational, then, to get along with the Germans.

Others cooperated out of fear or survival. Times were difficult during the occupation. People acted out of a very real fear. The Nazis were vicious to any suspected Résistance member and would often take things out on their families. As a result, people went out of their way to prove they were not in the Résistance. To complicate matters, the Nazis implemented a strict ration system leaving the French with little food to eat, or fuel for heat or automobiles. Sometimes, by helping the Germans, people might be rewarded with extra rations...and when a person or a person's child is starving, they may do things that, under normal circumstances, they would never do.

Some women took on German soldiers as lovers. In turn, they and their families were well taken care of throughout the occupation. Non-collaborators looked down at these women and called them "horizontal collaborators." Some of them became pregnant as a result of their liaisons with their soldier, and so they and the child were shunned after the war was over.



Collaboration Within the Government

While some individuals collaborated in one form or another, no collaborator is more widely known than that of the Vichy Government. Under the leadership of Henri-Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval, this puppet government worked side by side with the Nazis citing that collaboration was the only way they could preserve the French  State. They not only did the Nazi's bidding, but they often went above and beyond what was expected to prove their loyalty to Hitler.

To learn more about Vichy collaboration go to the following links:

Henri-Philippe Pétain Bio

Pierre Laval (You Tube Video)



The division between resistance and collaboration permeated all levels of French society during the occupation - even the arts. Several prominent singers performed for Nazis that occupied Paris, and as a result were labeled as collaborators. People like Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier were amongst those accused of collaboration. Famous designer Coco Chanel is even believed to have been a Nazi spy. Musicians and actors argued that they did not really have a choice. Refusing to perform could get them into trouble. They also believed that by doing so, they would keep the arts alive in France.

To learn more, read the book And the Show Went On by Alan Riding



It didn't take long for the initial joy and exuberance of liberation to turn into a vengeful witch hunt for collaborators. Many men were executed without trial, and women were publicly humiliated by having their heads shaved (see video below). Charles De Gaulle tried to impose some sense of order amidst the chaos, and it became illegal to punish anyone without a trial. When the war was finally over, Pétain and Laval were put on trial and both found guilty. Laval was executed by firing squad on October 15, 1945. His last words were, "Vive la France!" Pétain was sentenced to execution, De Gaulle commuted his sentence to life in prison based on the grounds that Pétain had served France heroically in WWI, and he was a very old man. He remained in prison until his death on July 23, 1951. He was 95 when he died.