Book. January 1943, Fritz Sauckel, manpower mobilization manager for the IIIe Reich, claims 250,000 French workers for March 15. The Vichy government then decides that all young French people born between 1920 and 1922 will have to work in Germany for a period of two years. If the compulsory labor service (STO) created a shock among French youth, only 25,000 to 35,000 refractory people made the choice to “take the maquis” and join the Resistance. Their number will only swell after the Allied landings of June 6, 1944, reaching 137,000 after the Liberation.
Fabrice Grenard, historical director of the Foundation of the Resistance, renews the way of telling this story, first by restoring all its magnitude: from the snowy plateau of Glières to the thick woods of Corrèze, passing by the caves in Corsica. Taking into account these different theaters of resistance allows him to show how the environment and the winter weather conditions made life and fighting very difficult for these initially inexperienced men, for the most part.
The thematic approach is effective, alternating necessary reminders and new angles. Thus, Mr. Grenard returns to the most famous sabotage operations – such as the destruction of the Bussy-Varache viaduct (Haute-Vienne) by Georges Guingouin and his men in March 1943 –, while dwelling on little-known issues, like the preponderant place of foreigners in the maquis – José Gonzalvo Uson, a former officer in the Spanish Republican army, became the leader of the Francs-tireurs and partisans in the Dordogne.
Risks and sacrifices
Another recent historiographical project addressed: the place of women. Anna Coissac, Andrée Audoin and Hilde Weill, militants of the underground Communist Party, are recruited by Georges Guingouin to serve as liaison officers. Place is also made for welcome shifts such as the study of the “false maquis”, made up of individuals who passed themselves off as resistance fighters in order to better hold the peasants to ransom.
The illustrations are one of the strengths of the book. The good part goes to the photographs which reveal new scenes like this burial of a maquisard in the Var, during which his comrades, rifles pointed towards the sky, fire a salvo to pay him homage. Other types of archives punctuate the work: such as police notes and articles published in the press showing the efforts made by the Vichy regime and the German army to track down and discredit the maquisards, qualified as “terrorists”.
We will also remember the airy layout and the highlighting of the testimonies of the actors, essential to understanding the risks and the sacrifices inherent in this combat experience in the middle of nature. A beautiful embodied synthesis that shows up close those who “took the maquis”.
They took to the maquis, by Fabrice Grenard, Tallandier/Ministry of the Armed Forces, 192 p., €26.