"There is a residual disgust at the idea of eating corn on the cob, swedes or rhubarb which made up so much of the diet in the war" says Henri Lacheze former teacher, member of the foreign service, an historian and poet.
It's difficult for the English to understand what it was like to live in an occupied country during the last world war. The recent films tend to glorify the event. But, it's still a living history. Henri Lacheze was born on the year the German invasion.
In Salman Rushdie's 'Midnights Children', every child born during the hour of the Indian Independence and partitioning had a special talent. I was reminded of this when M Lacheze gave a talk recently for ACIP, Le Bugue on the resistance from 1939 - 1945.
As he says, there was no glory.
Unlike in the UK where there was confidence in victory and hardship united a community, here in the Dordogne, no-one could trust anybody, neighbour against neighbour.
The desire to overthrow the Nazis, meant a very dangerous and often small action, a case of eavesdropping, or some assistance with a translation, for example, could be a very dangerous action. Not the glamorous antics of films.
He explained the timeline of events and significant stages which can be read in his article Download The Resistance in the Périgord (.pdf)
Speaking to him later he gave a personal view:
The early memories of someone born on 3/9/39
I have a few very clear memories. One is of the evening the Germans invaded the Free Zone in 1942 which included Perigueux in the beginning of the war. I know I was very young but I still remember the complete silence in the streets as the command cars drove into the town with officers proudly standing, followed by hundreds of trucks full of soldiers.
They entered by the road from Angoulême through the area called Le Toulon near the railway workshops. I can still hear the sound of marching boots in the night during the years of occupation.
Later on in the war, I remember that my parents decided after 2 bombings by the RAF of the railway factories situated next to our house, to move to move a little further north to Agonac.
My father stayed in Périgueux to work. We lived in a flat over the local bar where one night the maquis came in. I was 5 1/2yrs old and I remember them picking me up on their knee, and playing, and drinking and singing.
They went off during that night on a raid in Les Piles and they came back next day with their dead and I was shocked at the sight of dead bodies. My mother was absolutely terrified that the Germans might come back!
A curfew or couvre-feu could only be broken if a person held a 'passport' issued by the authorities. His father, employed with the SNCF, obtained one pictured here in 1944.
Going to school in Agonac, we had two school friends we called ‘Parisians’. People of course thought they were Jewish but nobody asked any questions. The Perigord was not an antisemitic region, unlike some areas of France.
My uncle was one of those who joined the resistance near Nontron in the north of the Dordogne, after he was issued with the order to go to work in Germany under the STO (Service du Travail Obligatoire).
After joining the Resistance, of course he lived in hiding. He survived the war, though he was made prisoner by the French Police. Better that than the German police. The Mayor of Brantôme having protested about the intention of the Germans to execute some hostages was executed with them.
The War is now openly discussed
It is a good thing that this dark time in France's history is being discussed. However, it isn't the whole picture. For instance in the film 'Les femmes de l'ombre' about four women in the resistance,they appear in uniform and of course, in the Resistance, except perhaps towards the end of the war, some kaki shirt or a beret with an insignia was a sort of "uniform".
There was no uniform for 'Resistants' who had to hide. Well there never was a uniform. Perhaps the war is being discussed at last because now no-one will be embarrassed, either deceased or no longer in high positions.
The trouble with films such as 'La Rafle' is that they often focus on the negative. There were policemen at that time who helped and tried to save the Jews. There was even a special police detatachement, the GMR Garde Mobile de Réserve created by the Vichy government in 1942.
In the Rafle of the Vel d'hiv, (read about the film) which was the most abominable action when the police was massively involved, one must not forget the courageous policemen who saved lives.
Many policemen joined the Resistance toward the end but one has to understand that it was not easy for a policeman to join the Resistance towards whom there was always mistrust. In fact knowing whom you could trust was always difficult.
There is a famous case of 42 students who thought they were being led to capture an important weapons’ depot but who were handed over directly to the Germans by the person they had trusted who was in fact a Gestapo agent. They were all executed in what is known as the Massacre de la Cascade du Bois de Boulogne.
At the end of the war the resistance song was Le Chant de Maquisade:
Some local places of significance
From my own reading I found further information that I hope will offer you more insight into the region's history during the war, for example, Nontron became a capital of the Resistance and during the last months of the war Perigueux as well.
For all the names of villages where there were executions with the number of victims, see the article by Henri Lacheze Download The Resistance in the Périgord
Pour tous les noms de villages où eurent lieu des executions avec le nombre de victimes Montpon-Ménestérol, Saint-Privat-des-Prés, Nontron, Riberac, Mouleydier, Rouffignac, Brantôme etc. The Headquarters of the German Das Reich Division in Montauban
Forests where the Maquis hid were La Bessede, la Forêt Barade, the marshes and the forest of la Double.
View Larger Map
The dividing line between the occupied and unoccupied zones ran through 13 departements and in the Dordone roughly down from La Rochebeaucourt-et -Argentine to Saint Privat des Prèt to Montpon Ménestérol: it being unoccupied on the East, in areas such as Périgueux.
In fact the coastline was taken over by the Vichy government. A resistance member André Gerant of Urval, remembers crossing by boat in the night to Ile de Ré to exchange information.
He was caught and sentenced to death but was released under a complicated exchange only aware he was not about to be shot when he was met by resistance members.
The Das Reich Division, with about 20,000 men had its headquarters in Montauban when it was asked to reach the Normandy front as quickly as possible after the Allies’ landing.
Two columns started their movement north, one of them crossed the Dordogne and the Limousin. They came down along the RN89 – much of which is now a motorway or dual carriageway, between Périgueux and Bordeaux.
They were coming across to fight the Allied forces landed at Normandy. Their General was Lammerding, and the Captain who was later responsible for the massacre at Oradour was Dickman. They arrived at Normandy, three weeks after the Allies. Later the President of the United States said that the effect the Resistance had in hindering their progress was the equivalent of an entire army division.
The battles were fought along this road because it was an easy place to ambush them. When the resistance had a plan to attack a large gathering, they had to group together and there were perhaps 600 to 700 resistance fighting along that route. The German general commanding the Das Reich Division died in his bed in 1960.
To read about the The Resistance in the Périgord by Henri Lacheze download a .pdf here Download The Resistance in the Périgord
For more information about France under the Vichy government: