The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: German occupation of France

Table of Contents

The German Occupation of France in World War II occurred during the period between May 1940 to December 1944. As a result of the defeat of the French and its Allies in the Battle of France, the French cabinet sought a cessation of hostilities. An armistice was signed 22 June 1940 at Compiègne. Under its terms the north and west of France were occupied by the German Army, the remaining one third of the country was ruled by a French government located at Vichy and headed by aging Marechal Philippe Pétain.

When the Allies invaded North Africa on 8 November 1942, the Germans and Italians immediately occupied the remaining free part of France, Case Anton. The liberation of France began on 6 June 1944 with the Allied forces landing on D-Day and the Battle of Normandy and ended in December. Paris itself was liberated 25 August 1944.


Shortages

The life of the French during the german occupation was marked, from the beginning, by endemic shortages. They are explained by several factors:

  • One of the conditions of the armistice was to pay the costs of the three-hundred-thousand strong German occupational army, which amounted to twenty million Reichmarks per day. The artificial exchange rate of the German Reichsmark currency against the French franc was consequently established as one mark to twenty francs.[1] This allowed German requisitions and purchases to be made into a form of organised plunder and resulted in endemic food shortages and malnutrition, particularly amongst children, the elderly, and the more vulnerable sections of French society such as the working urban class of the cities.[2]
  • The disorganisation of transport, except for the railway system which relied on French domestic coal supplies.
  • The extreme shortage of petrol and diesel fuel. France had no indigenous oil production and all importations had stopped.
  • Labour shortages, particularly in the countryside, due to the large number of French prisoners of war held in Germany.

Lack of food

Supply problems quickly affected French stores which lacked most items. Faced with these difficulties in everyday life, the government answered by creating food charts and tickets which were to be exchanged for bread, meat, butter and cooking oil. Hunger prevailed, especially affecting youth in urban areas. The queues lengthened in front of shops. In the absence of meat and other foods including potatoes, people ate unusual vegetables, such as Swedish turnip and Jerusalem artichoke. Products such as sugar were replaced by substitutes (saccharin). Coffee was replaced by toasted barley mixed with chickory. Some people benefitted from the black market, where food was sold without tickets at very high prices. Counterfeit food tickets were also in circulation. Direct buying from farmers in the countryside and barter against cigarettes were also frequent practices during this period. These activities were strictly forbidden however and thus carried out at the risk of confiscation and fines. Food shortages were most acute in the large cities. In the more remote country villages, however, clandestine slaughtering, vegetable gardens and the availability of milk products somehow permitted better survival.

The Dictatorship

Further information: Vichy France

Obligatory Work Service

During the German occupation, the Obligatory Work Service (Service du Travail Obligatoire or STO ) consisted of requisitions and transfer of hundreds of thousands of French workers to Germany against their will, for the German war effort (factories, agriculture, railroads, etc) in work camps.

Curfew

During the night, inhabitants had to close their shutters or windows. Without Ausweis (authorization), it was forbidden to go out during the night. During the day, numerous regulations, censorship and propaganda made the occupation increasingly unbearable.

Education

Schoolchildren were made to sing Maréchal, nous voilà ! The portrait of Marshal Pétain adorned the walls of classrooms, thus creating a personality cult. Propaganda was present in education to train the young people with the ideas of the new Vichy regime. However, there was no resumption in ideology as in other occupied countries, for example in Poland, where the teaching elite was liquidated. There were no imprisonments of teachers and the programs were not modified overall. In the private Catholic sector, many establishment chiefs hid Jewish children by providing education for them until the liberation.

Jews

The yellow star made mandatory by the Vichy regime in France

  • Discrimination: In the occupied zone, from 1942 Jews were required to wear the yellow badge. On the Paris métro Jews had to take the last carriage.

The Resistance

Although the majority of the occupied French did not partake in active resistance, many resisted passively through acts such as listening to the banned BBC, or giving collateral or material aid to Resistance members. Others assisted in the escape of downed US or British airmen who eventually found their way back to Britain, through Spain. Beginning in 1942, many others refused to be drafted into the factories and farms of Germany by the “STO” organization, going underground to avoid imprisonment and subsequent deportation to Germany. For the most part, these “refractaires” eventually joined the Resistance. Armed underground groups in the field (generally known at the time as the “Maquis“) began to organise in the more remote parts of France in late 1942 and 1943. They received weapons such as Bren guns, Sten submachineguns, US M1 carbines and other rifles, plastic explosives, ammunition, and funds from thousands of parachute drops and solo landings at night by RAF Lysander aircraft. They also received direct support on the ground from British radio operators and tactical advisors , such as Nancy Wake, who were parachute dropped to assist the Maquis in France. After the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the French armed resistance groups (FFI, FTP and others) systematically sabotaged the railway lines, destroying bridges and providing general intelligence that was communicated directly to London via radio within hours.

Advertisements

One Response

  1. Hi. Real good information on Maqui Berry. I discovered your pleasant blog while exploring google. For the previous few days I’ve been attempting to find more. Specially anything to do with the dieting talk. I’ve seen it all and my sister keeps pushing her newfound weight loss fad on me. So I am happy I found you. Take care!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: