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Collaboration and Resistance

Death to facism, freedom to the people!

Yugoslav Partisan slogan

In Occupied Europe, resistance and collaboration could take many forms. The Vichy regime established in France in July 1940, led by Marshall Petain, is the most famous example of official collaboration, but the governments of Denmark, the Low Countries, Norway, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Greece all signed alliances with the Third Reich. In most cases, these pacts were signed after German military occupation. In some (such as Austria, where there was large public and political support for the Nazis), they had more to do with ideological affinity than coercion. Collaboration in its most extreme form resulted in the handing over of thousands of Jews to the Nazis by collaborationist administrations. In France alone, the Vichy authorities deported 76,000 Jews to camps including Auschwitz. The issue of collaboration was not always clear cut however. In Denmark, the government accepted certain Nazi demands, such as arresting Communists, but refused others, including passing laws against their Jewish community .

Collaboration by civilians in Occupied Europe ranged from a mere survival tool (for instance doing the laundry of German soldiers to earn extra food for your family), to the denunciation of 'enemies' within the community (something which occurred across occupied Europe), to the formation of paramilitary militias and participation in collective massacres. In occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the SS controlled Einsatzgruppen recruited local civilians and police to assist in mass killings. The most infamous example was at Babi Yar near Kiev, where over 33,000 Jews were slaughtered in September 1941 by German security forces, assisted by the Ukrainian police.

Thousands of Europeans opted to resist German and Italian occupiers. Peaceful resistance included 'go slows' at work, bureaucratic obstruction, the hiding of Jews or other fugitives, or acts of casual, small-scale sabotage, as happened on the French railway network. All of these actions formed a subtle network of solidarity, especially in countries such as Holland where there was little armed resistance.

A much smaller group chose to take up arms against the occupier. The French maquisard, the Italian and Yugoslavian partisans and Spanish, Polish Danish, Czechoslovakian, Greek and Albanian guerrilleros formed part of the fight against international fascism. The largest resistance armies were the Soviet and Polish guerrilla forces based in the Pripet Marshes, between Belarus and the Ukraine. Their hit and run raids against German supply lines incensed the Nazis to such a degree that at one stage they hatched a plan to drain the thousands of square miles of marshes.

There was also resistance within Germany itself. The White Rose, a student youth movement which called for active opposition to Hitler's regime, have gone down in history as a result of their leaflet campaign between June 1942 and February 1943. Similarly, Dietrich Boenhoffer's Confessing Church represented a significant form of Christian opposition to the Nazi government.

The Nazis pursued resistance leaders relentlessly. If captured they would face certain death, with executions widely publicised to cow the local population into submission. In April 1944, the Nazis plastered the walls of Paris with 15,000 copies of the famous 'Red Poster', which bore the faces of ten of the 23 partisans they had assassinated in February that year. The Nazis also used savage reprisals to discourage resistance. The Czech village of Lidice and the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane were both obliterated, and their populations murdered or sent to camps.

Although the resistance spanned a wide ideological spectrum, including Catholics, liberals, and nationalists, the most active partisans were young Communists and other left-wingers. Their mission – supported in many cases by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – was to harass the enemy, disrupt their communications, assist fugitives including downed Allied airmen, and punish collaborators. Sabotage and ambush was their most common action, and names such as Jean Moulin (who united the French Resistance under the Conseil National de la Résistance) and Cristino García Granda (the Spainish communist Guerillero who set out to defeat fascism in France after seeing his own country fall to Franco) passed into legend.

Did you know?

Perhaps the most famous act of resistance in wartime Europe was Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of SS security chief Reinhard Heydrich, 'the Butcher of Prague'. He was killed in the street in Prague by a grenade, thrown by a British-trained Czech assassin. In retaliation the Nazis arrested 13,000 people, and wiped out the village of Lidice