Scrupulous, evenhanded reconsideration of the fighters of the French Resistance and how the patriotic myth became central to the identity of postwar France.
Employing a refreshing approach to the history of this traumatic epoch by sticking with firsthand testimony, both written and oral, Gildea (Modern History/Univ. of Oxford; Children of the Revolution: The French, 1799-1914, 2008, etc.) restores some of the marginalized voices so crucial to the story: women, communists, and foreigners. Contrary to Charles de Gaulle’s official line that France was liberated by the French—that there was a “continuous thread of resistance” from the time of his initial rally from his London exile in June 1940 through liberation in August 1944 and that only a few dastardly French collaborated with the enemy—the real story is much more complicated. The majority of the French opted to “muddle through” and indeed revered and trusted the great World War I hero Philippe Pétain rather than embrace the upstart de Gaulle. Who were these early brave resisters to the German invasion? The term “patriotism” definitely meant different things to different people: the children of WWI veterans, who acted out of filial piety and family honor; those radicalized by the Spanish Civil War and who had fought against fascism in the International Brigades; political idealists who hoped to bring about a “brave new world,” such as working-class communists; immigrant refugees from fascism; and women bereft of husbands and sons, throwing themselves into activities such as sheltering downed Allied airmen, spreading propaganda, and even engaging in armed struggle. Gildea proceeds step by step in the buildup to resistance, which required both an internal and external network, especially from de Gaulle’s Allied base in London. Moreover, the liberation by the Americans of North Africa in November 1942 proved to be the “hinge” in galvanizing resistance and clarifying the Vichy versus Free French struggle.
A masterly, painstakingly researched study incorporating the urgent stories of the resisters themselves.