The Heroic Parisiennes of the Second World War

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The Heroic Parisiennes of the Second World War
Of all the narratives of France during the Second World War, the accounts of the Resistance and those who collaborated with the hated Nazis still remain the most vivid. The most famous member of the Resistance, Jean Moulin rightly has a dedicated museum in Paris, celebrating the lauded hero of the Maquis and the various branches of the underground movements of men who daily risked their lives, and often lost them, for a free France. The Resistance has become mythical. Their names will always be remembered, commemorated, and revered. And then, on the other side of the coin, there’s another infamous narrative about les horizontales, the women who slept with the enemy, or were seen to have associated with them, sometimes for an easy life, more often simply for basic necessities for their families. After the war, these women were paraded through the streets, hair shorn, branded, reviled by the crowds as almost sub human, treated far more harshly than their male counterparts, who by doing nothing for the cause, or working under the occupier, were no less culpable, but nonetheless did not suffer the same barbaric, public humiliations. Jean Moulin in 1937. © Wiki commons But what about the other, lesser known narratives? French women during the war cannot simply be put in two categories: those who stoically got through the daily hardships and deprivations without any aid from the Germans, and those who chose an easier road by collaborating with the enemy. There was a whole sub-category of women — who quietly, audaciously, and without thought for their own safety — were just as brave, and were meted out the same punishments and retributions from the occupying force as their male counterparts in the Resistance. Because they weren’t armed as male members of the Resistance, these women almost invariably did not receive the same immediate recognition after the war. These same women, who until the outbreak of war in 1939 had been politically invisible, did not have the right to vote and still needed permission from their father or their husband to work or own property, these were the same women who made what could be the fatal choice, of hiding Jewish children or Allied airman, carrying false papers, or spying on the Germans and their troop movements. These women were many and varied: from vicomtesses, actresses, milliners and even a volunteer assistant curator at the Jeu de Paume museum. Some were foreign born, parachuting into France because of their wireless expertise and their knowledge of the French language. All of them showed immense courage. All of them believed in the cause to free France. Many of them were caught and tortured, imprisoned in camps far from the country they were fighting for. Many of them died. Here is the story of just three of them. Signs showing the way to German headquarters of Greater Paris, 1940 © Wiki commons

Lead photo credit : German Luftwaffe soldiers at a Paris café, 1941. © Wiki commons

More in Parisienne Heroines, parisiennes, secret Paris, spy, war in france, women in history, World War II, ww11

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After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.


  • Barnaby Conrad
    2021-08-05 05:12:03
    Barnaby Conrad
    Dear Marilyn Brouwer, Wonderful history here, and well-told. My American grandfather's sister Florence Conrad was one of the leaders of the Rochambelles, the female WWII ambulance drivers who took the Winged Venus of Samothrace from the Louvre and hid it in the countryside before the German conquest of Paris. I wonder if, in your research you came across any contact made between Florence and the patriotic spies you wrote about above. I can be reached at [email protected]. Merci mille fois! Barnaby Conrad III