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Les Femmes Tondues

"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. 
A French woman chats with a German soldier in front of the Eiffel Tower during the Occupation
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.
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
These women were typically stripped of some or all of their clothing, then shaved bald, thus earning them the name les femmes tondues - the shorn women. Their shearing was quite the spectacle. They were elevated on platforms so that all could see - very reminiscent of the beheadings by guillotine during the French Revolution. Bloodthirsty, angry crowds gathered and cheered on the savagery.
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)


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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.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Let me say something, many of these women were informers, such as the tondue woman in the Capa photo. My family was denouced in this way for listening to English radio, offering food to resistance. 2 of my ancestors never came back.
also, many of these women sheltered german soldiers
so shaving was not a severe punishement, because if there were men, many of them would be executed.
Anonymous said…
My family spent 3 years to trace a former denouncer, using private investigators, and eventually did suceed in turning her to authority.
Sounds crazy by today's standards, but if your family was killed in this way, you would spend any sum of money to avenge on the enemy.
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Anonymous said…
Same events also occured in Nazi occupied British territory, in Jersey (British Channel Island),
I believe around 900 children were born in this way, which is a significant figure, considering that the population of the island is small, and many people have been evacuted.
Also, many British policemen worked with the Nazis in Jersey.

Many German women also slept with French labourers when their men were away, and countless children were born.

One can only deplore the moral depravity of the West.
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Anonymous said…
Chères femmes, je pleure avec vous de la méchanceté et de la bêtise humaine. Ce n'était en aucun cas des procès juste, c'était l'image de la femme qui fait ce qu'elle veut qu'il fallait détruire, donner honte afin qu'elle retourne au foyer. Et vous, pauvres posteurs de forums qui n'avez rien subi de ce qu'elles ont enduré vous osez jugés, honte sur vous. Shame on stupids men.
Anonymous said…
if you get enjoyment out of humiliating another human being you are an animal. think about that.
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Anonymous said…
It's all well and good to criticise and demean these women when we are sitting comfortably in our own homes behind a computer screen. We were not there, we did not experience it, we have no right to make such judgements. We need to be empathetic, and attempt to understand what it would have been like living in a country being occupied and oppressed by a foreign force. To think that the public humiliation and degradation of women - who possibly were only trying to make the best of dire circumstances - is morally correct and deserved, makes us just as bad, apathetic and inhumane and those who initially deemed this punishment adequate and fair. In order to advance as a global community, we cannot continue to disparage, condemn and judge people when we do not have the whole story.
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