In my line of work there’s a great value placed on collaboration. Resistance to change, even change that seems threatening, is seen as negative, as something to be overcome.
But here in France the terms are loaded differently, as I was reminded today when I visited La Musee de la Resistance Bretonne.
It’s located near the little town of Malestroit just twenty minutes from me. The town itself is lovely, with the usual medieval place avec eglise. The shops are a cut above. There was Breton music being played live in the square as I passed by.
But the big attraction is la musee, in the hamlet of St. Marcel outside Malestroit. It is very well done and has English translation unlike most French attractions. I got to ride in an armoured car my sons would have loved when they were younger.
I’ve studied military history, so of course I knew the basics, but here I heard the people of the town telling their story. This was the heart of the resistance in Brittany during World War II, and France’s fourth largest marquis was based here. It was a major link in the Free French supply chain and part of the Overlord offensive. On the days just preceding the landing at Normandy they received 100 to 200 parachuted packages a night and over 2,000 French supporters gathered there to support the landing forces. When the Germans found them there was a mighty battle in which the Germans lost 500 men and the French forty. Then the resistance fighters vanished in the night, destroying the base behind them. In rage the Germans burnt the whole town and began a bloody hunt and massacre of those they suspected of involvement.
There are many film clippings from the time and thoughtful commentary about the German invasion and occupation, the choices made to capitulate, collaborate and resist. I know to those who fought and died, the idea of collaboration with the enemy seemed a traitorous choice. But it came to my mind that the French are a feminine people with feminine values and collaboration is a feminine pattern in times of conflict. When men go to war the women are left to keep the society together, making the best of things until their men return, or making love to the enemy when that’s what it takes to stay alive and preserve what can be preserved for the children. So I suspend my judgements and try to listen and understand as well as I can.
Three morals in this story:
1. The moral of a story depends on your point of view.
2. When push comes to shove, we fight for what we most value.
3. Even a peaceloving woman like me can get excited when there is a 4,500 kg 88 mm Canon Antichars Pak 43, capable of penetrating 215 mm de blindage @ 1,000 meters, and known to destroy 33 Sherman tanks in less than 2 minutes, in my hand.
Yours with creativity and imagination,