worldwartwo.filminspector.com writes: There are thousands upon thousands of joyful pictures of the liberation of France in 1944. But among the cheering images there are also shocking ones. These show the fate of women accused of “collaboration horizontale”. It is impossible to forget Robert Capa’s fallen-Madonna image of a shaven-headed young woman, cradling her baby, implicitly the result of a relationship with a German soldier.
The punishment of shaving a woman’s head had biblical origins. In Europe, the practice dated back to the dark ages, with the Visigoths. During the middle ages, this mark of shame, denuding a woman of what was supposed to be her most seductive feature, was commonly a punishment for adultery. Shaving women’s heads as a mark of retribution and humiliation was reintroduced in the 20th century. After French troops occupied the Rhineland in 1923, German women who had relations with them later suffered the same fate. And during the second world war, the Nazi state issued orders that German women accused of sleeping with non-Aryans or foreign prisoners employed on farms should also be publicly punished in this way.
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There is not a lot that needs to be said on this topic. The Germans occupied the vast majority of Europe. They were there, and, like soldiers of every army of every period of history, as soon as they got comfortable they started scouting around for women. And, as always in times of military occupation, there were women to be found.
|Another collaborator, somewhere in France. Found on a German POW|
And, sure enough, the German soldiers found them. It’s not quite clear what the big deal was about exchanging clothes with your French girlfriend, but that seemed to be the thing to do. And it seemed quite common, as if this was ‘the proof’ of, well, you know. Sort of like mounting the moose head on the wall.
|German soldiers exchanging their clothes with their girlfriends. Those uniforms really fit those Frenchwomen pretty well!|
|Off-duty Wehrmacht soldier spending a day at the pool with his girlfriend|
Some of the Germans even brought their French girlfriends back to the base with them. Oh, naughty, naughty, that had to be against some kind of regulations.
Conquering soldiers have a lot to offer a girl, especially a soldier who has rank and can most likely offer all sorts of inducements. Clearly, these ladies had no difficulty taking advantage of all those lonely men and offering them some solace, and the soldiers had an easy time taking advantage of naive girls who had no idea of the enormity of what they were doing.
|This Frenchwoman does not look like she is suffering|
|No, not suffering at all|
|Festival atmosphere: A French woman cavorting with members of Hitler’s SS in bars and cabarets. To say that all these women had no choice is a bit much.|
|Men and a Frenchwoman becoming friends|
|A friendly visit with an SS man in a snowdrift.|
|Well, I certainly hope she doesn’t come down on the flowers….|
However, that does not mean that collaborators deserve a free pass, not by a long shot.
There were collaborators all across Europe. Pictured above are some from Norway and England. It is estimated that there were hundreds of collaborators and wannabe collaborators in England. There were substantial pre-war ties between the English gentry and Germany, and this led many young English women astray.
|Mrs I M Swire – a leading figure in the British Union of Fascists – wearing the new uniform of grey skirt with black shirt. Quite stylish in a dreary sort of way.|
Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel was a top fashion designer in France before and after the war. During the war she dated Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy. This enabled her to live in the Hotel Ritz in Paris (where she stayed until her death) during the war, which was quite unusual for a Frenchwoman because that was where the top German brass also lived. There are documents suggesting that Coco – who was around 60 years old during the war – collaborated with the Germans. Where it gets fuzzy is exactly what she supposedly did beyond some cutthroat business dealings. One incident involved a German attempt to have her broker peace negotiations with the British around 1943/1944. That idea collapsed when Coco’s friend, an Italian lady with whom she supposedly was in love, refused to go along and carry Coco’s letter to Churchill. After the war, Chanel was questioned but never convicted of any sort of improper activities. She died in her sleep at the Ritz in 1971.
Otherwise, the collaborator girls had fun for a while – but, eventually, things changed.
Presenting what happened after liberation is easy to show. Explaining it, and trying to pinpoint how far justice was served and how far short it actually came is not. In any event, justice was swift – perhaps too swift.
|Belgian women who had collaborated with the Germans are shaved, tarred and feathered and forced to give a Nazi salute.|
However, the Allies returned, and their German beaus left in a hurry, often not surviving the journey home and perhaps having left somebody behind there if they made it. Usually, the photos of collaborator girls are identified nowadays as “found on a dead German soldier.” Naturally, we almost certainly would not have many of these photos at all if the soldier had survived and put them in safe-keeping. There are likely countless others sitting long-forgotten in attics and basements across Europe.
Even if neither situation applied, and the German soldier made it back to Germany alive, it is difficult to do much when you are sitting in a prison camp awaiting processing, or when you are jobless due to the post-war labor laws and destitute.
|World War II. Collaboration. Shaving and tarring [pitch] of [‘Kraut whores’] after the liberation of Holland. Amsterdam, The Netherlands, May, 1945.|
The bottom line is that the collaborator girls were left without any protectors, and all their friends noticed what they had been doing. Scenes of tarring and feathering and hair-cutting and all sorts of retribution went on all over Europe.
It is easy to apply modern standards to this process and claim it is hateful to women and so forth and so on. The guys were usually just shot or knifed, or maybe beaten until they were bloody and mangled, all done out in the woods or in a back alley.
But, when done more formally, they were tried in an afternoon, then simply lined up without too much fuss and gunned down.
|A sketch drawn for the US Army ‘Stars and Stripes’ newspaper shows French Partisans executing male French collaborators in 1944 in Grenoble, France. Would you rather be shot – or shamed and forced to leave town forever? Not always an easy answer.|
Lest you think that the French were, oh, over-reacting or something about collaborators, well, they had some good teachers. The Germans ritualistically tied partisans to posts and shot them as spies without any fuss at all. They routinely hung female partisans, too.
Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion as to what is appropriate, here we just present what happened. If you look at the pictures, you will see that some of the people taking the greatest delight in this public shaming of women, laughing gleefully, and even performing some of the haircuts, also are women.
|In the streets of Brignoles, angry French citizens publicly rebuke a woman who is suspected of having collaborated with the Germans.|
Women really let their feelings show once the Nazis were gone. For instance, women were just as angered by male collaborators and German POWs as anyone else – and let them know it.
So, as a historical record, these photographs are important for any number of reasons: they show offenses, they show punishment, and they show universal condemnation. People are people, whether they be men or women, and when it came to collaboration, it made little difference what you were other than a foul traitor. Barbarity has no gender.
|Members of the French resistance in Cherbourg shear the hair of women who collaborated with the Germans during the occupation.|