Inglourious Basterds Movie - FRENCH RESISTANCE

FRENCH RESISTANCE (Illustration) Biographies Famous Historical Events Famous People Geography Law and Politics Social Studies World History World War II Film

Men and women were part of the French Resistance against Hitler and Germany’s occupation of France.  In this image, we see members of the Maquis (resistance) in La Tresorerie (a hamlet part of Wimille, near Boulogne-sur-Mer), on the 14th of September, 1944.  About three months after D-Day, these individuals were joining forces with the Canadian army at Boulogne.  The photo was taken by Donald I. Grant, Department of National Defence, and is maintained by Library and Archives Canada, PA-166396.  PD


When Marshal Pétain signed the Armistice, it wasn’t just control of the country which he gave up.  He also bound the French people to other onerous terms, like:

  • The French Army would be disbanded, except for 100,000 men who would maintain domestic order.
  • French soldiers, already captured by Germany - 1.5 million of them - would remain prisoners of war.
  • The Vichy government would stop members of the French armed forces from leaving France (thereby precluding their anti-German efforts elsewhere).
  • Pétain’s government would instruct French citizens not to resist Germany’s occupation of their country.
  • France would pay for the German occupation.

Charles de Gaulle, among others, was furious at such a “deal.”  He urged his fellow citizens to follow a different path:

I, General de Gaulle, now in London, call on all French officers and men who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, with or without their arms; I call on all engineers and skilled workmen from the armaments factories who are at present on British soil, or may be in the future, to get in touch with me. Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not and shall not die. (See Speeches that Changed the World, edited by Simon Sebag Montefiore, page 109.)

Initially, people were so humiliated by Germany’s easy victory that they did little to resist.  Those who did fight back were mostly disorganized, and their efforts ended in arrests. 

On the 11th of November, 1940, highschool children led one of the first displays of public resistance.  Gathering at the Arch of Triumph, in Paris, they celebrated the Allied victory over Germany in the First World War.

In occupied France, the Nazis could harass whomever they wished. When Alois Brunner (a real-life "Jew Hunter" on whom Hans Landa is likely based) arrived in the country, French people were plagued with an experienced "Final Solution" administrator who

...organized squads that prowled about the country making arrests.

Targeted people, fleeing to the forests of Vichy France, gradually joined together to form the Maquis.  Its members attacked German troops and helped Allied airmen (whose planes had been shot-down over France) to escape.

As the resistance grew more effective, René Hardy (a key leader) was arrested.  After he was tortured by Klaus Barbie and the Gestapo, the Nazis were able to arrest more leaders.   Jean Moulin and Pierre Brossolette were tortured to death, while Charles Delestraint was sent to Dachau (where he was killed near the war’s end).

People who had once supported the Vichy government also started to turn against it, and fought back.  In retaliation, a secret-police force - called the Milice - began to investigate the French resistance.  Its 35,000 members used torture - against their own countrymen - to gain information, leading to some of France’s darkest days.

In late March, of 1944, the German Army began its campaign of repression in France.  The plan was to punish people who protected resistors - even if villagers weren’t involved in fighting back themselves.  If the objective was to stop the resistance, the plan failed.

On the 5th of June, 1944 - the day before D-Day - General Eisenhower asked the BBC to broadcast coded messages to the French resistance.  Responding to the General’s request for help, Frenchmen attacked German soldiers who were occupying their country.

The price for such resistance was high.  On the 9th of June, the Nazis hanged 120 men in Tulle and murdered 67 more people in Argenton.  The next day, Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann led a group of soldiers to Oradour-sur-Glane (a village in the Limousin region) where his troops killed 642 men, women and children.  Then they burned the village

Despite such atrocities against them, French resistors continued their attacks.  When the war was over, Eisenhower acknowledged the value of their help and sacrifice:

Throughout France the Free French [that is, the Resistance] had been of inestimable value in the campaign . . . Without their great assistance the liberation of France and the defeat of the enemy in Western Europe would have consumed a much longer time and meant greater losses to ourselves.  (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, page 296.)

Joseph Goebbels, however, saw things differently.  He did everything he could to convince German citizens the war was going splendidly well.  But, like most propaganda, Goebbels’ movies were greatly slanted toward his own objectives.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2009

Updated Last Revision: Apr 23, 2015

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