FRENCH HOSTAGES TO DIE TIT FOR TAT

Paris, Occupied France · September 28, 1941

On this date in 1941, in the wake of the first public assas­si­na­tion of a Ger­man officer in France, the Ger­man mili­tary autho­rities issued a Code of Hos­tages to the French people. Pools of French­men, whether detained by French autho­ri­ties or by the Ger­man Wehr­macht (armed forces) or the Gestapo (secret police) for “anti-German” and otherwise illegal activi­ties, were to be held in readiness as hos­tages against future attacks on German soldiers. Illegal activi­ties included espio­nage, sabo­tage, armed attacks, and distrib­uting anti-German tracts. Fifty to 100 French­men would be shot for every Ger­man killed. Mem­bers of the French Resis­tance responded with wall pos­ters: “For every patriot shot, 10 Germans will be killed.”

It was open sea­son on both sides for the rest of the war. In one of the most grue­some repri­sals—this on June 9, 1944, in the French in­dus­trial town of Tulle in Cen­tral France—German Waffen-SS company “Das Reich” and mem­bers of the Sicher­heits­dienst (the in­tel­li­gence agency of the Nazi Party’s Schutz­staffel, or SS) first tor­tured, then murdered 99 ran­domly selected men aged between 17 and 42, hanging the vic­tims’ bodies from trees, bal­co­nies, and lamp posts all over town. Addi­tionally, another 321 cap­tives were sent to labor camps in the Third Reich, where 101 lost their lives. In total, the actions of the Ger­mans claimed the lives of 213 Tulle civil­ians. The next day, June 10, the same Waffen-SS unit mas­sacred 642 in­habi­tants, including women and children, in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, 15 miles north of Tulle.

Marshal Philippe Pétain, the octo­ge­narian head of the col­lab­o­ra­tionist Vichy govern­ment, appealed to his coun­try­men for restraint, saying that by terms of the Franco-Ger­man armi­stice of June 22, 1940, French­men had agreed to lay down their wea­pons. He closed his eyes to the un­equal tit-for-tat ratio of French dead to Ger­man dead and to the fact that truly inno­cent French­men were being detained and killed, declaring him­self more com­mitted than ever to col­lab­o­ration with the oppres­sors. According to French sources, between May 1940 and Septem­ber 1944 a total of 6,000 French­men were mas­sa­cred (massa­crés) by the Ger­mans and their “allies” (most likely the Milice, a Vichy French para­mili­tary force), 25,000 were shot (fusillés), and 27,000 résis­tants died during depor­ta­tion, not to men­tion the tens of thou­sands of déportés who died following their incarceration.





German Atrocities in France and the French Resistance

Oradour-sur-Glane Church, site of German atrocity, June 10, 1944 Oradour-sur-Glane ruin, site of German atrocity, June 10, 1944

Left: The church in Oradour-sur-Glane in which, on June 10, 1944, 245 women vil­lagers or visi­tors and 205 chil­dren were burned to death or shot as they attempted to escape. Their hus­bands, sons, and brothers were marched to near­by barns, lined up, and shot. One woman and six men sur­vived the mas­sacre. After the war a new vil­lage was built on a near­by site. On the orders of French presi­dent Charles de Gaulle the ori­ginal vil­lage has been main­tained as a museum and perma­nent memo­rial to the cruelty of the Nazi occupation. Photo taken June 11, 2004.

Right: Wrecked hardware (bicycles, sewing machine, etc.) six decades later, left as a reminder of the bar­barity of the Ger­man repri­sal in Oradour-sur-Glane. In January 1953 a mili­tary tri­bunal in Bor­deaux, France, heard the case against the sur­viving 65 of the approxi­mately 200 German sol­diers who had been involved in the repri­sal. Only 21 defen­dants were in court. On Febru­ary 1, 1953, with one exception all were convicted of war crimes.

Marquis members in northern France, 1944 Captured French Resistance members, July 1944

Left: During the Allied invasion of Normandy, the Maquis (rural guer­rilla bands in Brit­tany and South­ern France) and other groups played an impor­tant role in delaying Ger­man mobili­za­tion. The FFI (Forces Fran­çaises de l’In­terieur, French irregu­lars) blew up rail­road tracks and repeat­edly attacked Ger­man Army equip­ment and garri­son trains on their way to the Chan­nel coast. This photo shows mem­bers of the Maquis in La Tresorerie near Bou­logne-sur-Mer, Northern France, September 14, 1944.

Right: Resistance members captured by the Milice, a Vichy French para­mili­tary force, July 1944. Milice’s mem­ber­ship may have reached 25,000–35,000 (including part-time mem­bers and non-com­ba­tants) by 1944. Milicien operated in both the “free zone” (Vichy France) and in the Ger­man zone (zone occupée), in­cluding Paris. Many milicien were im­pri­soned for trea­son, exe­cuted following courts-mar­tial, or killed by résis­tants and civil­ians who revenged them­selves in the épuration sau­vage (pursuit of Nazi collabo­rators) that took place after the war’s end.

Vichy Head Marshal Philippe Pétain Embraces German Occupiers to “Relieve French Pain”