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Life in Paris under Nazi occupation (June 1940-August 1944) Part 4 - 1943

Updated on January 7, 2013
Paris, January 1943. German soldier in front of the Eiffel tower
Paris, January 1943. German soldier in front of the Eiffel tower | Source

Since 1942, the whole German economy has been transformed into a war economy, and all the factories manufacturing weaponry and ammunition are working 24 hours a day. To do so, they need a lot of manpower, which in the first place will be provided by Poles, Russians and Czechs. A new system had been experimented in Norway in 1941 : the mandatory work program.

In retaliation to the landing of Allied forces in Morocco and Algeria, the German military invaded the south part of France known until then as the free zone, while Italy, a German ally, invaded a portion of the Southeast of the country. On the Eastern front, in Stalingrad, Von Paulus and his 22 German and allied divisions, exhausted by intense fighting, heavy losses and adverse weather conditions, were circled by the Russian Red Army and on January 31st, he surrendered. It’s the turning point of the war. The reunification of the two parts of France, even though it was resented due to the military invasion of the South, led to the suppression of the demarcation line between the two halves of the country and freedom of movement throughout the nation was again granted, bringing some relief to the population and allowing numbers of families to reunite.

January - National Help service (Secours Populaire) distributing potatoes to the families of French prisoners of war held in Germany. Copyright LAPI/Roger-Viollet
January - National Help service (Secours Populaire) distributing potatoes to the families of French prisoners of war held in Germany. Copyright LAPI/Roger-Viollet | Source

The mood however, was short lived, when it became publicly known that a contingent of 250 000 workers (150 000 skilled and 100 000 non skilled) had to be made available to German factories by March 15. The worries created by the measures leading to the mandatory transfer of qualified labor to Germany took precedent over any other topic. In some areas, even fathers of more than 4 children were enrolled. The STO was viewed by many as nothing but deportation in disguise , and the measure will translate into the closing of a number of small businesses and factories in France with the departure for Germany of their small but qualified workforce, impossible to replace. The larger industries, while still facing difficulties, were less affected since working mostly for the Germans, they enjoyed a semi-protection. Some also feared that following the debacle experienced by the Germans on the Russian front and elsewhere, they might want to recruit by force non Germans to fight on their side.The Winter of 1942-1943 was the mildest experienced since the one of 1936-1937. Hardly any snowfall was recorded in the plains areas during the Months of January through March.

Even though they were not spared by the mandatory work programs, farmers were still the segment of the population that was coping best, despite a dire lack of labor. They were better fed as opposed to city residents, and a number of them benefited financially from making some of their production available to the black market. They were also able to barter some of their home grown products for badly needed supplies such as fertilizers and farming equipment. That didn’t stop them from complaining. With the bouts of drought experienced that year, a number of crops were expected to be worse than the years before, except maybe for potatoes, a direly needed commodity.

Other than that, the general situation in Paris hadn’t changed much over that of the preceding year. The problems encountered by the population remained the same : lack of food, lack of industrial raw materials for French factories , now made even worse with the advent of frequent power shortages, problems in transportation held over due to a shortage of vehicles, fuel and lubricants. The major complaints were related to the contribution by French nationals to German requests in fresh ggods, manufactured products and human resources, judged overly demanding by the majority of the population. Everything was now aggravated by the prospect of thousands of young workers’ imminent departure for Germany. The number of unyielding people to the mandatory work program was estimated to 30 to 35%.

France was the country who contributed the most to the German workforce during World War II. 400 000 volunteers (who would often be regarded as traitors once they returned to France after the end of the war in 1945), 650 000 recruited by force, mostly through the STO (mandatory work program), one million (about half of the total of prisoners captured in 1940) French prisoners of war who were put to work in German factories but also on German farms, and about another million factory workers working in French factories on French soil, but at the service and for the benefit of Germany. In total, well over 3 millions French workers were contributing, unwillingly for the most part to the German war effort. To the credit of the people who volunteered, one has to keep in mind that the economic situation in France at the time was extremely critical. Even though working people were paid, their salaries could never keep up with the permanently rising cost of essential goods (mainly food, clothing and shoes) and wouldn’t certainly enable any average worker to afford the products available through the black market. So, a number of people saw in this voluntary work program a better way to feed their family decently, helped in their questionable decision by a strong German propaganda. It is also to be noted that with all the French workers now working in Germany, a significant number of acts of sabotage were conducted in order to slow down, if slightly, the German industrial machine. With the creation of all the work programs sending more and more workers towards Germany, it is no surprise that unemployment no longer existed. The sectors most affected by the lack of available labor were forestry, agriculture, metallurgy, housing industry and the wood industry. The recent measures created emotion and even anger with the general population. Some were getting exasperated, a feeling that could be felt through the different classes of society.

January : The activity of the Communist party seems to have shown an increase of activity during the preceding month. Distributions of pamphlets are noted all over the country as well as an increase in propaganda. A number of terrorist bombings are recorded

January 31st : German military forces capitulate and surrender at Stalingrad (Russia).

February - Modified gas powered city bus in front of Saint-Lazare train station. Copyright Roger-Viollet
February - Modified gas powered city bus in front of Saint-Lazare train station. Copyright Roger-Viollet | Source

February 16th. : On June 22nd 1942, Pierre Laval, the Prime Minister of the French Vichy government, had announced the creation of the Releve (relief), a program through which French workers were urged to accept to be transferred to Germany and work in German factories to sustain the Nazi regime war effort. In exchange, the German government promised to release some French prisoners of war. Needless to say, this program was not highly popular, even though it found some takers, but French people in general were reluctant to leave home and go work on a voluntary basis for their enemy of three consecutive wars.

So, on September 4, 1942, Marshal Philipe Petain, head of the French government and Prime Minister Laval signed a law euphemistically called “law of 4 September 1942 on the use and guidance of the workforce”. Under the text of this law, all able bodied men between the age of 18 and 50, as well as all single females aged 21 to 35 were subjected to do “any work that the government deemed necessary”.

Meanwhile, in Germany, there was a desperate need to compensate for the reduction of available manpower created by the constant need to enroll more soldiers to fight on the eastern front with Russia, not to mention the heavy losses sustained. So, Nazi Germany, in complete partnership with the collaborating Vichy French Government, set up a mandatory program consisting of the enlistment and deportation to work camps in Germany of thousands of French nationals. This program was named Service du Travail Obligatoire, or STO (compulsory work service). The law of February 16th 1943, and its application published the same day, deemed it necessary for all French males over the age of 20 to be subjected to the STO program. Regulations specified that all males born between 1920 and 1923 (aged 20 to 23) were immediately subjected to the service. The law was applicable immediately.

This rule created a stir and a large number of young Frenchmen refused to submit. They immediately went into hiding to escape the measure. They were called “refractaires STO’ (unyielding). Some joined a network of organized underground French resistance (my own father was one of them). Others joined the French Communist party while some others managed to find their way to London, which wasn’t the easiest thing to do, and joined the free forces lead by Charles de Gaulle. They received basic military training there and were later incorporated in the troops landing on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in June 1944. The application of that law implicated that for every THREE workers sent to Germany, ONE prisoner of war would be released. One could question the difference in status between a captured prisoner of war and a civilian sent to similar work camps against his will. The Germans didn’t make very good on their promise and unlike the roundup of French workers to be sent to Germany, the return of prisoners of war was very slow.

February 21st to February 23rd : almost hot temperatures , especially in the South half of France where temperatures over 20C are often registered.

February 26th to March 24th : extremely dry weather.During those two dates, not a drop of rain is recorded in Paris

Paris 1943 - Bread delivery
Paris 1943 - Bread delivery | Source

Jean Moulin

Jean Moulin (20 June 1899 – 8 July 1943) personifies the spirit of the French Resistance. Born in Beziers, he enlisted in the French army in 1918. After the war, he obtained a law degree and became a civil servant. He worked essentially in prefectures (county seats), climbing the ladder quite quickly. He was promoted to Prefect of the Eure et Loir department in 1939.

In 1940, he was arrested by the Germans for refusing to submit to their demands. While in prison, he tried to commit suicide by attempting to cut his own throat with a piece of glass. A scar remained from this attempt, which is why he was often seen wearing a scarf around his neck. In November of 1940, like all Prefets, he was ordered by the Vichy government to sack all left wing elected Mayors of his district. Upon his refusal, he was himself sacked.

He then went to live in the South of France, near Marseille, and joined the French Resistance movement. In September 1941, he was in London, where he met with Charles de Gaulle, who gave him the mission to unite the numerous small groups of resistance. He parachuted back to France on January 1st 1942 and met with various heads of resistance groups, succeeding somewhat with his mission of unification. However some groups wanted to retain their independence. In February, he was back to London again, which he left on March 21st with instructions to create the Conseil National de la Resistance, a federation of resistance networks which had its first meeting on May 27 in Paris.

On June 21st 1943, he was attending a meeting with other resistance leaders in Caluire et Cuire, near Lyon when he was arrested. Interrogated and tortured by Klaus Barbie, leader of the Gestapo in Lyon, he never revealed any valuable information to the Nazis. Severely injured, he was put on a train headed for Germany, but he did not survive the trip, dying nearby Metz. Barbie alleged that Moulin killed himself, but it is widely believed that Jean Moulin died at the hand of Klaus Barbie who allegedly beat him to death.

He had been betrayed either by a fellow resistant member or by the communist party, at the time heavily involved in the French resistance movement. Communists were known to betray other non communist resistance members to the Gestapo, as the main point of them being involved in the resistance was not patriotism, but a carefully planned agenda to seize power in France when the War would be over. If it hadn’t been for Charles de Gaulle who so brilliantly outsmarted them in the end, they might have succeeded. (please see the 1944 section of this series of articles). During his trial, in 1990, Klaus Barbie named Aubrac, another resistance leader, as the traitor who betrayed Jean Moulin.

Jean Moulin became a legend and the quintessential hero of the French Resistance movement. Thousands of schools, streets and locations are named after him. A whole museum is dedicated to him and his story has been featured in numerous works of art

March : the enforcement of the STO mandatory work program leading to the expatriation of tens of thousands of civilian French workers has a profound negative influence on the morale of the population, and a growing objection is voiced, especially considering that Germany already has at its disposal nearly two millions French prisoners of war and about 400 000 volunteers working in German factories.

April : Interesting fact : despite a shortage of available help on the market, most small factories are reluctant to hire new workers, because they fear that it could lead to the enrollment and loss of their older but best qualified workers into the mandatory work program (STO)

In the department of Oise, the German authorities have requested women on several occasions for temporary help with occupying military units. When there are not enough volunteers, forced requisitions are made.

April 17th and 18th : the weather is even warmer than the year before at the same time with 28C in Chartres, 27C in Caen and Paris, and 26C in Saint-Quentin.

April 19th : marks the beginning of the uprising of the Warsaw (Poland) ghetto populated with Jews rounded up and walled in a part of the city, living in sub-standard conditions

May 14th and 15th : a new heatwave involved the Northern half of the country. Temperatures are nearing records with 34C in Chartres, 32C in Lille as well as in Caen.

June : The Communist party is busy successfully recruiting new members through the large number of unyielding workers to the STO work program.

220 000 extra French workers are requested to be sent to German factories.

June 21st : Jean Moulin is arrested.

May 1943 - Departure of French nationals enrolled against their will in a German mandatory work programme at the Gare du Nard (North Station) in Paris
May 1943 - Departure of French nationals enrolled against their will in a German mandatory work programme at the Gare du Nard (North Station) in Paris | Source

Bombing of France during World War II

Between the German victory in the Battle of France and the liberation of the country, the Western Allies bombed many locations in France. In all 1,570 French cities and towns were bombed by Anglo-American forces between June 1940 and May 1945. The total number of civilians killed was 68,778 men, women and children. The total number of injured was more than 100,000. The total number of houses completely destroyed by the bombings was 432,000, the number of partly destroyed houses 890,000. (Source : Wikipedia)

June, 26 - The wreck of the U.S. Army Air Force Boeing B-17F-85-BO Flying Fortress, s/n 42-30037, squadron code "BK-F". This aircraft was assigned to the 546th Bombardement Squadron, 384th Bombardement Group, 8th Air Force, based at Grafton Underwood, Northamptonshire (UK). It was shot down on 26 June 1943 on a mission to Villacoublay, France. Pieces of this aircraft were displayed in a museum estabilshed at Paris-Nanterre by the occupying German forces. The 384th BG flew their first combat mission as a group on 22 June 1943, bombing automobile parts warehouses in Antwerpen, Belguim. After the sixth mission the group had lost thirty-five of its original thirty-six aircraft.


June 29 - Still from camera gun footage shot from the North American Mustang of Squadron Leader J.A.F. MacLachlan, Commanding Officer of No. 132 Squadron RAF, when, during a sortie south of Paris with Flight Lieutenant A.G. Page, they shot down four training aircraft and two Junkers Ju 88s in ten minutes. This shows one of two Henschel Hs 126s claimed by MacLachlan falling in flames. 132 Squadron was equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire VB, but the pilots had borrowed the Mustangs for this "Ranger" sortie.

Low water level in the river Seine, Paris 1943
Low water level in the river Seine, Paris 1943 | Source

July : The public opinion remains hostile to the sending of workers to Germany. Even more strongly when people realize that the Germans are not living up to their word to send back war prisoners. With the setbacks experienced by the German army on outside theaters, hope builds within the population for a soon coming durable peace and the defeat of Germany. As a result, the number of unyielding men to the STO work program is now reaching close to 70%.

July 10th : Allied Forces land in Sicily (Italy). Mussolini's government is overthrown and Italy will sign an armistice on September 3rd.

July 30th and 31st : heat wave over the whole Northern region, no less than 38C in Chartres, 37C in Caen and Paris, 36C in Amiens.

August : 500 000 extra French workers are requested for the STO program.

August 17th to August 20th : a scorching sun reigns all over France. 40C in Mont de Marsan (Landes), 39C in Vichy, 38C in Lyon and Nantes, 37C in Moulins, 36 in Angouleme and 35C in Chartres are recorded.

October - Line in front of the department store Le Bon Marche to exchange old rags for textile points redeemable for new clothing. Copyright LAPI/Roger-Viollet
October - Line in front of the department store Le Bon Marche to exchange old rags for textile points redeemable for new clothing. Copyright LAPI/Roger-Viollet | Source

October 4th : the island of Corsica is the first French departement (county) to be liberated by Allied forces.

November : according to the regional Prefects, the acts of terrorism performed by the resistance are condemned by public opinion. More and more people seem to consider them as a step towards civil war or a revolution that could be bloody. Not to mention that the way for Germans to retaliate is often to take civilians hostage and on occasion execute them. However, the young men unyielding to the STO are viewed sympathetically by the population. The dissatisfaction of the working class is growing, as retail prices keep going up rapidly, while salaries are notably insufficient to keep up. The working class is dissatisfied and bitter. Besides the shortage of labor and raw materials, transportation has become an urgent issue as it slowly paralyzes the economic activity of the whole country.

December : the Communist party maintains its clandestine activities in order to uphold its ideas and to sustain the unhappiness of the working class, already openly hostile to the Vichy government. The Communists speculate on the patriotism of the masses to organize resistance and implement their own agenda.

Weatherwise, the end of the year is rather mild. Torrential rains frequently turn into floods into the Mediterranean areas

December 1943. Destroyed train station of Courvevoie-Becon les Bruyeres, just outside Paris
December 1943. Destroyed train station of Courvevoie-Becon les Bruyeres, just outside Paris | Source
December 1943, Paris.- Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel and Oberbefehshaber West Gerd von Rundstedt meet at the Hotel George V, avenue des Champs-Elysees
December 1943, Paris.- Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel and Oberbefehshaber West Gerd von Rundstedt meet at the Hotel George V, avenue des Champs-Elysees | Source
Photograph made from B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 Dec. 1943 when they attacked the vital CAM ball-bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Courbevoie near Paris, France.
Photograph made from B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 Dec. 1943 when they attacked the vital CAM ball-bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Courbevoie near Paris, France. | Source

Text Copyright 2013 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns.Images Copyright as indicated.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Wow. Extremely informative to one who knows very little of the non-combatant aspects of the occupation. Very grateful for your sharing of stories, history and photos.

    • SouradipSinha profile image

      Souradip Sinha 

      4 years ago from Calcutta

      great hub about the great war. Voted up :)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My plan is to re-enact my (Australian) fathers journey from being shot down north of France returning from a bombing raid (RAF in a Halifax). He (of 3 survivors of crew of 7or8) landed north of Paris and the escape route was to skirt east around P then south to Spain. The other two airmen were captured. He joined several resistance groups as he went. France was liberated by US forces and he returned to UK.

      The plan is to start from where he landed and walk south, begging for help and food along the way, as an airman in occupied France, he woujld have to divest himself of anything that might identify him, as a role play.

      is anyone able to advise, assist or support?

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Great hub lots of useful and lesser known detail. Well done.

    • profile image

      Waite Maclin 

      6 years ago

      This is my first visit to Paris. These hubs have been most informative and I now have so much of a better sense of the complete horror of the german occupation. Thank you!

    • prasadjain profile image


      6 years ago from Tumkur

      A 'Vote up' hub. The detailed account, with copyright photographs,has made this hub authentic one.Man's ambition for greater wealth and egoism has always sent large chunk of mankind into sufferings. Germany should now come forward and spend large part of its profit for the welfare of mankind, to wash off its sins . It doesn't seems doing so.


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