Friday 2 July 2010

French Nazi collaborators named and shamed

by Kathryn Hadley,

In February last year, the French council of state, the Conseil d’Etat, recognised for the first time the responsibility of the French Vichy government in the deportation of Jews during the Second World War. Peter Allen reported on Wednesday, June 30th, in the Telegraph and Mail Online that police reports from the time are now due to be digitised and published online. The files dating from 1940 will be made public in 2015, as soon as the 75-year official secrecy order issued by the post-war government expires. Archives from the following four years will subsequently also be made public from 2016 to 2019. Since the liberation of Paris on August 25th, 1944, the documents have been kept in the archives of the Musee des Collections Historiques de la Prefecture de Police in Paris. They include police logs from stations across France, details of fines, arrests and interviews, as well as information passed on to the Nazis.

In the Guardian, Nabila Ramdani explains how the online publication of the names of ‘second world war collaborators’ will force the country to reconsider official versions of the history of the German occupation and the ‘myth of the resistance’ developed in the aftermath of the liberation. ‘If a beloved great uncle was caught slipping some black market camembert to the Bosch in 1940, then the whole world will be able to read about it from 2015’.

It is not that simple, however. Can giving a German soldier a camembert really be defined as an act of collaboration? How indeed does one define collaboration and what crimes did one have to commit to be classified as a collaborator? When times were hard, queues for food were never-ending and people were hungry, can selling cheese on the black market to have a little extra cash really be defined as a crime? The history of occupied France is not black and white and the lines between collaboration and resistance were often blurred. People could, for example, superficially collaborate with the Germans in order to cover up more active acts of resistance against the Nazi regime. On the whole, the majority of the French population primarily sought to survive and carry on with their daily lives as unaffected as possible by the occupation. The publication of archives from the time will, above all, raise many complex questions about historical memory and issues of responsibility.

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