The collaboration of the French police and gendarmerie

The collaboration of the French police and gendarmerie

Joint patrol of a French gendarme and a German soldier

© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Arthur Grimm

Publication date: January 2017

Historical context

French police and gendarmerie during the Occupation

Following the armistice of June 22, 1940, and even more so after the meeting between Pétain and Hitler in Montoire on October 24, 1940, the Vichy regime established a state collaboration with the Nazi occupier. With the uncertain aim of obtaining compensation from the winners, the entire French administrative apparatus is at the service of the Germans, anticipating their wishes and sometimes even outbidding their demands.

The police, which report to the Ministry of the Interior, and the gendarmerie, a military body, are no exception to the rule. Some operations may occasionally involve French and Germans, such as the one depicted in this photograph.

Beyond its documentary aspect, this image can be understood through the propaganda work put in place by Vichy as well as by the Nazis to influence the population and convince them of the benefits of this policy of cooperation.

Image Analysis

Peaceful collaboration

Photojournalist Arthur Grimm rose to fame covering numerous political events and military campaigns against the Nazis, until becoming one of the III's foremost photographerse Reich. With this photograph, he clearly chooses to offer the image of a peaceful and beneficial collaboration between France and Germany.

At the door of a fairly high detached house (two rows of shutters), stand a French gendarme (from behind) and a German soldier (from the front). They are easily identifiable by their uniforms: cap and badge of the Wehrmacht for the German, kepi, belt and embroidery on the sleeve for the French.

The two men patrol, obviously acting in common, calmly and with a certain naturalness.

The German soldier consults a document stored in a pocket and holds a small pen in his right hand. He looks both concentrated and serene, almost satisfied. The French gendarme, meanwhile, looks at him, his arms dangling, and we think we can guess a slight smile on his face, barely visible in profile.

While both seem about to strike at the spotted address, no aggressiveness, hostility, threat or urgency is apparent. The whole scene is bathed in a form of tranquility, an impression reinforced by the soft light that Arthur Grimm uses perfectly.

Interpretation

Collaboration: spectacular operation or daily work

A reassuring and almost bonhomme atmosphere emerges from this photograph. Here, collaboration takes place on a daily basis and with a human face, without clashes or violence. Arthur Grimm takes care of his staging to feature two serious and diligent soldiers, but also accomplices and benevolent. Effective and protective, collaboration is based on understanding (working "hand in hand") and a form of closeness between the two characters.

The setting of the scene (a house that could not be more banal, with its number 20) first of all evokes a network and control of the whole territory: in France, any house is protected, all the addresses are listed in documents such as the one consulted by the German soldier. The new order would thus apply to every fiber of the urban or rural fabric, fabric into which it would have been able to fit perfectly.

The image also suggests that this patrol is trivial after all. The maintenance of order is carried out everywhere, quiet and well established, thanks to a collaboration which would henceforth be anchored in the country as in the mores, natural and normal. The two men do not seem to perform their first joint action here, nor to experience any discomfort or difficulty. The message thus delivered is that in the country where it maintains order, the Wehrmacht would not impose itself brutally but, on the contrary, would know how to blend into the background, easily finding work with the native authorities. It would not be about occupation or repression, but about a sympathetic maintenance of order carried out in common.

It can be noted, however, that the German military seems to be leading the operation, reducing the gendarme, who is also shown from behind, to the role of auxiliary, waiting with his arms at his sides. A perhaps unintentional way on Arthur Grimm's part to signal, if it were needed, that this cordial understanding was of course being made under the (benevolent) authority of the Nazis.

  • collaboration
  • Vichy regime
  • Occupation
  • propaganda
  • War of 39-45
  • Nazism

Bibliography

AZÉMA Jean-Pierre, New history of contemporary France. XIV: From Munich to the Liberation (1938-1944), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points: History” (no 114), 1979.

AZÉMA Jean-Pierre, WIEVIORKA Olivier, Vichy (1940-1944), Paris, Perrin, 1997.

BERLIÈRE Jean-Marc, "The French state police: genesis and construction of a repressive apparatus", in GARNIER Bernard, LELEU Jean-Luc, QUELLIEN Jean (dir.), Repression in France (1940-1945), conference proceedings (Caen, 2005), Caen, Center for quantitative history research, coll. “Second World War” (no 7), 2007, p. 107-127.

COINTET Michèle, New history of Vichy, Paris, Fayard, 2011.

ORY Pascal, The collaborators (1940-1945), Paris, Le Seuil, 1976.

PAXTON Robert O., The France of Vichy (1940-1944), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "L’univers historique" (no 2), 1973.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The collaboration of the French police and gendarmerie"


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