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WW2: Why did people collaborate?

Updated on October 23, 2013
The Gestapo operating in France.
The Gestapo operating in France.

During the war, the Germans and Japanese ruled the countries they occupied harshly. Some people opposed this by joining resistance groups but just as many helped the occupiers. These people are called collaborators. What made people collaborate?

The 'economic collaborators'

Many people helped the occupiers as their jobs made it difficult not to do so. For example, many police and local government officials helped them keep law and order. Also shopkeepers, traders and bankers did business with them as their livelihoods depended on it.

Some went further than this. There was a great deal of money to be made through 'economic collaboration'. Conquered countries had to pay the costs of the occupying army. France. for example, had to pay 400 million francs a day to maintain the German army there. This money was spent by the Germans on huge quantities of goods: whole boatloads of grain, entire herds of cattle and thousands of litres of wine. Some farmers and business men collaborated with the Germans in order to win these valuable contracts.

The most extreme form of 'economic collaboration' was by criminal gangs. In France, some helped the Gestapo to hunt down resisters because, in return the government ignored their crimes. The eyewitness account (right) is an example of this.

An eye-witness describes how the Gestapo, helped by a gang of criminals, punished the people of a town after a local resistance group killed two German officers:

'The brutes break into houses, smash furniture, steal silver, jewellery and family treasures, and seize provisions. They eat children's chocolates and drink wine and spirits... vans go up and down the street collecting clothes, bedding, crockery and silver...

A bus full of men arrives. They are resisters who have been arrested by the Gestapo... These 25 have been chosen to pay with their lives for the killing of the two German officers... The Bonny-Lafont men (the gang) come running out of the houses... They take the prisoners to the 'Black Fountains' and shoot them.'

This poster was put up all over France by the Germans. It shows ten executed French resistance fighters and says, 'Freedom fighters? Liberation by an army of criminals!'
This poster was put up all over France by the Germans. It shows ten executed French resistance fighters and says, 'Freedom fighters? Liberation by an army of criminals!'

French collaborators put up a poster in 1944 on the anniversary of Jeanne d'Arc's death, saying:


1412 Jeanne is born at Donremy

1429 Jeanne defeats the English at Orleans

1430 Jeanne is taken prisoner at Compiegne

1431 Jeanne is burnt alive at Rouen, BY THE ENGLISH

1939 France is dragged into the war, BY THE ENGLISH

1940 France is betrayed at Dunkirk, BY THE ENGLISH

1942 France is stripped of its colonies, BY THE ENGLISH

1944 French towns are bombed every day, BY THE ENGLISH

Hating the enemy's enemy

Some people collaborated as they did not hate their enemy as much as they hated their own countries allies. Many of the French, saw the British as a greater enemy than the Germans as the French and British had a vast history of military conflict. It was also partly because of things the British had done to France during the war. For example, many believed that the British had deliberately left behind 40,000 French soldiers at Dunkirk.

'Horizontal collaborators'

In many places, young women became friendly with German soldiers. For some, it was a way of getting hold of things in short supply: German soldiers could supply them with cigarettes, sweets, or nylon stockings, for example. For others it was the result of physical attraction. Many had sexual relationships with German soldiers. In France they were known as 'horizontal collaborators'.

A horizontal collaborator has her head shaved by a group of resisters.
A horizontal collaborator has her head shaved by a group of resisters.

The punishment of collaborators

Understandably the resisters hated the collaborators. When the war ended in 1945 they took revenge. In France they secretly executed 30,000 collaborators without trials. Thousands of men were beaten up by angry mobs and thousands of women had their heads shave bare for being 'horizontal collaborators'.

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    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Interesting topic. Makes you think about what you might have done if you were subjected to some of the pressures the collaborators were under. I wonder if people like police officers, who had to enforce the invaders' rules, were considered collaborators after the war.

    • panpan1972 profile image

      Panagiotis Tsarouchakis 4 years ago from Greece

      Nice article, a lot of people collaborated in my country too. Hi lions! I think Petain was too demoralised (and perhaps too old) to do the obvious, flee with his government to the colonies and continue the struggle from there. As de Gaulle showed later the African and Middle East French colonies could provide the men and resources and with US weapons they could be back in the game. Also the large French navy was intact, but Petain was so convinced of an ultimate German victory that he prefered to become a lordling in Hitler's empire.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 4 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Great article. Very interesting topic. I'll never understand how France could not defend their capital. I know the country was only twenty years removed from WWI, but their freedom was at stake. I don't condemn the common citizen for going about their business in any of these countries. There was no choice. It's men like Petain, Dagrelle, Laval, Mussert and Quisling who deserve most of the condemnation. Voted up.