Occupied France, brother Germans

Submitted by AWL on 15 August, 2004 - 10:32

By Vicki Morris

On 25 August many Parisians will mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the capital, a significant moment in the defeat of the Axis Powers in the Second World War.
On 25 August 1944, overwhelmingly, Parisians cheered the arrival into Paris of the French 2nd Armoured Division in the vanguard of the Allied forces.

Ever since the Normandy landings in June, Parisian workers had staged strikes, anticipating the end of the fascist Vichy regime and of German occupation, and from 19 August there was a local rising.

The liberation of France had been achieved by Allied forces and by the multifarious French resistance movement, that, despite tensions, united all classes and most political parties, from General de Gaulle to the French Communist Party (PCF). On 25 August the German commander of the Paris region surrendered at Montparnasse station in the presence of General Leclerc, commander of the 2nd Armoured Division, and "Colonel" Rol - the Communist resistance leader Henri Rol-Tanguy.

As part of their propaganda work, the Resistance in exile in London broadcast on the BBC a programme called "Honour and country". The signature tune was "The song of the partisans" by Anna Marly. The words to the song are particularly grim and bloody, reflecting the suffering of the Resistance fighters inside France and what they would like to do to the German occupiers. Here is one verse:

Come up from the mine,

Come down from the hills,

Comrades.

Pull out of the straw

The rifles, the machine gun,

The grenades.

You! The killers,

To the bullet and the knife.

Kill quickly!

You! Saboteurs,

Take care of your load...

Dynamite...

The Communist Party was even more chauvinist, raising the slogan "A chacun son Boche" ("Everyone, kill a Hun").

The small Trotskyist groups took a very different line, arguing that ordinary German workers in the army were brothers of French workers.

Rouge, the paper of the French Trotskyist organisation the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), 15 July, carries an article called "A different resistance" by André Fichaut.

It tells the story of a small group of Trotskyists around Brest in Britanny.

"Militants of the Parti ouvrier internationaliste [POI, French section of the Trotskyist Fourth International] tried to organise German soldiers. The double objective was resisting Nazism inside France and preparing for the Revolution... [The POI]... were almost certain that [the war] would end in the Revolution, particularly in Germany. Thus, their aim was to organise within the German army itself those soldiers, no doubt numerous, who had not forgotten the rich experience of the German workers' movement. It was a matter of thus preparing groups of revolutionary militants ready to act in Germany when events kicked off and, at least, to foster a certain demoralisation in the German army. Thus, it was not a question at all of accepting in however small a way the nationalist slogan of the PCF, 'A chacun son Boche', but much more the more Marxist slogan of 'Workers of the world, unite'. The POI militants in the Brest region numbered only fifteen, but that was no reason not to throw themselves into what one can rightly call this adventure."

This extremely difficult and dangerous work lasted only a short time, from March to October 1943, when the group of French Trotskyists was betrayed, and along with them the German soldiers they had succeeded in organising. The numbers of Germans involved was up to 30, prepared to distribute the Trotskyists' German language paper, Zeitung für Soldat und Arbeiter im Westen [Paper for Soldiers and Workers in the West]. The articles were edited by the Germans.

Perhaps seven or eight of these soldiers were supporters of the Fourth International. Of the Germans, only the name of the traitor is known - Konrad Leplöw - and nothing of their subsequent fate.

Of the French, the following is known: Robert Cruau, killed in the Gestapo prison; Yves Bodénès, Georges Berthomé, André Floch died in concentration camps; at least five others were deported to the camps but survived; several were arrested and imprisoned in Rennes for three or four months; a few evaded capture.

Fichaut asks: "Why raise again this history whose significance was, at the end of the day, little more than a laboratory experiment? Perhaps because all the hoo-ha around the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings, with, for the first time, official German participation, arouses the desire to remember that not all Germans were Nazis. That if, instead of calling on people to kill them indiscriminately, people had aimed at large-scale fraternisation between workers in and out of uniform, the shape of the war and its results might have been different."

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