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La Résistance

There is a joke that everyone in France was in the Résistance. Many people criticize the French as exaggerating facts, but I would like to defend the French (shocker, I know). I'm not saying that there were no collaborators. That would just be silly and historically inaccurate. But there were more French than not who resisted the enemy.
While not everyone who claimed they were in the Résistance was in the formal, organized group, there were countless French who helped in many ways to, in one way or another, resist the Nazis. Whether they were on sabotage missions or simply did not denounce a neighbor, there were a number of ways to defy the occupier. Those who contributed to anti-Nazi propaganda, fed or sheltered a Résistance member or downed Allied pilot, leaked information, made false IDs, or helped Jews in any way technically were resisting the Nazis. Of course the actual organization was important, but it could not have functioned as it did without the collective help of the French people. And so, in that way, many French WERE in La Résistance.
Free French
The Flag of Free France is the traditional "Tri-colour" with the cross of Lorraine
First, it is important to make the distinction between the Free French and the French Resistance. 
When the French government abandoned Paris, they did so only in the physical sense. They were no longer present in Paris, but they had not given up (think about it...what good would it do anyone for the leaders of France to stay knowing full well they would be murdered by the Nazis?! That is not cowardice, but common sense!) They set up in London, and from there (and eventually from some of their African colonies) they operated their exiled government, Free France. The Free French were led by General Charles de Gaulle and were  supported by the Allies. They were ultimately responsible for organizing the random groups of  resistance  fighters into a more cohesive, efficient unit with one shared goal: to liberate France. These groups collectively are known as La Résistance Française (the French Resistance). 
The French Resistance was comprised of groups of people who wanted to liberate France from the Nazis. The Résistance did anything it could to weaken the Nazis. They printed and distributed anti-Nazi publications, performed  assassinations and acts of sabotage, and helped downed Allied pilots.
Two maquis (guerilla fighters) plant explosives on a train track in an act of sabotage
A Nazi train sabotaged by the French Résistance
It was a tremendous risk to be involved in the Résistance because if caught, it meant certain torture, imprisonment and death. For this reason, many resistance fighters assumed false identities. This way, they not only protected their families from the wrath of the Nazis, but also protected the true identity of other Résistance members. Unfortunately, since the Nazis often times could not find the actual perpetrators, they would take out their anger on innocent townspeople, even slaughtering entire villages, as was the case on 10 June 1944 in the French town of Oradour-Sur-Glane.
Below are a few key figures in the Résistance. 
General Charles De Gaulle
General Charles de Gaulle
General Charles de Gaulle was the leader of the Free French. He was a respected WWI veteran, who, upon escaping to London during WWII gave a speech (De Gaulle's Appeal of 18 June 1940) over the BBC radio that encouraged the people of France to continue resisting the Nazis stating, "Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not and will not be extinguished." He would remain a controversial figure with the American and British forces for the remainder of the war. He always acted in what he believed were the best interests of France. After the war, he would go on to help found the Fifth Republic of France and become President of that Fifth Republic.
Jean Moulin
Jean Moulin: martyr and hero to many
Jean Moulin was a leader in the French Résistance. Moulin was responsible for executing de Gaulle's plan to unite the various factions of the Résistance. He was considered to be the second in command next to de Gaulle. Moulin was captured on June 21, 1943. It is believed that he was betrayed by a member of the Résistance (who, though, remains a point of contention). He was taken to a prison in Lyon, then in Paris where he was tortured by the Gestapo and the infamous Butcher of Lyon, Klaus Barbie. Jean Moulin died on July 8, 1943. Barbie said that Moulin committed suicide, but most people believe that he died from being tortured to death. His acts of bravery secured his place in history as he became the symbol of the Résistance. He is entombed in Paris' Panthéon.
Lucie & Raymond Aubrac
Lucie & Raymond Aubrac
Lucie and Raymond Aubrac were a married couple and both were members of the Résistance. Both were Communists, and Raymond was also a Jew. In fact, his birth name was Raymond Samuel, so to hide his Jewish identity, he changed his last name to the more French sounding Aubrac. After the Nazi invasion, the couple left Paris and settled in Lyon where they became active and important members of the south Résistance. Raymond was arrested along side Jean Moulin, and Lucie, who was very pregnant at the time, devised a scheme to help break her husband out of jail.
Lucie pretended that she and Raymond were not married but that she was pregnant with his child (they were using false identities, so it made sense). She pleaded with the Gestapo to allow them to get married so the child would not have to live with the shame of illegitimacy. The Gestapo finally agreed, and on the day of the wedding, Lucie and other members of the Résistance were able to help Raymond escape. Lucie and Raymond, along with their children, were able to escape to London where they stayed until France was liberated.
Some believe that it was Raymond who betrayed Jean Moulin.  During his trial for crimes against humanity, Klaus Barbie specifically named Raymond Aubrac as an informer. Raymond Aubrac, now 98, denies any such thing.
Lucie became involved in politics after the war and became the first woman to sit on a parliamentary assembly. She lived to be 95 years old. In 1984, Lucie  published her memoirs, Outwitting the Gestapo, that tell the tale of her life in the Résistance.
Agnès Humbert
Agnès Humbert
Agnès Humbert was an art historian at the Musée de l'Homme. She heard De Gaulle's plea over the BBC for the French to resist and immediately knew she needed to do something. She formed a group with some of her colleagues, which ended up being the first organized resistance group in Paris. The group quickly grew and they began to create and distribute an anti-Nazi, anti-Vichy newspaper, Résistance.
In April 1941, she and seven other members of her cell were betrayed and arrested. As she awaited her trial, she was imprisoned  in Paris in deplorable conditions. All members were found guilty, the men sentenced to death, and the women to slave labor in Germany. Humbert spent the remaining years of the war working in a rayon factory where the chemicals left her fingers raw and severely damaged her eyesight.
After the war, Agnès Humbert went back to work for the museum. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre for her service in the Résistance and bravery as a POW. Her experience is chronicled in her book Résistance.
Parting Thoughts
The French get a bad rap for quickly dropping their rifles and giving up easily. The French Resistance is living proof that the French were anything but passive during the Second World War. Those who were exiled in England joined with Allied forces and fought - and died - side by side with the Americans and English to liberate their country. 
When I traveled through Normandy to the hallowed beaches of the Allied landings, I was touched by the fact that beside every French flag flew an American one. Eighty years after D-Day, the French have not forgotten the sacrifices that Americans Americans, let us not forget the sacrifices that the French made, in turn.
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My interest with the resistance movements in World War II began with Casablanca which obviously was greatly glamorized and definitely grew after seeing the French film Lucie Aubrac. For as much as some French citizens collaborated with Germany you still had countless individuals who risked their lives for their country and people. It's definitely a topic that many Americans don't know a lot about!
Once again, Jennifer, thank you for a wonderful post. I learn so much from you. I am forwarding this to one of my 7th graders who plans to make a presentation on Vichy France tomorrow. He is already quite a history buff and will love this post.
Awesome! Loved this post, and right in time to inspire us for the elections! :) Well researched and insightful! xoxo
Jennifer said…
@ Julie - I love Casablanca, too - who doesn't?! I have yet to see the movie about Lucie Aubrac, but I have read her book "Outsmarting the Gestapo" - it is great! I will have to see if Netflix carries the movie as I would be interested to see it!
@ Theresa - That is so cool that a 7th grader is so interested in Vichy! I read a great book this summer by Henry Rousso called "The Vichy Syndrome." Too advanced for a 7th grader, but interesting nonetheless as it explores France's collective memory (shaped by Gaullist myths) about the Vichy Years (known as "the Dark Years.") If he ever wants to chat about Vichy, tell him to post on my blog!

As always thanks for reading and for your feedback!!
Jennifer said…
@ Teri - merci! WWII/Holocaust France is my passion...I could go on and on! :D

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