Youth Culture at the Liberation: Résistantes and Résistants in Cardboard Cut-Outs

We are grateful to the Managing Editor of the French History Network Blog for permission to reproduce the article by Southampton doctoral student Emily Hooke on a set of cardboard toy theatre scenes depicting the Liberation of Paris. The University Library has these in its Liberation Collection, and they featured prominently in the exhibition which we mounted in 2014.

Emily-Hooke-Fig-1

Roland Forgues, Le Général de Gaulle à l’Arc de Triomphe, 26 août 1944 (Paris: Edition de l’Office Central de l’Imagerie, 1944). See bibliographic record here. Click on the image to enlarge.

On a trip to Paris a few years ago, I was wandering along the Seine, glancing casually at the boquinistes when I spotted something interesting: three pieces of cardboard illustrated with scenes from the Liberation of Paris — 19-26 August 1944 — and dated later that year.[1] Looking closer, I could see these sheets were cardboard cut-outs, as the tabs under the figures show (fig. 1, fig. 2, fig. 3). They also contained the only information I have been able to find of them: They were illustrated by Roland Forgues and commissioned by l’Office central de l’imagerie, Paris.

Researching further, I found that these were far from the only representations of the Resistance aimed at youth during the Liberation. Indeed, there was a boom in children’s literature at the Liberation — despite the paper shortages. These sought to repair the damage done by children’s comic books under the Occupation such as Le Téméraire, which framed the Resistance as villains – ‘without morals and without courage’.[2]

The cardboard cut-outs sparked my interest in popular culture, and added a new dimension to my research: youth. Following the Liberation the Resistance became seen as ‘military, patriotic and essentially masculine’ despite evidence to the contrary, and I wanted to see how they fitted into the construction of this gendered narrative.[3]

Two of these clearly reinforced a male-dominated Resistance myth. Figure 1 focused on the central figure of Charles de Gaulle, flanked by General Leclerc and other male figures who were either uniformed or decorated with the Cross of Lorraine. Similarly, figure 2, a recreation of the the barricades, presented a traditionally masculine view of the military Resistance, with the armed men all official representatives of the Resistance army — Les Forces françaises de l’intérieur (FFI) — as demonstrated by the armbands. The sole woman — although also a member of the FFI — was presented in an auxiliary role, as a nurse.

Emily-Hooke-Fig-2

Roland Forgues, Les barricades, 19-25 août 1944 (Paris: Edition de l’Office Central de l’Imagerie, 1944). See bibliographic record here.

 I was particularly drawn to the scene of Les soldats français à l’Hôtel de Ville (fig. 3): before a backdrop of tricolores and barricades were tanks, armed Frenchmen — and a résistante holding a gun.

Emily-Hooke-fig-3

Roland Forgues, Les soldats français à l’Hôtel de Ville, 24 août 1944 (Paris: Edition de l’Office Central de l’Imagerie, 1944). See bibliographic record here.

In spite of the rich detail of the cut-outs, I found myself unsure how to examine them because they were somewhat unconventional. Any attempts to analyse them fell (literally) flat.

Realising this, I decided I needed to immerse myself completely in the process of assembling them, using the time to collect my thoughts and finally give them my full attention.[4]

Once assembled, I was able to see more clearly what the youth of 1944 were meant to see.

I had been so thrilled to see an armed résistante that the position of the gun itself — down by her side in a neutral position — did not seem to matter. Yet when I followed the numbered tabs on the bottom, I had a sinking feeling: I had to place her at the back, behind a résistant in a tank. Looking at the assembled product (fig.4), you are able to see her, although she could easily be mistaken for a member of the cheering crowd printed on the background behind her, as her gun is hidden. She had been effectively neutralised; disarmed by the official, militarised, Resistance. This representation echoed reality for women, as the Gaullist hierarchy began to ‘phase women out’ of armed roles from late 1943 so they could present the FFI as a strong and professional force in the post-war period and frame it as ‘the nucleus of the new French army’.[5]

Emily-Hooke-fig-4

This can be contrasted by the representation of other figures in the same scene, all of whom were men. The man who stood beside the résistante, for example, had his body similarly obscured by the tank. However his arm was thrust triumphantly into the air, displaying his weapon — leaving no doubt that he was an active participant in the struggle. In fact, all of the others presented were either visibly armed or uniformed (meaning a weapon would have been assumed). Some wore FFI armbands; some stood erect in displays of martial discipline; some had been wounded in the struggle. Combinations of these lent a military legitimacy to the male figures — something the female figure had been denied.

In acknowledging — and embracing — the materiality of this popular culture, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the process by which women and their experiences had been sidelined within the Resistance narrative. Those assembling the scene would have noticed the armed woman, but they — like I — would have been forced to place her behind representations of male heroism. This literally ensured she — and her Resistance — was of secondary importance. In appealing directly to youth to literally place the woman in this position, the creators aimed to secure the gendered Resistance myth for generations to come.

Guest post: Emily Hooke (University of Southhampton)

[1] Because Charles de Gaulle’s walk up the Champs-Élysees 26 August 1944 is featured in these I am including that date, although Paris was officially liberated 25 August 1944.

[2] Translation my own, from Pascal Ory, Le Petit Nazi Illustré: Vie et Survie du Téméraire: 1943-1944, (Paris: Albatros, 1979), pp.34-35; see also Judith K. Proud, ‘Plus ça change…?: Propaganda Fiction for Children: 1940-1945’, in The Liberation of France, ed. by Kedward and Wood, pp.57-74

[3] Robert Gildea, Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance (London: Faber and Faber, 2015), p.19;  The position of women in the Resistance has been excellently highlighted by historians of the Occupation including Hanna Diamond, Paula Schwartz and Margaret Collins Weitz. See, for example, Hanna Diamond, Women and the Second World War in France: 1939-1948: Choices and Constraints (Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 1999); Paula Schwartz, ‘Partisanes and Gender Politics in Vichy France’, French Historical Studies, 16.1 (1989), 126-151;  Margaret Collins Weitz, Sisters in the Resistance: How Women Fought to Free France: 1940-1945 (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1995).

[4] I did not cut up the originals — I made copies.

[5] Schwartz, p.146

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