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In Yugoslavia, between 20 and 30 thousand believed to have collaborated with the German occupation forces were shot dead in what has been described as a frenzy of retribution. In Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, those who had collaborated with the Germans were also hunted.
In France, toward the end of the war, the resistance movement assassinated Germans, collaborators and others they deemed unworthy of living, such as black marketers. According to rough estimates, the French Resistance killed 2500 people between the autumn of 1943 and June 6, 1945. [note]
With the defeat of Germany looming, more people identified with the resistance -- which had been limited to a few brave activists. The German commander in Paris, von Choltitz, was trying to work out an orderly withdrawal and he met with a leader of the resistance, Alexandre Parodi, who told him that he had no control over the movement. "The resistance," said Parodi, "is spontaneous."
The leader of the Free French, Charles de Gaulle, struggled to keep his resistance movement disciplined, and when the war ended he was quick in his disapproval of random killings. De Gaulle wished to hold to the rule of law, while some outside of his organization found opportunity in the atmosphere of victory over the Germans and fascists to assassinate personal enemies.
In France, women accused of having associated with German soldiers had their heads shaved. Some of them had swastikas painted on their foreheads. Some were stripped naked and then paraded through the streets. In Denmark and Norway similar retributions against women occurred, with men able to mask their jealousy with patriotism and moral righteousness. In Denmark, several hundred young women were jailed whose only crime was consorting with young German soldiers.
About collaboration the French author Jean Paul Sartre wrote that the whole country had both resisted and collaborated. Everything we did, he said, was equivocal. A subtle poison, he added, corrupted even our best actions.
Under de Gaulle, many who were arrested as suspected collaborators were interrogated and then released. Among those who stood trial and received the sentence of death was the eighty-nine year old World War I hero, General Pétain, who had been the chief of state, or figurehead, of the Vichy regime. An opinion poll indicated that only three percent favored death for Pétain, and his sentence was reduced to life in prison. The active leader of the Vichy regime, the prime minister, Pierre Laval, had not been a Nazi sympathizer and he had bargained as hard as he could with the Germans for the sake of France. He defended himself in court with such skill that the court cut his trial short. The court sentenced him to death. According to a poll, sixty-six percent approved of the sentence, and the sentence stuck. "I die," he said, "for having loved my country too much." He was shot on October 15, 1945.
The new regime in France targeted journalists they thought had been opportunistic in their support of the Vichy regime. The desire to murder annoying journalists was fulfilled as many were quickly tried and shot. Writers and journalists known to have had fascist views before the war were less likely to be targeted.
Accusations arose in France that the line was being crossed into punishment of people for their ideas rather than for criminal acts. A writer who had been with the resistance, François Mauriac, raised this claim in editorials in his newspaper Le Figaro, and he was joined by another resistance writer, Albert Camus.
In Norway, passion worked against the lesser offenders compared to the treatment of the great offenders. Cases against the greater offenders took longer to prepare and as time passed passions subsided.
From a few Norwegians came complaints that in the passion of retribution civil liberties were being ignored. The leading collaborator in Norway was a fundamentalist Christian, Vidkun Quisling – after whom a word meaning traitor was coined. Quisling had headed Norway's government during the German occupation. His trial began on August 20, 1945. He pleaded not guilty to all charges, including the theft of silverware. The court questioned his sanity, and he was examined with electrical explorations of his brain. Deemed sane, his trial continued, at the end of which he said,
I would pray to God that for the sake of Norway a large number of Norway's sons will become such traitors as I, but that they will not be thrown into jailed.
He was found innocent of some of the petty charges against him, and on October 24, 1945, he was hanged for treason.
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