From 1943 to 1946 a lot of beautiful French women were charged with collaboration with German occupants and had their hair cut. How did French women live through the war, what did some of them do to survive?
People with arms invaded homes and dragged pretty French women out of them. Those women were led to a city square where their heads were shaved. Women were held by their arms so that they weren’t able to resist. A hairdresser fulfilling his patriotic duty handled scissors or clippers hard.
Punishment and humiliation were all the more strongly because they were committed publicly, in front of relatives, neighbors and acquaintances. People gathered on the square laughed and applauded. After that, the disgraced women were led down the streets for everyone to see. Sometimes women’s clothes were ripped off.
Prostitution in France during WWII
Such haircut was a punishment for helping an enemy and having sympathy for Nazi Germany or just sleeping with Germans what was called “horizontal collaboration” (in contrast to the Soviet women who did their best to fight against the invaders).
Public punishment of European women enabled every Frenchman to feel that the occupation was over, and he was finally free! It was the most visible getting rid of embarrassing past that they wanted to forget.
It was believed that German soldiers deliberately sought to sleep with as many hot French women as possible because such was the policy of occupation authorities. But in reality, the Command of the Wehrmacht was concerned by the spread of venereal deceases and tried to limit soldiers’ love life by prostitutes working under control. Maybe the Command didn’t want the women in Nazi Germany to contact the venereal deceases when German soldiers return home.
Germans valued French women beauty. In Paris region alone dozens of brothels serviced German soldiers.
Thousands of prostitutes worked on an ongoing basis, but individually. And about one hundred thousand of ordinary Parisian women were selling their bodies from time to time.
After the liberation of France in different cities prostitutes were treated in different ways. Some of them were forgiven because people thought that they had just done for a living, the others were accused of the collaboration with an enemy. Even during the occupation they were obliged to show patriotism and serve only Frenchmen.
If pretty French women slept with Germans, it was clearly treated as betrayal after the liberation. Intimate relations themselves didn’t mean betrayal and didn’t hold any dangers for France or Frenchmen. But the following view was accepted: every woman who had slept with a German betrayed her country at heart. “Horizontal collaboration” was the most unbearable sign of defeat and occupation. It was a metaphor of total subordination of France which had got under Germany, both figuratively and literally.
Even virgins were blamed for betrayal
In some cases, pretty French women were able to defend themselves by providing the medical certificates of virginity. It indicated that there was no way they could have intimate relationships with the enemy. In some cases, accused women were sent to a gynecologist for observation. Virginity was considered to be the proof of innocence. In contrast, the existence of a venereal decease was the proof of “horizontal collaboration”.
The cost of wigs increased dramatically. Wigs, hats, scarfs, turbans helped to mask those women’s shame, but not to forget the humiliation. Some women couldn’t stand the shame and committed suicide. The other women went to the hospital with a serious nervous disorder.
Everything depended on their character and psyche. There were some women who kept their composure and filed complaints proving that they had been accused of nothing.
French wives’ unfaithfulness
About a million and a half of French soldiers were captured by German invading troops in 1940 in France during ww2. Half of them were married. One of four soldier’s kids and wives stayed at home. Most of prisoners-of-war were held captive during the whole war and returned home only in April 1945.
Here they were disappointed again. It was hard and sometimes impossible to get along with their wives. Many of them divorced at once. Almost always, there was one reason — adultery. Being tired of being lonely, the wives cheated on their husbands. It was impossible to hide it. Neighbors didn’t miss the chance to “open eyes” of a husband who had returned home.
While husbands were at the front, and then in captivity, pretty French women obliged to take care of children and a house and be faithful to their husbands. On one hand, when women earned money themselves and fed kids, they were treated with respect. On the other hand, having become independent, they broke with the patriarchal traditions and norms of more than conservative society.
Men disliked their independence at all. Those women could afford unspeakable things, including independent choice of partners! They were considered to be morally unstable and even sexually depraved women who can be seduced easily, because they can’t refuse to any man.
Men understood that losing the war and occupation were the result of their inability to fulfil their duty, defend their country and save French women from an invasion by the enemy. Liberation provided an opportunity to restore their masculinity. It was the comeback of a traditional men’s role of a warrior. Passion for justice, desire to punish the enemies of their country became mixed. Their anger, which was accumulating since capitulation, was let out on women.
The emancipation of pretty French women
Now Frenchmen reproached their wives, sisters and daughters for having fun with Germans, while their men were held in prisoner-of-war or labor camps. Women’s shaved heads were the visible proof of their guilt over Frenchmen. Their heads resembled the image of lily which was put on prostitutes’ shoulders in earlier times.
But it was impossible to stop the process of women’s emancipation. In April 1944 Consultative Assembly of France met in colonial Algeria, gave French women the right to vote. In the spring of 1945 women voted in local government elections for the first time. They were the first women in the history of France who participated in voting. All of this was happening while the other French women were having their hair cut throughout the country.
After the war a lot of collaborators were sentenced to death, penal servitude or imprisonment by court. But General Charles de Gaulle decided that there was no need to dredge up the past and divide the country into heroes and traitors, because the unity of the nation was much more important.
Most of the collaborators were pardoned by the President de Gaulle. By law, former collaborators were not even allowed to be reminded of their service to the occupants. The farther the times of involvement of France in WWII goes, the more heroic wartime past of France seems to Frenchmen.