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The German occupation of France in World War II occurred during the period between May 1940 and December 1944. As a result of the defeat of the French and its Allies in the Battle of France, the French cabinet sought a cessation of hostilities. An armistice was signed 22 June 1940 at Compiègne. Under its terms, the north and west of France were occupied by the German Army. The remaining third of the country was directly controlled by a French government located at Vichy headed by the aging Maréchal Philippe Pétain. Both the unoccupied and the occupied portions of France remained legally under the control of the Vichy government.
When the Allies invaded North Africa on 8 November 1942, the Germans and Italians immediately occupied the remaining free part of France. The liberation of France began on 6 June 1944 with the Allied forces landing on D-Day and the Battle of Normandy and ended in December. Paris itself was liberated 25 August 1944.
The life of the French during the German occupation was marked, from the beginning, by endemic shortages. They are explained by several factors:
Lack of foodEdit
Supply problems quickly affected French stores which lacked most items. Faced with these difficulties in everyday life, the government answered by creating food charts and tickets which were to be exchanged for bread, meat, butter and cooking oil. Hunger prevailed, especially affecting youth in urban areas. The queues lengthened in front of shops. In the absence of meat and other foods including potatoes, people ate unusual vegetables, such as Swedish turnip and Jerusalem artichoke. Products such as sugar were replaced by substitutes (saccharin). Coffee was replaced by toasted barley mixed with chicory. Some people benefited from the black market, where food was sold without tickets at very high prices. Counterfeit food tickets were also in circulation. Direct buying from farmers in the countryside and barter against cigarettes were also frequent practices during this period. These activities were strictly forbidden however and thus carried out at the risk of confiscation and fines. Food shortages were most acute in the large cities. In the more remote country villages, however, clandestine slaughtering, vegetable gardens and the availability of milk products permitted better survival.
Lack of raw materialsEdit
Ersatz, or makeshift substitutes, took the place of many products that were in short supply; gas generators ("gazogènes") on trucks and automobiles burned charcoal or wood pellets as a substitute to gasoline, chicory took the place of coffee, and wooden soles for shoes were used instead of leather. Soap was rare and made in households from fats and caustic soda.
Obligatory Work ServiceEdit
During the German occupation, the Obligatory Work Service (Service du Travail Obligatoire or STO) consisted of the requisition and transfer of hundreds of thousands of French workers to Germany against their will, for the German war effort (factories, agriculture, railroads, etc) in work camps.
During the night, inhabitants had to close their shutters or windows. Without Ausweis (authorisation), it was forbidden to go out during the night. During the day, numerous regulations, censorship and propaganda made the occupation increasingly unbearable.
Schoolchildren were made to sing "Maréchal, nous voilà !" ("Marshall, here we are!"). The portrait of Marshal Philippe Pétain adorned the walls of classrooms, thus creating a personality cult. Propaganda was present in education to train the young people with the ideas of the new Vichy regime. However, there was no resumption in ideology as in other occupied countries, for example in Poland, where the teaching elite was liquidated. There were no imprisonments of teachers and the programs were not modified overall. In the private Catholic sector, many establishment chiefs hid Jewish children by providing education for them until the liberation.
Although the majority of the occupied French did not take part in active resistance, many resisted passively through acts such as listening to the banned BBC, or giving collateral or material aid to Resistance members. Others assisted in the escape of downed US or British airmen who eventually found their way back to Britain, through Spain. Beginning in 1942, many others refused to be drafted into the factories and farms of Germany by the "STO" organisation, going underground to avoid imprisonment and subsequent deportation to Germany. For the most part, these "refractaires" eventually joined the Resistance. Armed underground groups in the field (generally known at the time as the "Maquis") began to organise in the more remote parts of France in late 1942 and 1943. They received weapons such as Bren guns, Sten submachineguns, US M1 carbines and other rifles, plastic explosives, ammunition, and funds from thousands of parachute drops and solo landings at night by RAF Lysander aircraft. They also received direct support on the ground from British radio operators and tactical advisors , such as Nancy Wake, who were parachute dropped to assist the Maquis in France. After the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the French armed resistance groups (FFI, FTP and others) systematically sabotaged the railway lines, destroying bridges and providing general intelligence that was communicated directly to London via radio within hours.