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.
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.|
To sum it up, when a woman who had engaged in collaboration horizontale — collaboration with, and by that we mean having sex with, occupying troops — her head was forcibly shaved. Tens of thousands of women, many of whom were merely accused of collaboration, suffered similar fates after liberation: some were killed; a good number were beaten; almost all were humiliated.
|Female French Collaborator Having Her Head Shaved During Liberation of Marseilles|
One further aspect of this should be noted: there was an awful lot of collaboration in France. That’s just a fact, it extended throughout the government and extensively among ordinary people. Many partisans themselves had, shall we say, less-than-impeccable bona fides and perhaps even a bit of guilt about things that nobody else knew about. The partisans did not really become very populous until liberation was assured – but then, everyone who could (i.e., was not a known collaborator) jumped on the bandwagon. There is an awful lot of posturing in the photos by partisans crowded around shamed collaborators, perhaps just a tad too much here and there; everyone was anxious to prove that they were on the right (i.e., the winning) side.
Posing in a picture with a shorn or shot collaborator while holding a gun on them was a pretty definitive way of establishing where you stood once and for all – at least at that precise moment. This has remained a murky subject in France ever since, and from time to time the “secret files” of who really collaborated and how are threatened to be released. Everyone knows there are some “partisans” who are glad their secrets remain unknown.
Let’s also go in a different direction with this as well. Some French women befriended (and more) the Nazis because they were coerced or forced. This angered their neighbors, who were not about to draw any fine lines or distinctions. That’s what courts are for – and the partisans were not waiting for any lengthy judicial proceedings to take place. If a prostitute happened to entertain Germans who had all the money in order to survive, well, that wasn’t about to be a point in their favor with angered partisans.
|In the Normandy village of Liesville, angry French patriots take hold of Juliette Audieve, thought to have been a collaborator with the Germans. It appears the two ladies standing casually by are also partisans.|
French women who befriended the Nazis, through coerced, forced, or voluntary relationships, were singled out for shameful retribution following the liberation of France. The woman here, believed to have been a prostitute who serviced German occupiers, is having her head shaved by French civilians to publicly mark her. This picture was taken in Montelimar, France, August 29, 1944.
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