Living in style

The boys in Propaganda Company 612 sure knew how to live in style when not driving around in the French countryside, writing stories about the victorious campaign for German newspapers and magazines. This chateau somewhere outside the small seaside town of Yport on the Channel coast became their billet in the summer of 1940. The owners were probably living in a few rooms in one of the wings, while the rest of the castle was occupied by the Germans. A year later, they were part of the 9th Army during Operation Barbarossa, writing new stories about the successes against the Red Army. I imagine that as the war progressed and the tide of war turned against the Germans, it became increasingly harder to put a positive spin on their stories.

The occupation was experienced in different ways depending on where you lived and your social class. The cities and bigger towns saw a lot Germans compared to the countryside. In 1942-43, the occupying force was about 100,000 soldiers, many of them older reservists as a lot of manpower was needed on the Eastern Front. Of those, some 40,000 were stationed in Paris. France was also a place where worn-down units were sent to rest and refit, training new recruits and preparing to return to the inferno back east. For Frenchmen in the cities, the German presence was more apparent, and rationing made life hard. People in the countryside, on the other hand, could go for weeks without seeing a single German, and being close to sources of food production (and the thriving black market) made it easier to deal with the food rationing.

A small percentage was active in the resistance, and fully-blown collaborators weren’t that common, either. Most people tried to get by without having to deal with the Germans, but it was inevitable that some contact took place. Those who had to house German soldiers probably felt resentment, but seeing the same people every day led to familiarity, at least. It was more common for working-class women to strike up relationships with German soldiers, some driven by need (many French men were prioners of war in Germany), others by opportunism, and some by genuine love. When the Germans were forced out of France in 1944, many of those women became the target of self-righteous wrath, and not seldom abused by people who themselves had kept a low profile for four years, or even profited from the occupation.

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