“Sous la botte” (2): the German boot in the illustrated book covers of the Liberation collection (1944-46)

In 2019, I started working on a project aimed at providing access through Cambridge University Library catalogue (iDiscover) to digitised images of book covers of the Chadwyck-Healey collection (about 3000 books in French about the Second World War, the Occupation and the Liberation, published between 1944 and 1946), with photographer Fanny Bara. We were struck by the number of titles and cover illustrations featuring the German boot (see my previous blog post on the use of the expression “sous la botte” in the literature of the Liberation). More than half of the Liberation collection books whose title refers to the German boot feature illustrated covers including an actual depiction of a boot (five covers) or German soldiers in uniform (six covers, three of which are photographic). Only the comic book Biroulet sous la botte by Raymond Sempé, (Liberation.a.37) features a strictly black and white cover illustration: while a stern looking German soldier goose steps, Biroulet, depicted as a mischievous peasant child, wearing clogs and beret, and holding a simple wooden stick, cocks a snook at him.

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“Sous la botte” (1): the German occupation of France and Belgium in the literature of the Liberation (1944-46)

Black jackboots or “marching boots” (Marschstiefel), already used by the German infantry during World War I, were still part of the German army uniform during World War II, though they were gradually replaced by lace-up ankle boots (Schnürschuhe) from 1941 onwards. Although the phrase “sous la botte” was already used to describe German domination during World War I, it became widely used in reference to World War II, sometimes associated in the titles of books from the Liberation collection (1944-46) with a more or less precise time-span, ranging from 1940 to 1943, 1944 or 1945. The expression has become synonymous with that period of German occupation of France and Belgium. The military boot has become strongly associated with the image of the German soldier/officer in popular imagination and cultural representations, from contemporary posters to current historical movies. According to Google search results, they seem to be a particularly successful retail item nowadays, whether as (presumed) original artefacts, or as faithful reproductions. The footwear was used as a potent symbol of the German occupation of France and Belgium and of the oppression endured by the local populations. In particular, the recurring use of the expression “sous la botte” provided an evocative image of the German occupation as an oppressive regime of (military) tyranny (eluding the responsibility of the Vichy government and the question of French collaboration).

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A Tragedy of Betrayal and Revenge

A single photograph reveals the division, distrust and betrayal that tore France apart both during and after the war. It is of a local football team in a village (possibly Maintenon) in the Eure-et-Loir region, in which four of the players are related. They are Francis Fermine, fourth from the left, with his arms folded, in the back row. His two cousins, Omer and Noé Sadorge are at each end of the row and his brother-in-law, Pierre Sadorge is in the front with his arm round the captain.

Sans titre

Comment meurt un réseau by ‘Colonel Rémy’, Liberation.b.663, p.112-113.

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Songs of freedom : “Les chants de la liberté, 1789, 1830, 1848, 1870, 1944”

Political songs play an important part in popular culture and are powerful means of fostering and transmitting a sense of community and identity. Songs cross cultures and languages, as we discussed in an earlier blogpost on the French and American songs sung at the Liberation. On 14 July, Bastille Day, we want to shed light on another item from the Chadwyck-Healey Liberation collection: the Chants de la liberté (Liberation.b.130), a wonderfully illustrated collection of songs, accompanied by musical notation, which puts into perspective French political and historical struggles. Each song is accompanied by a didactic note, which provides some historical context.


Les chants de la liberté 1789, 1830, 1848, 1870, 1944 / réunis et harmonisés par Vincent Gambau ;                        préface de Bracke A.-M. Desrousseaux ; illustrations de Robert Fuzier.                                  Paris : Les Éditions de la liberté, 1945. (Liberation.b.130)

The title of the collection, which echoes the name of the publisher (the socialist Éditions de la liberté, well represented in the Liberation collection), places the Liberation of Paris at the end of August 1944 as the last of a series of revolutions in the history of France (brushing over the fact that the uprising led by the military resistant group FFI, French Forces of the Interior, could only be successful thanks to the arrival of the Allied forces). The editor and harmoniser, Vincent Gambau, specialised in popular, traditional and regional songs. The illustrator, Robert Fuzier, a member of the SFIO (Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière), participated in the Front populaire government in 1936. Engaged in the Résistance and in clandestine publishing, he was arrested in August 1943.

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Songs of the Liberation for VE Day

The Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection (1944-46) consists mainly of books, but also contains a number of French and English songs and music scores, some with striking illustrations. They appear either in individual leaflets or in larger compilations, including the lyrics and in some cases notated music. On the 70th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe), on 8 May 1945, we would like to shed light on two illustrated covers for songs of the Liberation that we displayed on the occasion of the 2019 Liberation lecture (Normandy ’44 by James Holland).

1PR-LIBERATION-A-00104Le chant de la libération : le chant des partisans, paroles de Maurice Druon et Joseph Kessel, musique de Anna Marly. Paris : Éditions Raoul Breton, 1945. Liberation.a.104

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