Student Number: 1010162
Module Code: EU1113/4
Module Title: Modern France: War, Culture and Conflict
Lecturer: Claire Gorrara
Essay title/coursework assignment: To what extent can the Second World War and the Occupation be said to have ‘divided’ French society?
Word count: 1, 549
From July 1940 to August 1944, France was occupied by Germany. These fourdark years of occupation by German troops opened wounds, fractures and conflicts in French society. Life changed radically for the French, as the life they had known during the pre-war Third Republic was swept from under their feet. The once left-wing society was defeated by Germany in 1940, and the Republican democracy was replaced by the Vichy regime. This pro-German regime was led by MarshalPhilippe Pétain who negotiated with Hitler and tried to govern the Southern, unoccupied zone of France, while German forces occupied the Northern zone. The Vichy regime encouraged right-wing ways of life and replaced the traditional French motto of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” with “Work, Family, Homeland”. However, this regime was opposed by the Resistance who fought for national liberation inFrance. During this time France suffered dramatically and French society was divided not only socially, but also geographically and politically.
Geographically, France was divided into two zones. On 22nd June 1940, Pétain requested armistice with the Germans which left France deeply divided. The North of France was occupied by the Germans and the South of France was run by Pétain from the tranquiltown of Vichy in the centre of France. The Occupation was now complete and whole parts of France were put under total German rule. Davies (2001, pp. 9) claims that the Occupation meant a climate of fear and suspicion within French society. It was not only the country that was divided, but also the opinions of many French people. However, this is what the Germans had wanted. They created an“independent” southern zone which split France in two. This subtle tactic was, as Davies (2001, pp. 9) claims, a brilliant example of “divide and rule” thinking in action. The Germans did not need to govern the South of France as it had no great economic use. Therefore, the French were led to believe that they had some independence and an opportunity to rebuild their society, but instead it caused greatdivides among the people.
The reality of the Occupation was that the lives of French people were changed dramatically. A major annoyance for the French was the “line of demarcation”. This was the line which separated the North from the South of France and it was a constant reminder of national division. Sweets (1994, pp. 7) claims that during the first year of the Occupation travel between thetwo zones of France was restricted by the German authorities and sometimes traffic was cut off entirely. Life for the French was extremely different and they found themselves constantly living in fear. Kedward (1989, pp. 5) portrays life under the occupation vividly. He claims that those returning to their homes in the occupied zone were welcomed with the Nazi symbol on all public buildings. Streetsigns were in bold, German type and a curfew was introduced. French vehicles were prohibited from the streets and shopkeepers were made to accept German currency and had to serve Germans first. As one can imagine this was a complete change of lifestyle for the French, and many did not know how to react to this shocking transformation.
The most noticeable divide in French society was Vichy’sattitude towards the Jews and other individuals such as gypsies, freemasons, Communists and homosexuals. This was a period of fear for many people as it was obvious that the Vichy regime defined French society in terms of insiders and outsiders (Gorrara, 2003). Those who were seen as outsiders were excluded from society, and the majority of these were Jews. The life of a Jew was completely...