Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 9, No. 2. March 20, 1946
Mlle. Delmas Reviews Students Resistance Movement
Mlle. Delmas Reviews Students Resistance Movement
"At that time, when the Germans wished to show the whole world that France had been crushed and that the upper government circles were collaborating in the creation of the New Europe, it was once again the students of Paris who went out into the streets to cry out their indignation, showing the whole world that they were still the bearers of a great revolutionary tradition: On November 11, 1940, scorning danger, the students of the Sorbonne, led by the communists among them, walked up the Avenue des Champs Elysees in a demonstration..."
Any form of Armistice Day parade had been strictly forbidden by the Nazis, but the students went out and marched in procession to the Arc de Triomphe, demonstrating for de Gaulle and a, free France. Twelve of them were killed that day and an immediate order sent out fur the arrest of all communist students. Those who did not succeed in "taking the maquis" were imprisoned and shot at the infamous Chateaubriant concentration camp at the beginning of 1942.
This was the stirring beginning to the story of French students and the war, as told to "Salient" by Mile, Ginette Delmas, who is in charge of the French press bureau in Wellington. Herself a student, Mlle. Delmas received a diploma in medical radlology in December. 1939, and was attached on this work to a military hospital from May to July 1940. During the years 1941 to 1943 she graduated from the Sorbonne in maths., calculus, mechanics and physics. Her attention was then completely given to full-time resistance work with the headquarters of the united resistance movements in Paris. In October 1946, a week after the French elections, she left France to take up her present position in New Zealand.
Back in the pre-war days, and during the period of the "phoney" war, Mlle. Delmas told us, students were largely apathetic about the European situation. It was however, an apathy which varied considerably according to Faculty. Students in science and medicine were especially lacking in interest, largely because their courses had little contact with the political scene. The two great communist professors. Prenant and Langevin, were forced by a corrupt government to confine their political activity to meetings outside the University. In the arts faculty, on the other hand, there was considerable political activity among students, especially among those engaged in the study of history and philosophy. Probably 50% of these, said Mlle. Delmas, were communists. Student organisations largely consisted of the various Christian Youth movements, strictly divided into Catholic and protestant, the Communist groups forming part of the nation-wide Communist Youth Movement, and the Socialist Party Youth Movement. Reactionary and future Fascist organisations like the Croix de Feu and the Action Francaise had little influence in the universities, but drew a considerable following from the écoles superieurs and the military academy at Saint-Cyr, the Ecole polytechnique, and the Navel Academy at Brest. On the whole, students were not very interested, the effects of the defeat of the progressives' cause in Spain being largely pessimistic.
Occupation, however, changed the picture almost immediately, and the above mentioned demonstrations took place. This, said Louis Aragon, from whom our initial quotation comes, was the signal for the resistance movement to start. Communist students, of course, had immediately to go underground. With everyone, "prendre le maquis" became a normal everyday phrase. But the maquis, as Mlle. Delmas carefully pointed out, was often Paris, and very successfully so, too. The first two months after disappearance meant almost complete inactivity, in order, fully to allay [unclear: am] suspicions as to a person's whereabouts. Then activity could begin.
Early in the occupation, in 1940. Professor Langevin, a Communist Party member of long standing, was arrested by the Nazis and kept under "protective surveillance" throughout the war. His activity under such circumstances was nil. But his name was a great rallying point for students, and Mlle. Delmas tells us that he was often mentioned in the clandestine newspapers of the occupation years.
University work largely lapsed, but some continued, and research, for example, was still carried on, although in secret, and its results never reached German ears.
A University National Front was organised by the Communists and largely directed towards the 12-18 year olds. Those older than 18 had already decided their course of action and were already at work. The basic necessity was to train the younger ones to extend the work of the resistance and to take the place of those who fell. The education of this section of French youth was carried out by teachers and school and college staffs generally, not however in the schoolroom, but by action in the resistance movement—a policy which proved its worth a hundredfold.
In 1943 the Forces Unies Jeunesse Politique was founded, and quickly won great respect in the resistance movement. This organisation later gained 15 seats in the Consultative Assembly as youth representatives.
On November 25, 1943, the Nazis gave proof of the important part students were playing in the resistance, and wrote another foul page in their records. Back in 1939 the University of Strasbourg had been moved south-west to Clermont-Ferrand, in the "unoccupied zone." Now the Nazis acted. They surrounded the University, shot any students or members of the staff who did not immediately obey their orders, and arrested 4-500 people. An eye-witness reported that during "proceedings" he saw a Gestapo agent rubbing his hands together and saying, "This time, I think, the goose of Strasbourg University is cooked." The Gestapo were greatly aided in this act by a traitor.
On being asked about the number of collaborators among students. Mlle. Delmas told "Salient" that there were very few among either students or staffs. Writers on the other hand probably showed a greater tendency to turn traitor. The shooting of Max Jacob by the Nazis and the sterling reputation of Aragon and many other writers however, shows [unclear: that] this was by no means always the case.
Then came the rising of the people of Paris and the liberation of France by the Allied armies. In a very short time, any teacher who had shown any collaboration at all was removed from his position—even at junior schools the children boycotted classes until suspected traitors were replaced.
Out of the long struggle against Nazidom the students of France gained a new insight into their responsibility as students to their country. Their principles crystallised in the formation, in February, 1945, of the Union Patriotique des organisations d'etudiants, a United Front of all Christian, Communist and Socialist Youth Movements, with the immediate tasks of assisting with all its forces the final overthrow of Nazism and the reconstruction and renaissance of France.
From discussions with Mlle. Delmas, the reading of an information pamphlet on French political organisations, produced for the 1945 elections, and other pamphlets, the following facts emerge. There are only three parties of any importance—the Communist and Socialist Parties, and the mouvement Republicain Populaire (MRP). The Communists were the only strong party to come out of the resistance movement, of which they were the basis. The Socialists came out of the struggle, in which they had largely worked under the superior Commun[unclear: ist] leadership, rather hesitant and undecided on their fundamental tenets. There is a very strong move to unite these two parties into a Workers' Party, based on the 6,000,000 membership of the Trade Union Movement. This was rejected at the last Socialist Party Conference by only a 55/45 majority. The MRP was not a section of the resistance movement, but was formed with the backing of General de Gaulle after the liberation of France. Its basic support comes from those areas which were not badly hit by the occupation, and from the wealthy agricultural provinces which were, because of their value, largely spared by the Nazis. Previously it had three Cabinet Ministers, but now its only representative is M. Bldault, the Foreign Minister. Its aims seem to have been to prevent a Communist-Socialist alliance, by appealing to the Socialists as democrats and liberals to oppose the Communists as would-be dictators.
De Gaulle, Mlle. Delmas points out, never had in France the reputation as a political leader that he gained abroad—the successes of the Free French forces were well written up and appreciated in the clandestine press, but those inside France were too busy fighting Nazis to worry over the political views of the French leader outside France—and his political eclipse, while materially affecting the influence of the MRP, has not affected the other two parties. There is every possibility that the proposed merging of the two main parties will have taken place by the next elections. In this the students of France, in alliance with the whole Youth Movement, will have played no small part.