World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.


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. German author­i­ties went so far as to paste affiches rouge (red and black posters) on public walls replete with mug shots and names of “crim­i­nals,” “bandits,” “foreigners,” “terrorists,” and others they had arrested, tor­tured, and exe­cuted in prisons near and within Paris, the occupied French capital. Members of the French Resis­tance responded with their own 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—a Waffen-SS (Armed Schutz­staffel) battalion of the Der Fuehrer Regi­ment, part of the elite 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich,” together with mem­bers of the Sicher­heits­dienst (the Nazi Party’s intel­li­gence agency), 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. According to the Waffen-SS bat­tal­ion com­mander, the lethal repri­sal avenged a kid­napping and the killing of 40 Ger­man sol­diers by mem­bers of the French Resis­tance intent on hindering the divi­sion’s race from Southern France to Normandy, 450 miles away, to throw back the Allied landings there. Topping off the killings, 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 warriors mas­sacred 642 in­habi­tants, including women and children, in the farming village of Oradour-sur-Glane, 15 miles north of Tulle. (It turned out later that there were no résis­tants in Oradour-sur-Glane; some members of “Das Reich” considered it funny that they had murdered the wrong inhabitants.)

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. (The German version of “collab­o­ra­tion” was Zusam­men­arbeit, “working together.”) According to French sources, between May 1940 and Septem­ber 1944 a total of 6,000 French­men were mas­sa­cred (massa­crés) by Germans working with 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 in German concentration camps.

German Atrocities in France and the French Resistance

German reprisal killings: Oradour-sur-Glane Church, site of German atrocity, June 10, 1944German reprisal killings: 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 and visi­tors and 205 chil­dren were burnt to death or shot as they attempted to escape from the clutches of a crazed Waffen-SS unit. Their hus­bands, sons, and brothers were marched to near­by barns, lined up, and shot, first in their legs to pre­vent them from moving. The victims were douced in gaso­line and the barns and their con­tents incin­erated. One woman and six men sur­vived the mas­sacre. The village was partially razed. 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. Today, the village martyr (martyred village) is a tourist desti­na­tion, complete with maps and guidebooks. Photo taken June 11, 2004.

Right: Wrecked hardware (bicycles, sewing machine, etc.) seven decades later, left as a reminder of the unspeak­able bar­barity of the German repri­sal in Oradour-sur-Glane. An ini­tial judi­cial inves­ti­gation by German autho­rities into the Tulle and Oradour-sur-Glane repri­sals, urged on by Field Marshal Erwin Rom­mel and Pétain’s Vichy French govern­ment, was opened, then suspended, in part because many of the perpe­trators had been killed in action during the Battle of Normandy. Finally in January 1953 a mili­tary tri­bunal in Bor­deaux, France, heard the case against the surviving 65 of the approxi­mately 200 Waffen-SS sol­diers who had been involved in the massacres. Only 21 defen­dants were in court because many of the accused could not be extra­dited from the new East Germany (German Demo­cratic Republic). On Febru­ary 1, 1953, with one exception all were convicted of war crimes.

Marquis members in northern France, 1944Captured 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. By 1944 Milice’s mem­ber­ship may have reached 25,000–35,000, including part-time mem­bers, non-com­ba­tants, and women, who com­prised 15 percent of the member­ship. Miliciens operated in both the “free zone” (Vichy France) and in the German-occupied zone (zone occupée), including Paris. Many miliciens 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.

Short History of the French Resistance