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What Was the French Resistance?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 07, 2024
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The French Resistance refers to the many groups of French citizens who fought German occupation of France during WWII. In 1940, French soldiers were overwhelmed by Nazi forces and the government sought for peace with Germany. In response, Hitler allowed the creation of a new French government in Vichy, France. Yet many of the people of France were deeply disturbed by being stripped of their world power status and having to live in an occupied country. In particular, Charles De Gaulle, later the President of France, fled France for Britain, from where he sent radio casts urging the French to fight the occupation.

Primarily sponsored by the British, the French Resistance first referred only to a few groups around France that fought back, usually through acts of terrorism, guerilla warfare, murder of German soldiers, or through aiding the escape of Jews and others seen as enemies of the Nazis. They also passed on information to the British regarding location of army bases, and any locational or strategic plans of the German army. Resistance members were widely varied in background and ideals. They ranged from Catholic priests to rural farmers, business people, artists, politicians, and every day workers.

Gradually, small groups of French Resistance fighters coalesced to form a strong single underground movement, though many members of the Resistance were still organized into small cells. These groups as a whole were extremely instrumental in subverting the German army within France, and eventually allowing the Allied Forces to recapture France. For the four years that the French Resistance gained power and made alliances with various working groups like postal and telephone workers, punishment for being part of the French Resistance was swift and sure.

The Germans did not consider resistance fighters legitimate soldiers, since France had signed an armistice with Germany. Given this lack of status, members of the resistance when captured, were not protected by the rules of war for the treatment of prisoners of war. This meant those in the French Resistance frequently risked their lives through subversive action. Captured members, both men and women, were sent to concentration camps or executed.

Numbers in the French Resistance swelled when Germany violated its peace treaty with Russia. In the 1930s, the members of French socialists/communists had increased considerably. They refused to act against Germany until after Germany invaded Russia. When this occurred in 1941, the Resistance received an influx of socialist and communist thinkers, which deeply troubled American leaders when it came to the idea of liberating France.

Yet, France was too strategically important to ignore and cede to the Germans, especially since its location could significantly affect the way war was waged by the Germans against England. Therefore, despite political concerns on the part of the US, liberating France with the Allied Forces was necessary, and many felt, the right thing to do. Once the Germans were defeated in France, some members of the French Resistance, especially former guerilla units were made soldiers and became members of the reformed French Army.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon331472 — On Apr 23, 2013

What happened when they were captured by the nazis? Something surely happened to the members of the french resistance?

By anon110880 — On Sep 13, 2010

i thought this article helped me a lot with what i needed to find. Thank you!

By anon82313 — On May 05, 2010

it was used for them to hide and reproduce. I'm majoring in history at A&M.

By anon19463 — On Oct 13, 2008

Yes I am English and living in the North East of France, Equeheries near Le Nouvion en Thierache. I believe the house we are living in was used by the French Resistance. Can anybody throw any light on this and tell me more about this area and how it was involved in the World Wars?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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