The Resistance Movements

The National Council of the Resistance, chaired by Georges Bidault, September 1944, in Paris. Copyright MRN
Corps 1

The first resistance movements were set up in the oppressive climate of decline and disorganisation of French society which followed the defeat of June 1940. The first acts of resistance were isolated, individual actions. In those early days, the aim of the resistants was to express themselves, to make their existence and their ideas known, in order to rally to the cause all those who, like them, refused to accept the end of the fighting against Nazi Germany. That was the purpose, for instance, of the pamphlets distributed to Brive letterboxes by Edmond Michelet, on the night of 17 to 18 June 1940. It was the combination of these individual initiatives which led to the creation of the first cells of the internal Resistance movements.

One of the earliest was the Musée de l'Homme network, founded in Paris during the first weeks of the occupation, by Yvonne Odon, a librarian, and two Russian researchers recently naturalised as French citizens, Boris Vildé, a linguist, and Anatole Lewitsky, an anthropologist. One of the goals of the network was to unify resistance initiatives in order to give more weight and effectiveness to their information, escape and propaganda actions. But the movement was soon infiltrated and dismantled by the German authorities, and seven of its members, including Vildé and Lewitsky, were killed by firing-squad on Mont Valérien on 23 February 1942, while Yvonne Odon was deported.

Until the occupation of the southern zone by the Germans, in November 1942, the movements had differing priorities on either side of the demarcation line: in view of the presence of the Vichy regime, the actions in the unoccupied zone were more political than in the northern zone, where priority was given to military action against the occupiers. It was therefore in the southern zone that the propaganda and dissemination services were most active, and the main non-communist resistance movements were indissociable from their underground newspapers: Combat, Franc-Tireur and Libération. In contrast - while it is important not to generalise, since propaganda played a crucial role everywhere - some major movements in the occupied zone did not have their own newspaper, as was the case of the Organisation Civile et Militaire (OCM), Ceux de la Résistance (CDLR) and Ceux de la Libération (CDLL).

The movements organised progressively into distinct sectors (propaganda and dissemination, paramilitary groups, militias, false papers, escape networks, etc.), which isolated their activities so as to be less vulnerable in the event of arrest. Relations with the resistance political parties, the communist and socialist parties, were sometimes strained. The French Communist Party founded its own movement, the Front National, in spring 1941. A concerted effort was required from Jean Moulin to succeed in uniting the movements under the umbrella of the Council of the Resistance, in May 1943.

  • Boris Vildé, fondateur du groupe du Musée de l?Homme, fusillé au mont Valérien le 23 février 1942. Copyright Collection particulière

  • Berty Albrecht, responsable du mouvement Combat. Arrêtée par la Gestapo le 27 mai 1943, elle est transférée dans la prison de Fresne où elle se donne la mort. Copyright Collection particulière

  • Jacques Arthuys, membre fondateur de l?Organisation civile et militaire (OCM). Arrêté le 21 décembre 1941, il meurt au court de l?été 1943 au camp de Hinzert, en Allemagne. Copyright Collection particulière

  • Lucie Aubrac, professeur d?histoire, membre fondatrice de Libération-Sud. Siège à l'Assemblée consultative à la Libération. Copyright Collection particulière

  • Pierre de Bénouville, membre du mouvement Combat. Copyright Fondation Charles de Gaulle

  • Pierre Brossolette, membre du BCRA, parachuté en France pour unifier les mouvements de résistance de la zone nord. Copyright Collection particulière

  • André Pican, dirigeant du parti communiste clandestin en Normandie. Fusillé au Mont-Valérien le 23 mai 1942. Copyright Mairie d?Ivry-sur-Seine, fonds Maurice Thorez

  • Lettre du général de Gaulle adressée à Jean Moulin, 22 octobre 1942. Copyright Fondation Charles de Gaulle