|"Germany Wins on All Fronts" - the Eiffel Tower (Getty Images)|
It is no great secret that some French collaborated during the Nazi Occupation of France. Some did it for less than admirable reasons, such as political gain, anti-Semitism, or true fascist ideology. Other people were frightened and saw no end to the Occupation, while some were motivated simply by the desire to survive. Many women who collaborated fall into the latter category.
|French women and German soldiers enjoying lunch at a café (Unidentified Photo Source)|
Food, clothes, and fuel (among other items) were scarce during the Occupation. Nearly everything needed to sustain life was rationed, and much of France's food and other necessary commodities were shipped to Germany. One way to ensure warmth and a full belly was by making nice with a German soldier.
In a desperate attempt to survive, some French women took on German soldiers as lovers. It return, the soldier ensured the woman's basic needs were met. Not all women had affairs for material gain - some simply slept with German soldiers because they were lonely. Either way, these sexual liaisons produced many babies.
|A French woman chats with a German soldier in front of the Eiffel Tower during the Occupation|
|Collaborationistes holding a baby whose father is a German soldier (Robert Capa)|
Known as "horizontal collaborators," these women became the targets of the wrath of the French at war's end. L'épuration, or the purification/purge, of collaborators was swift and often savage. Historian and author of Sisters of the Resistance Margaret Collins Weitz notes that approximately half of the 10,000 French executed for collaboration without legal trials were killed "just before or shortly after the Allied landings" (270). Women collaborationistes were typically not executed. Instead, they suffered public humiliation.
|Men accused of collaboration were often shot by firing squad during L'épuration (Carl Mydans)|
Women determined to be collaborationistes were paraded into the center of town where they were spat upon, beaten, cursed at.
|Public Humiliation during L'épuration in Chartres - 18 August 1944 (Robert Capa)|
|A tondue marked with a swastika|
|A tondue, 1944 - notice the expressions of the bystanders (Carl Mydans)|
In some ways, this treatment seems almost juvenile for potentially treasonous behavior. But Collins-Weitz explains, "Having one's head shorn is a sign of humiliation and a symbol of the loss of power that can be traced back to Samson in the Bible" (276). These women were marked - where ever they went, people knew what they had done. They were shunned and denied food and shelter.
|Collaborationistes await their punishment|
|Les tondues and baby - Chartres, 18 August 1944 (Robert Capa)|
|Chartres collaborationists - 18 August 1944 (Robert Capa)|
There is no doubt that what les femmes tondues did was dishonorable. But we must bear in mind that they were not given a fair, legal trial for their accused crimes before being sentenced and punished. In fact, Collins-Weitz noted that in many cases these women were denounced by jealous rivals or true collaborationists wishing to redirect the attention of those looking for "justice" (277). Before we blame, criticize, and scorn these women, we may wish to consider the words of historian and Jewish survivor of the occupation in France, Stanley Hoffmann:
For Americans - who have never experienced sudden, total defeat and the almost overnight disappearance of their accustomed political elites; who have never lived under foreign occupation; who do not know what Nazi pressure meant; who have never had an apparently legal government headed by a national hero and claiming total obedience, sinking deeper and deeper into a morass of impotence, absurdity, and crime; who have never had to worry first and last about food and physical survival - the wise and gentle warning of Anthony Eden must be heeded: do not judge too harshly." (Collins-Weitz, 285)
Disclaimer: I could not find the sources for all of the photos I included in this blog. Obviously, they are not mine as I was not alive in 1944. As I discover who took these remarkable photographs, I will add that information.