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The Resistance in France

The activities and success of the Resistance movement in France from 1940-1944 is examined by Roderick Kedward.

Vichy and Collaboration

Once Guderian's tanks had crossed the Meuse on May 13th, 1940, France was defeated in a mere four weeks. So too was the British Expeditionary Force. But Britain was able to fall back across the Channel: the French were relentlessly pursued in a retreat which gathered its own frantic momentum. It was a civilian as well as military disaster. Ten million refugees took to the roads and rail to escape the invasion, the most dramatic exodus of population seen in Europe for centuries. There were family tragedies by the thousand every day of those few short weeks.

On June 16th, 1940, the new Prime Minister of France, Marshal Petain, called for a ceasefire. It came as a relief to the vast majority of the French. The eighty-four year-old Marshal, renowned as the 'Victor of Verdun' in the First World War, was credited with having saved the French from a nightmare situation and was elevated to a semi-religious status. His portrait was erected behind the altar in many churches, and it was educational policy to compare him favourably with Joan of Arc.

Under the terms of the Armistice, France was divided into two zones, and Petain set up his government in the unoccupied zone at the spa town of Vichy where the hotels were plentiful enough to house all the ministries. From there the Vichy regime launched a right-wing offensive against all the republican elements of France, in a nationalist revival known as the National Revolution. It was, in the words of Charles Maurras, the theorist of reactionary France, the 'triumph of the true France' over Socialists, Communists, Jews, Freemasons and all parliamentary, democratic traditions which were roundly accused not just of precipitating defeat but of leading France to decadence and catastrophe.

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