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Additional Background Information on the French Resistance

From Women in European History

The Germans invaded France on 10 May 1940 and by June 17th the French had done all they could to hold back the Germans from taking over their country. Subsequently, the newly elected Prime Minister, Marshall Henri Philippe Petain signed an Armistice with the Germans on 22 June 1940 in which the French agreed to stop fighting the Germans. This Armistice went directly against an agreement between the French and British in which they settled that neither nation would sign a separate peace agreement with the Germans in hopes of maintaining a strong opposing force to German actions in Europe. However, once the Armistice was signed it allowed for the French to set up the Vichy government: a puppet government in the southern part of France. The Vichy regime was nothing more than the French governing the French with the rules and oversight of the Germans. The regime collaborated with the Germans in almost all aspects of daily life and it was actually the Vichy regime that captured Charlotte Delbo and her husband, eventually turning them over to the Nazis.

While many French citizens viewed the German control of their nation as a positive circumstance, since the Germans were slowly taking over all of Europe and represented a powerful and organized force, others gathered in resistance. Charles de Gaulle rallied French people in a message from England on 18 June 1940 in which he said, “Is the last word said? Has all hope gone? Is defeat definitive? No. Believe me, I tell you that nothing is lost for France.” His broadcast marked the beginning of the French resistance and he became the recognized leader of the “Free French.” Even though he was forced to remain in England throughout most of the resistance he collaborated in many resistance activities.

The initial resistance movement was marked by unorganized collaboration of angry French citizens who displayed little strategy in their actions. However, as they became more organized their actions began to have fatal implications for the Germans. Women often played a prominent role in the movement. Two women in particular, Madame Lauro, who acted secretly at night sabotaging German food supplies and Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who became the head of the Alliance Reseau, an espionage network organized with the help of the British, rose to prominence as national figures. This is unique because during this time period there were few women who were being exalted in this manner and the fact they were defeating German men in the process made French citizens even more proud.

As it was noted in her biography Delbo was active in the communist cause during the French Resistance. The Gestapo began hunting down Communist and Socialist party members and most of them went into hiding (just as Delbo did). They eventually formed the Maquis and organized based on their geographical regions. In January 1941, the Comite d’Action Socialiste was formed by radical members of the Socialist Party, specifically Pierre Brossolette and Daniel Mayer. The Communist Party also worked against the German occupation by publishing Les Petities Ailes and Verites. Delbo worked heavily in the distribution of many of these communist pamphlets, which called for a “National front for the Independence of France.”

The Resistance movement encouraged a national French identity during a time period when the French world had been destroyed. Fortunately, for women like Charlotte Delbo, they were able to participate actively in the resistance and rose to national prominence as heroes for their nation and the cause of the French.

For more information on similar World War II situations see: Némirovsky - Additional Background Information and the Additional Background section in the Elena Skrjabina biography

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