The French Resistance between Myth, Memory and Narrative

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: History Faculty

Abstract

This project challenges both the myth of French resistance and the 'scientific' or academic histories of the Resistance in the last thirty years.

Early work on the French Resistance, written by the resisters themselves from their own testimonies, developed the myth of 'la France résistante' as a dominant narrative as a response to the need to restore a sense of unity and pride to the French nation.
This approach was criticised after 1980 by 'scientific' or academic histories of the Resistance which rejected the individual testimony of former resisters as unreliable and partisan. It argued that only the 'objective' archival sources that were then becoming available to researchers should be used and established tight definitions of what amounted to acts of resistance.

A previous project, Marianne in Chains(2002), was of the 'scientific' kind, using conventional archival sources to demonstrate how marginal resistance was to ordinary people and communities seeking to weather defeat and occupation. The methodology of the current project takes up the challenge of the subjective turn in much recent historiography and an interest in exploring wartime France through the prism of individual testimonies such as Irene Nemirowsky's Suite française (2004). My previous AHRC project, 'Around 1968: Activism, Networks, Trajectories' (2007-10), highlighted important insights gained from the study of oral testimony, such as the way in which memory constructs itself as narrative and the constant dialogue between individual subjectivity, group and societal memory or narrative.

The current project takes the view that 'la Résistance' was not a single mythical entity, neither can it be reduced to a single ideal-type. It argues that resistance was what those who engaged in it said that it meant and that resisters were those who constructed themselves as such. Resistance, however, was constructed within certain frameworks and had to be translated for given audiences. In thirst place it was developed to convince the Allies of the need for intervention to liberate France. Secondly, it was contested between rival groups battling to impose their resistance narrative as hegemonic - between resisters inside France and the Free French in Britain or the French Empire, between Communist and non-Communist resisters, French and foreign resisters, resisters working within the Vichy regime and those outside it, by Christian and Jewish resisters. Third, ideas of resistance were in dialogue with wider accounts of resistance elaborated by the media more widely in French society, and changing over time. These changes culminated in the paradigm shift in the 1990s which caused the Second World War to be seen through the lens of the Holocaust, and replaced the heroic image of the resistance fighter by that of the Juste de France who had saved Jews from deportation to Auschwitz.

Research will be undertaken both in Britain and France. Letters and accounts written from wartime France will be consulted in the BBC's Written Archives at Caversham, the BCRA archives in Paris (3AG2) and the SOE Archives at the National Archive at Kew (HS 4-9).In France, the main source will be the individual testimonies conserved in the Archives Nationales series 72AJ, together with applications for official recognition as resisters in the War Veterans ministry and unpublished autobiographies kept by the Association pour l'Autobiographie et le Patrimoine Autobiographique.

The principal output of this project will be a monograph on the French Resistance. It will also contribute to the Wiles lectures I have been invited to give in 2013 entitled Myth, Memory and Narrative in France since 1940, and will contribute to a collaborative project I am developing with Steffen Prauser on resistance in wartime Europe and its transnational dimensions, both real and imagined, taking into account French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Soviet and also German resistance.

Planned Impact

1. The question of the French Resistance is one which commands a wide audience outside academic life. It is a central issue of the Second World War and a major constituent of French national identity. For these reasons combined it is of interest to a broad British and American public with an interest in the Second World War, and modern French history and culture.

The publication of Irène Nemirowsky's 'Suite française' in 2004 - an account of defeat, occupation and persecution based on personal experience -has sharpened interest in the impact of the Second World War, German occupation and Holocaust in France. Work on the French Resistance constructed around subjective perspectives can benefit from and develop this interest.

Particular interest will focus on the French Resistance on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Paris in August 2014, as it did for the 70th anniversary of De Gaulle's appeal of 18 June 1940, in June 2010, when President Sarkozy visited Britain.

2. The Imperial War Museum, which houses a number of memoirs which will be used in this project, may well be interested in the findings of this book and open to suggestions about an exhibition on this subject.

3. The French Resistance was a major factor in the policy-making surrounding the D-Day landings and liberation of France in 1944 and the question of occupation and resistance was debated during the Iraq invasion of 2003. My earlier book on this subject, 'Marianne in Chains' (2002) was cited by the late Earl Russell in his speech in the House of Lords on 18 March 2003.
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200203/ldhansrd/vo030318/text/30318-04.htm#30318-04_head3
In recent months the question of Franco-British military cooperation has become a topic of debate and references made to previous episodes of cooperation. Significant research on the question of French Resistance in the framework of current Allied strategy should be of interest to policy-makers.


Publications

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Gildea RN (2017) 'Les Inconnus de la Resistance: letters to L'Humanité, 1984' in Essays in French Literature & Culture special issue, 'Hidden words, hidden worlds: everyday life and narrative sources' (France, 1939-1945)

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Robert Gildea (2015) 'Lettres de correspondants français à la BBC (1940-1943) : une pénombre de la résistance ? in Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'histoire

 
Description This project has analysed the history of resistance in France by working both with and against three myths or dominant narratives through which it has been both constructed and obscured. The first myth is the national myth, responding to the trauma and humiliation of defeat, occupation liberation by foreign powers, that that France liberated itself by its own armies with the support of 'eternal France'. We have explored ways in which resistance in France was undertaken as much by foreigners as by French people, engaged in a broad anti-fascist struggle that began with the International Brigades in Spain, from exiled Spanish republicans and Italian anti-fascists to Polish Jews and even German anti-Nazis, so that we must now speak of resistance in France rather than the French Resistance. The second myth is the Cold War narrative that the resistance restored state order and democracy to France in the face of a communist threat of anarchy, national insurrection, and seizure of power. We have demonstrated that communists played a key role in resistance, as veterans of the International Brigades who offered leadership to resisters in France, but that there was a powerful tension between the internal resistance, increasingly dominated by the communist goal of 'national insurrection' and de Gaulle's Free French, based in London and fighting their way through Africa, who wanted to drive out the Germans and eliminate the Vichy regime but to avoid social revolution at all costs. This explains much of the tension after D Day and at the Liberation and the marginalisation of communists and their story with the onset of the Cold War. The third narrative, dominant from the 1980s, is that the Second World War has to been seen not though the lens of resistance but through that of the Holocaust. This has highlighted the suffering of Jews but portrayed them as victims rather than as heroes. It has obscured the role of Jewish resisters, who variously identified themselves as French or foreign, communist or non-communist and Zionist and non-Zionist, and who took very different trajectories in and after the war. By contrast the Holocaust narrative has underlined the question of the rescue of persecuted Jews, both by Jews and non-Jews. In 1995 the French state recognised its role in the Holocaust but at the same time paid homage to a new kind of resister, who did not take up arms but rescued persecuted Jews. Recognised formally by Yad Vashem as the Just among Nations, these have replaced the gun-toting maquisard as the iconic resister, become the model for those who saved Jews through 'little gestures' of goodwill, and shifted the meaning of resistance from military and patriotic endeavour to the defence of humanitarian and universal values.
The second main finding of the project has been to reveal the tension between three levels of memory: (i) myths or dominant narratives (ii) group or collective memories and (iii) individual memories. Whereas French historians since 1980 have dismissed the memories of individual resisters as fabrication and myth-making, this project has responded to the 'subjective turn' in historical writing by undertaking a deep trawl of first-person accounts - letters, diaries, memoirs and interviews, written or undertaken at various phases from the immediate postwar to today - in order to return to the voices and accounts of resisters themselves. These tell personal stories of why they became involved in resistance activity while most people were paralysed by cold, hunger and fear, how they came together to work in small secret groups, how they invented new identities and roles for themselves, how they endured arrest, torture and deportation, and how, after the joy of liberation, they were generally left confused, frustrated and disappointed. Rather than rejecting these accounts out of hand we use the techniques of source criticism and oral history in order to analyse how these accounts are constructed and in particular how they navigate between individual memory, the memory of the resistance group of groups of which they were a part and the changing dominant narratives of society. We establish, for example, that the narrative of the humanitarian rescuer has not displaced the memory of communist, non-communist and Jewish resisters who perpetuate a story of heroism, suffering and above all of intense loyalty to comrades.
Exploitation Route Rethinking the significance of the French Resistance both in transnational terms and in relation to post-colonial debates.
I am taking both these forward in the Leverhulme funded project on Transational Resistance in Europe 1936-48 and the CUP book on 'Empires of the Mind'
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofHistoryandAnthropology/News/WilesLectureSeries/WilesLectures2013
 
Description The findings have been disseminated in conferences held in Paris, Lyon and (on Jewish resistance) in Athens, in a major international conference at the French Institute in London on the 70th Liberation of France (June 2014). The main findings of the research were published in 2015 as 'Fighters in the Shadows. A new History of the French Resistance' by Faber & Faber and Harvard UP. These has given rise to a series of appearances at literary festivals and interviews. A French edition will appear in 2017 and is likely to have impact in France. The Wiles lectures in Belfast on 'Remembering and Repetition in France: Defeat, Colonialism and Resistance since 1940' (May 2013) have given rise to a linked project on the legacy of colonialism in France and Britain, to be published by CUP in 2018 under the title 'Empires of the Mond'. .
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Leverhulme International Network
Amount £90,996 (GBP)
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 09/2018
 
Description A TRANSNATIONAL APPROACH TO RESISTANCE IN EUROPE, 1936-48 
Organisation Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Department Institute for Contemporary History
Country Czech Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project aims to re-evaluate and recast the history of resistance to hegemonic and occupying empires in Europe between 1936 and 1948, which has been occluded by dominant narratives of national resistance, the Cold War and the Holocaust. It will explore the trajectories of transnational resisters - defined as active behind enemy lines outside their country of origin - encounters and exchanges between them, the forging of their identities in different regional contexts and the post-war transformation of their lives and memories. The Network's findings will be communicated by a collaborative volume and articles, and engagement with broadcasters and museums.
Collaborator Contribution International expertise on the different perspectives of the project
Impact None to date
Start Year 2015
 
Description A TRANSNATIONAL APPROACH TO RESISTANCE IN EUROPE, 1936-48 
Organisation Institute for Recent History (IRH) Belgrade
Country Serbia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project aims to re-evaluate and recast the history of resistance to hegemonic and occupying empires in Europe between 1936 and 1948, which has been occluded by dominant narratives of national resistance, the Cold War and the Holocaust. It will explore the trajectories of transnational resisters - defined as active behind enemy lines outside their country of origin - encounters and exchanges between them, the forging of their identities in different regional contexts and the post-war transformation of their lives and memories. The Network's findings will be communicated by a collaborative volume and articles, and engagement with broadcasters and museums.
Collaborator Contribution International expertise on the different perspectives of the project
Impact None to date
Start Year 2015
 
Description A TRANSNATIONAL APPROACH TO RESISTANCE IN EUROPE, 1936-48 
Organisation Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD) Amsterdam
Country Netherlands 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project aims to re-evaluate and recast the history of resistance to hegemonic and occupying empires in Europe between 1936 and 1948, which has been occluded by dominant narratives of national resistance, the Cold War and the Holocaust. It will explore the trajectories of transnational resisters - defined as active behind enemy lines outside their country of origin - encounters and exchanges between them, the forging of their identities in different regional contexts and the post-war transformation of their lives and memories. The Network's findings will be communicated by a collaborative volume and articles, and engagement with broadcasters and museums.
Collaborator Contribution International expertise on the different perspectives of the project
Impact None to date
Start Year 2015
 
Description A TRANSNATIONAL APPROACH TO RESISTANCE IN EUROPE, 1936-48 
Organisation University College Dublin
Department Centre for War Studies
Country Ireland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project aims to re-evaluate and recast the history of resistance to hegemonic and occupying empires in Europe between 1936 and 1948, which has been occluded by dominant narratives of national resistance, the Cold War and the Holocaust. It will explore the trajectories of transnational resisters - defined as active behind enemy lines outside their country of origin - encounters and exchanges between them, the forging of their identities in different regional contexts and the post-war transformation of their lives and memories. The Network's findings will be communicated by a collaborative volume and articles, and engagement with broadcasters and museums.
Collaborator Contribution International expertise on the different perspectives of the project
Impact None to date
Start Year 2015
 
Description A TRANSNATIONAL APPROACH TO RESISTANCE IN EUROPE, 1936-48 
Organisation University College London
Department School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project aims to re-evaluate and recast the history of resistance to hegemonic and occupying empires in Europe between 1936 and 1948, which has been occluded by dominant narratives of national resistance, the Cold War and the Holocaust. It will explore the trajectories of transnational resisters - defined as active behind enemy lines outside their country of origin - encounters and exchanges between them, the forging of their identities in different regional contexts and the post-war transformation of their lives and memories. The Network's findings will be communicated by a collaborative volume and articles, and engagement with broadcasters and museums.
Collaborator Contribution International expertise on the different perspectives of the project
Impact None to date
Start Year 2015
 
Description A TRANSNATIONAL APPROACH TO RESISTANCE IN EUROPE, 1936-48 
Organisation University College London
Department School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project aims to re-evaluate and recast the history of resistance to hegemonic and occupying empires in Europe between 1936 and 1948, which has been occluded by dominant narratives of national resistance, the Cold War and the Holocaust. It will explore the trajectories of transnational resisters - defined as active behind enemy lines outside their country of origin - encounters and exchanges between them, the forging of their identities in different regional contexts and the post-war transformation of their lives and memories. The Network's findings will be communicated by a collaborative volume and articles, and engagement with broadcasters and museums.
Collaborator Contribution International expertise on the different perspectives of the project
Impact None to date
Start Year 2015
 
Description A TRANSNATIONAL APPROACH TO RESISTANCE IN EUROPE, 1936-48 
Organisation University Institute of France
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This project aims to re-evaluate and recast the history of resistance to hegemonic and occupying empires in Europe between 1936 and 1948, which has been occluded by dominant narratives of national resistance, the Cold War and the Holocaust. It will explore the trajectories of transnational resisters - defined as active behind enemy lines outside their country of origin - encounters and exchanges between them, the forging of their identities in different regional contexts and the post-war transformation of their lives and memories. The Network's findings will be communicated by a collaborative volume and articles, and engagement with broadcasters and museums.
Collaborator Contribution International expertise on the different perspectives of the project
Impact None to date
Start Year 2015
 
Description 'Conceptualising Resistance: the French case', University of Sussex, 18 Nov. 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact keynote lecture to conference on 'Conceptualising Resistance: Contexts, Experiences, Theories', University of Sussex, 18 Nov. 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description 'La Mémoire de la Résistance', Conference on Lyon in the Second World War, Lyon, 6 Nov. 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Stimulated debate on the memory of Resistance in France and the role of British historians of France

networking between British and French researchers and research students
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://triangle.ens-lyon.fr/spip.php?article3717
 
Description 'Realpolitik ou 'l'idéal commun': L'Opération Torch et les Britanniques, Paris 8 November, 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk on Operation Torch to 3rd meeting of Les Compagnons du 8 Novembre 1942 - Actes de Résistance - Mémoire et Recherche, Paris, 8 November, 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.net1901.org/association/LES-COMPAGNONS-DU-8-NOVEMBRE-1942-ACTES-DE-RESISTANCE-:-MEMOIRE-E...
 
Description 'The Liberation of France', French Institute, London, 13-14 June 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Co-organised conference on 'The Liberation of France: Histories and Memories', French Institute, London, 13-14 June 2014
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://lfhm2014.com/
 
Description BBC Radio Oxford interview 31 August 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with Holly Samos on 'Fighters in the Shadows'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Ely Festival 6 October 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of 'Fighters in the Shadows'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://ww2nation.com/event/talk-fighters-in-the-shadows-by-robert-gildea/
 
Description Henley Festival, 2 October 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 'In conversation' with Barnaby Phillips, chaired by Alistair Bunkall (Defence Correspondent, Sky News)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk/robert-gildea-and-barnaby-phillips/
 
Description Jews and Resistance in France', conference on 'Resistance and the Jews in Europe, 1939-1945', Athens, 30 May 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Attended by 100 people

impact on future research plans
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description London Lit Weekend 4 October 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 'How the French face their past: myths-and-realities'. /Panel discussion with Sudhir Hazareesingh and Jonathan Fenby. Chaired by Cecile Laborde (on the day, Adrian Tahourdin)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.wharf.co.uk/whats-on/event/london-lit-weekend-how-the-french-face-their-past-myths-and-re...
 
Description Making History BBC Radio 4 14 July 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation/interview on BBC Radio 4 Making History, 14 July 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b061qw0v
 
Description Newstalk Radio Ireland interview 2 September 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with Sean Moncrieff
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Oxford Times interview 8 October 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with Giles Woodforde as background to 'Fighters in the Shadows'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/business/profiles/13810403.Profile__Robert_Gildea______Truth_changes_ov...
 
Description Start the Week, France special 16 Nov. 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with Andrew Marr on Start the Week, recorded hours before the attacks of 13 Nov. 2015 and broadcast on 16 Nov. 2015
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06p7b7l
 
Description Thame Festival 18 October 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk on 'Fighters in the Shadows'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.talfestival.org/page21.html
 
Description The French Resistance in myth and memory, Stony Stratford Public Library, 1 Feb. 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact lecture to friends of Stony Stratford Library, followed by discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Wiles lectures Belfast, 'Remembering and Repetition in France: Defeat, Colonialism and Resistance since 1940', 15-18 May 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Wiles lectures in Belfast on 'Remembering and Repetition in France: Defeat, Colonialism and Resistance since 1940'.
Have given rise to a linked project on the legacy of colonialism in France and Great Britain, from 1940 to the present, to be published by CUP as 'Empires of the Mind'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofHistoryandAnthropology/News/WilesLectureSeries/WilesLectures201...