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Memory at the front: the struggle over revolutionary commemoration in occupied France, 1940-1944.

The period of Occupied France presents a striking example of the failure of memory studies thus far to penetrate certain essential questions in French historiography. Despite its paramount importance, the memory of the French Revolution during the Occupation years has received little serious examination. This article argues that the central revolutionary commemoration of le 14 juillet assumed a critical role during the Occupation. Le 14 juillet was the occasion when Vichy, the collaborationists and the Resistance each chose to glorify, qualify or condemn the Revolution. Their respective selected symbols, words, and ceremonies projected narratives of the proper French past and visions for the postwar future that competed for legitimacy. Each year, this anniversary also served to gauge the French public's response to the conflicting manipulations of the Revolution's memory, thereby becoming a vital testing ground for the political direction of the nation. Ultimately, the evolution of the holiday's meaning during the Occupation period had consequences that reached well into the post-war era.

Keywords: le 14 juillet, collaboration, French Revolution, Occupied France, Resistance, Vichy


The years of the German Occupation and the Vichy regime marked a critical juncture in the history of the memory of the French Revolution in France. Ever since the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the Revolution's memory has occupied a place of seminal importance in French political culture. In the on-going struggle over the meaning of the Revolution, the Occupation period proved to be the climactic and decisive moment of the twentieth century. Amidst the economic and political crises of the 1930s, the republican consensus had withered, and the memory of the Revolution had become highly politicized. At the fall of France in 1940, many of the leading figures and groups of the anti-revolutionary extreme right assumed positions of power and prominence, and the legacy of the French Revolution found itself critically threatened. During the four years that followed, increasingly clear choices of national memory presented themselves to the French people. Almost immediately, the new regime called for a 'return to the soil', encouraged a renewed interest in pre-revolutionary regional and provincial identities, and promoted much closer church-state relations than the republic had ever known. These and other efforts underscored Vichy's decision to anchor its cultural identity in a nostalgic view of old France and its values, treating the Revolution as an unfortunate, finite episode, whose legacy demanded drastic revision. The Resistance, meanwhile, increasingly found that wartime circumstances offered an uncanny opportunity to give the memory of the Revolution a new dynamism that it had failed to carry under the Third Republic. Resisters turned to the celebration of revolutionary figures, values and events as a daily weapon against fascism, a means of attaining legitimacy, and a model for the new revolutionary society that they hoped to found in post-war France.

In this article, I hope to offer a perspective on the Occupation years rarely seen in the recent historiography. Historians of Occupied France have most often argued that the period was characterized by great rupture, continuity or a combination thereof. (1) To the extent that some historians have treated the conflicts of the Occupation years as central, they have largely concentrated on only military battles. (2) Meanwhile, a significant scholarship has emerged on the memory of the Occupation in the post-war period, while the vital role played by various strands of French national memory, in particular those of the French Revolution, during the events of the Second World War, has remained largely unexamined. (3) Ultimately, as we shall see, the years of 1940-44 saw a series of military, political and cultural reckonings with the French past, present and future, that changed for ever how the French people saw their Revolution, their country, and themselves.

I have chosen to focus on the central revolutionary commemoration of le 14 juillet as a crucial site of contestation, while placing its role in the context of the larger memory struggles of the period. (4) Le 14 juillet commemorated both the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the Fete de la Federation of 1790. Revolutionaries regarded the storming of the Bastille as the touchstone moment when the chains of absolutist tyranny were broken; for counter-revolutionaries, however, this event stood as a frightening case of mob violence, the moment when the Revolution had first gone horribly wrong. The Fete de la Federation that took place on 14 July of the following year was a festival organized around the theme of national unity between the king, the National Assembly and the people. The revolutionaries' choice of 14 July for this occasion etched the day in the minds of the French as a dual revolutionary symbol of both liberty and unity, and offered an alternative meaning for a date whose original symbolism counterrevolutionaries found so unsettling. In 1940, even after sixty years as the official fete nationale of the Third Republic, le 14 juillet remained a highly contested site of French national memory.

Corresponding to their larger treatments of the Revolution and French history, Vichy, the Resistance and various collaborationists assigned very different meanings to the day during the Occupation years. For Vichy, it remained a national holiday more by political necessity than by choice. Accordingly, from 1940 to 1942, the new regime transformed le 14 juillet from a celebration of republicanism and liberty into a solemn day for France's war dead. Many of the collaborationists showed more overt hostility, seizing the occasion to harshly demonize and caricature the Revolution, its ideals and its allies. Le 14 juillet of 1942, when Vichy made its last full-scale attempt to utilize the fete nationale to promote its version of 'true French' patriotism, proved to be one of the turning points of the war. Rather than heed the instructions to remain silent that emanated from the government, huge numbers of French people responded to appeals from the Resistance and demonstrated in the streets in celebration of the revolutionary anniversary. For the duration of the war, Resistance leaders continued to fashion le 14 juillet into a unifying representation of the battle for French liberty. They also appropriated the holiday to lay claim to the mantle of 'true French' patriotism and thereby to secure cultural legitimacy in the eyes of the French people (Dunlop, 2002: 26-9).

In 1940, le 14 juillet, falling less than a month after the armistice with Germany and only a few days after Marshal Philippe Petain received full and unprecedented powers as head of state, was observed in an atmosphere of utter chaos and confusion. Nonetheless, the Vichy government moved decisively to break with the visible and grandiose celebrations that had typified the day's observance under the Third Republic. While the new government maintained the date as a national holiday, repeated notices written by Vichy officials and published in the authorized press during the days approaching the anniversary made clear that it was now to be 'a day of mourning'. On the morning of 14 July 1940, Marshal Petain took part in a ceremony at the 'Monument to the Dead', and then in a religious service in the church of Saint Louis, both in the town of Vichy. These observances appeared to be crafted to make the occasion as similar as possible to 11 November, when the French had long honoured their fallen soldiers from World War I. As a great hero of that war, Marshal Petain lent tremendous historical credibility and personal prestige to this shift in meaning. Indeed, the press took pains to highlight the centrality and stature of the figure of Petain during each portion of the day's events. Le Petit Parisien, the most popular French daily of the Occupation years, dramatically recounted the Marshal's entrance at the commemorative ceremony: 'The victor of Verdun advanced on foot, in uniform, and as he walked the crowd swelled with a great chorus of acclaim. He marched alone, preceded by two ushers of the presidency' (Le Petit Parisien, 1940a). (5) Shortly before the service began inside the church of Saint Louis, Petain himself stepped up to the altar accompanied by the playing of the organ. Le Petit Parisien exclaimed that, 'thanks to the presence and participation of the chief of the French state, this service will leave a profound mark in the memory of those who had the privilege to take part' (Le Petit Parisien, 1940b).

These observances, which also took place with similar press treatment in 1941 and 1942, constituted a complete transformation of le 14 juillet and all that it represented in its official capacity. In addition to underscoring the resemblance to World War I Victory Day, the figure of Marshal Petain as the sacred centre of the ceremony forcibly overturned the tradition of the republican holiday long exemplified by le 14 juillet. (6) The revolutionary Constitution of 1791 had specified that national holidays should have no single leader, but rather the abstract sovereign nation, at their symbolic centre. Vichy's observances unmistakably harked back to an earlier time: that of the royal holiday of the ancien regime, when spectators excitedly regarded the king's entrance as the climactic moment of the ceremony (Sanson, 1976: 9-10). Such symbolism corresponded with the many roles that the Marshal appeared to play in the immediate aftermath of the fall of France. All at once, Petain represented a feudal lord, an imperial ruler (he was even occasionally called Philippe I), a Christ-like figure sacrificing himself for France, and, akin to King Henry IV, a father to the French through all of his efforts to relieve suffering among his people (Gildea, 1994: 25). Meanwhile, as prefects and bishops mingled at ceremonies and services like these all across France, the prominent role of the Catholic Church in Vichy's observances of le 14 juillet also marked a striking return to the older prerevolutionary tradition. The visible presence of clerics, emblematic of the church's warm relationship with Vichy, represented the symbolic triumph of the ideal of Catholic France over the secular revolutionary values that had previously been championed on le 14 juillet.

Other factors made the contrast with the Third Republic's observance of le 14 juillet all the more palpable. From 1941 onward, the government messages preceding the fete nationale, always posted in the authorized press, became much more stern, explicitly stating that there should be no demonstrations or rejoicing of any kind. The silence of Marshal Petain on le 14 juillet was also conspicuous. It sharply contrasted with the practice of the leading officials of the Third Republic, who invariably seized on le 14 juillet as an opportunity to expound the ideals of the Revolution and the Republic, and to draw connections between 1789 and the present. The sole exception came in 1941, when Petain issued a statement that was startlingly brief and only connected in the vaguest sense to French history. His proclamation, printed in nearly every newspaper of the authorized press, began:
   My compatriots, the day of the 14th, which the nation and the
   army long ago made their holiday, will remain a holiday this year.
   I decided this for the Unoccupied Zone; I have asked the German
   authorities to apply the holiday also in the Occupied Zone.

With these opening words, P6tain acknowledged that he felt politically obligated to maintain this holiday for which he had no fondness. He continued by calling the French to their duty to understand the appropriate meaning and observe the new mood of the day, as he declared:
   By thinking of our dead, of our prisoners, of our ruins, of our
   hopes, you will make this holiday a day of sadness and of
   meditation. Your reflection will be troubled neither by agitations
   from the street, nor by distractions from spectacles. I state to
   you again, my compatriots, my faith in the unity of the nation and
   in the future of the fatherland. (Le Petit Parisien, 1941)

In suggesting that obeying the inviolable orders of the paternal state and mourning their war dead would make the French better citizens, Petain further underscored the contrast in values between Vichy and the revolutionary and republican heritage.

Petain's words here, whose sentiments found strong echo in the mainstream press coverage of le 14 juillet from 1940 to 1942, reflected an effort of the Vichy government to tie the day's observances to the larger themes of la Revolution nationale. This programme called for a new kind of national regeneration, based in short on replacing the revolutionary and republican values of liberte, egalite; and fraternite with the worthier ideals of travail, famille and pattie. On le 14 juillet, by sacrificing themselves for the nation, as the Marshal was, by remaining stoic but hopeful, the French would move further along the long and difficult path needed to usher in a better era for France. In 1942, Vichy even went so far as to create a 'National Revolution Week' to coincide with and upstage the observances around le 14 juillet (Gildea, 1994: 25). After 1942 and the full German Occupation in November of that year, it is almost certain that the Nazis forbade Vichy to observe le 14 juillet, out of their suspicion of revolutionary or nationalist symbols. In an effort to avoid public unrest, however, the German authorities still maintained 14 July as a day free from work. (7)

The strongly negative treatment of le 14 juillet by Vichy officials and the organs of the mainstream authorized press appeared moderate when set alongside that of the French national socialists, traditionalists and counter-revolutionaries who constituted many of the leading collaborationist forces. The latter may be loosely defined as those individuals and organizations which actively supported Vichy or, more often, the Nazis, and which sought positions of official authority or decisive influence. Although even the most prominent collaborationists generally remained excluded from the government, they wielded significant power through their political movements and/or presses. In general, and most strongly in the years 1941-3, the organs of the leading collaborationists condemned le 14 juillet and, by extension, the Revolution and its leading actors, in vitriolic terms. Charles Maurras' longstanding neo-monarchist daily L'Action francaise, for example, harshly condemned Vichy for even its very limited observances of the day (L'Action francaise, 1941). In 1943, L'Emancipation nationale, the weekly publication of Jacques Doriot's Parti populaire francais, ran an extensive story recounting the storming of the Bastille as the horror-filled episode that began the Revolution (L'Emancipation nationale, 1943). Robert Brasillach's weekly, Je suis partout, a newspaper whose circulation remained above 300,000 throughout the war, perhaps went the furthest in this regard (Bellanger et al., 1975: 51). From 1941 to 1943, its writers repeatedly contended that 13 July, the day when Charlotte Corday stabbed Jean-Paul Marat to death in his bathtub, would be a far more appropriate occasion for the fete nationale than 14 July (Je suis partout, 1941; 1942; 1943a). In keeping with its typically anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic tone, Je suis partout also ran a story for the occasion in 1943 entitled, 'Down with le 14 juillet, Festival of the Masonic and Jewish Republic!' (Je suis partout, 1943b). These samplings from the collaborationist press underscore the manner in which many collaborationists went a step further than Vichy in their treatment of le 14 juillet. By bitterly and unequivocally rejecting the Revolution and its legacy, they sought to completely reinvent French national heritage. (8)

If Vichy's observances of le 14 juillet became less visible over the course of the war, the exact opposite occurred on the part of the Resistance, whose forces mobilized an ever-increasing effort around the day with each passing year. At the time of le 14 juillet in 1940, the Resistance was tiny and unorganized. Yet the beginnings of a movement made what they could of the opportunity afforded by the occasion. Charles de Gaulle and his nascent Free French organization in London provided most of the day's activity and rhetoric. The general highlighted the observances in the British capital with a reviewing of the first troops of the Free French forces (L'Association du musee de la Resistance nationale, 1989: 9). (9) More significantly, his organization dropped a pamphlet entitled 'Le 14 juillet: liberte, egalite, fraternite' into France by plane, and he spoke to the French over the BBC on the eve of the holiday. Both his pamphlet and his speech appealed to the French people to use the occasion to renew their hope and their faith in ultimate victory, despite the current circumstances of extreme sadness (Ihl, 1996: 374; de Gaulle, 1970: 16). Meanwhile, in Paris, disregarding the government's prohibition against demonstrations, small groups went to the Arc de Triomphe or the place de la Bastille, some of them carrying tricolour flags (Sanson, 1976: 128). Even amidst the traumatic chaos of the summer of 1940, the Resistance found the very symbolic and political power in le 14 juillet that it would evoke repeatedly throughout the war. The actions of a few individuals and the words and ceremonies emanating from Free France, though representing a tiny minority, already constituted a direct and bold challenge to the legitimacy of Vichy. Implicit was the rejection of Vichy's state ceremonies of sadness and reflection and, by extension, the version of French history and national identity in which such ceremonies played a critical part. Furthermore, de Gaulle immediately found le 14 juillet to be the perfect occasion to put himself forward more forcefully as the true leader of France.

Each year thereafter, le 14 juillet stood as a crucial opportunity for the opposing forces of Vichy and the Resistance to attempt to culturally engage the French people and to then measure their response as a reflection of popular opinion. In 1941, the Resistance carried out its observances with greater publicity, saw the participation of more Frenchmen, and garnered greater notice than it had the year before. The Free French broadcast over the BBC recalled the historical significance of the tricolour flag and called upon the French to make its colours appear everywhere possible on le 14 juillet (Sentis, 1989-90: 1634). Contemporary observers noted that many Parisians, representing diverse socio-economic backgrounds and political persuasions, responded by publicly wearing red, white and blue on their clothing, attempting to indeed make le 14 juillet again 'the fete of the tricolore' (Sanson, 1976: 132). The Communists, meanwhile, having only joined the Resistance following Hitler's Soviet invasion in June 1941, took the opportunity to utilize le 14 juillet to repair their image by demonstrating their own devotion to French national heritage. Their underground daily, L'Humanite, evoked the imagery of a new Bastille to describe the fascist enemy and to implore the French to resist (L'Humanite, 1941a). Communist guerrilla forces responded by carrying out violent attacks against the enemy. In one of their more notable operations on the 14th, the Communist guerrilla organization, the Franc-tireurs et partisans francais (FTPF), blew up the electric generators at several factories that produced war goods for Germany (Sentis, 1989-90: 1635).

In their respective statements and actions surrounding le 14 juillet 1941, the Free French and the Communists illustrated the on-going selectivity of each subgroup of the Resistance in its revolutionary appropriation. Yet all resisters shared the hope of harnessing the revolutionary heritage to combat Vichy's dismissive portrayal of their movement as a tiny, unrepresentative and unpatriotic group of bandits. By 1941 they had seized the fete nationale as the prime occasion to revitalize revolutionary memory as a central piece of true French culture, and to thereby claim their own legitimacy over that of Vichy (Dunlop, 2002: 26-7). In its account of the holiday, L'Humanite evoked the cultural opposition that the Resistance sought to create in the minds of the French people: 'Petain and his clique would have wanted a 14 juillet of despair and submission; instead we had a 14 juillet of anger and preparation for combat. We had a 14 juillet of France' (L'Humanite, 1941b).

Le 14 juillet of 1942 marked a crucial turning point of the war, both in the force and presence of revolutionary memory, and in the strength and legitimacy of the Resistance. During the winter of 1942 rationing became more severe, and the living conditions of the French people worsened. On 22 June 1942, Pierre Laval, head of the French government, delivered a nationally broadcast address in which he appealed to the nation for greater collaboration with the Germans and expressed his hope that Germany would win the war. He also announced the upcoming institution of the 'releve'. The releve was an exchange system by which, for every three conscripted French workers sent to Germany to help produce German war goods, one French prisoner of war would be permitted to return to France. With Vichy's popularity precipitously declining under these circumstances, de Gaulle and each of the major Resistance movements sought to exploit the opportunity, calling upon the French to rally in the streets in defiance on le 14 juillet. During the days preceding the occasion, the Free French took to the air on the BBC; in the early morning hours of the holiday, they dropped a Free France tract into France. Both the radio messages and the pamphlet passionately exhorted the French:
   Le 14 juillet offers you all the opportunity to demonstrate your
   sentiments and prove that your will can still be accomplished. It
   is the festival of the fatherland, it is the festival of freedom.
   You will celebrate it with more fervour than ever, at the hour when
   the fatherland has been sold out and freedom trampled upon.

Detailed instructions for observance of the day followed, with the appeal concluding, 'To demonstrate on le 14 juillet is a national duty. May the French people rise to its full power on this anniversary of its first victory. Long live the Republic! Long live France!' (Sanson, 1976: 133-4; Lusebrink and Reichardt, 1997: 236-7). (10) Every major movement of the Resistance featured similar appeals in its underground press and tracts.

Across the Unoccupied Zone, huge numbers of French men and women responded to these calls with the war's first great outpouring of passionate public demonstrations. Following the precise instructions of Resistance leaders, they gathered in their town centres, often choosing a revolutionary or republican monument as the site of their celebration. Five thousand people turned out in Clermont; 30,000 in Toulouse; 100,000 in Lyon (Sanson, 1976: 136-7; Ihl, 1996: 372-3). The size of these crowds dwarfed the 500 people who attended the state observance of le 14 juillet that year in the town of Vichy (Sanson, 1976: 137). The resisters also showed their fervour for the Resistance and revolutionary values by chanting or singing, in some cases for hours, in spite of the presence of French police. Throughout the Occupied Zone, resisters committed armed acts of defiance. Members of the Communist FTPF derailed several trains carrying material to the German forces and sabotaged some factories (Sanson, 1976: 137). The contrast in popular engagement between the observances of the Resistance forces and those of Vichy signalled a critical shift in public perception. It marked the success of the resisters' efforts to utilize the revolutionary commemoration to wrest cultural legitimacy from the new regime.

From 1940 to 1942, the Resistance leadership used le 14 juillet to draw motivation for their own movement from the revolutionaries, but they essentially stopped there, worshipping their predecessors from afar. This changed notably in 1943, as the observances of le 14 juillet carried a new sense of applying the memory of the revolutionaries, their ideals and their actions to the present situation in France. Rather than point to the Revolution in vague terms for inspiration, Resistance spokespersons, journals and tracts directly compared the stakes of the current battle to those of the revolutionary conflicts. Furthermore, as victory appeared more attainable, they began to articulate a vision for a post-war French society that would draw upon, but also expand, the original revolutionary principles (Douzou, 1989-90: 1656-7). Perhaps most dramatically, the Communist resisters in particular evoked the boldness and violence of the first revolutionaries as they used the occasion to ratchet up their preparations for insurrection. Just as their ancestors had needed violence to create a society based on the ideals of freedom, they argued, the French had to fight now for the opportunity to remake the world in the war's aftermath. By 1943, Resistance leaders had decided that the ultimate armed uprising could only come when the Allies landed in France, but that other acts of violent defiance must still be carried out in the interim as training for this outpouring.

The Communist underground L'Humanite ran announcements and pleas for action for nearly a month prior to le 14 juillet of 1943. Party leader Jacques Duclos brought these exhortations to a fever pitch with his piece of 1 July. He articulated the multi-pronged sense of application that the resisters now brought to the appropriation of le 14 juillet and the Revolution's memory. He implored the French:
   Let us not forget that political wisdom and clairvoyance reside not
   in passivity and waiting but in action and we are able to say with
   Saint-Just, 'Let's dare! This word contains all politics of this
   hour.' To dare to fight now is indispensable in order to prepare the
   national insurrection which is inseparable from the national
   liberation; to dare to fight now is to make our victory certain for
   tomorrow, it is to prepare for France a new Liberty, Independence
   and grandeur. (Duclos, 1943)

In addition to large demonstrations, 1943 saw the most powerful armed tribute yet to the fete nationale from the Communist guerrilla units. An FTPF communique proudly summarized a portion of the damage done: 'In the Northern Zone, from 10 to 14 July, 11 derailments, 24 locomotives and 200 wagons destroyed ... 10 attacks on enemy formations or barracks, 173 dead and wounded Boches [Germans]' (Sentis, 1989-90: 1635).

The Resistance thus made le 14 juillet of 1943 a decisive moment around which the movement began to envision explicitly the application of the Revolution to the current war effort and the new France of the future. By le 14 juillet of 1944, the immediate pressure and combat of the day-to-day military battle for France rendered the present all-absorbing. The national holiday, occurring as it did amidst the Allied liberation of the country, became the focal point for many calls to take up the long-awaited, ultimate armed insurrection. The Conseil national de la Resistance (CNR) issued the most significant and widely publicized of these appeals, employing language that crackled with a sense of urgency and revolution, and that sought motivation in the original revolutionary moment:
   May le 14 juillet signal for all of France the intensification
   of the battle ... May the boldness of our ancestors in the great
   days of our history inspire us again. May the uprising of the
   people of Paris against the Bastille on le 14 juillet, 1789, may
   the spirit of Valmy and the inspiration of the Marseillaise rouse
   the nation once more. (Sentis, 1989-90: 1635)

Much of the clandestine press reprinted the CNR proclamation in its entirety. The Communist press and propaganda leaflets in particular sounded their own clarion calls. Carrying out acts of defiance that ranged from strikes to mass gatherings, the French people responded in large numbers and with tremendous force. So overwhelming was the observance of le 14 juillet in 1944 that one historian argues that this day became, far more than the somewhat lacklustre observances of 1939 had ever been, the true 150th anniversary celebration of the Revolution (Guillon, 1988: 243).

Le 14 juillet took on several critical roles in the internal struggles that plagued France under the Occupation. First, every year the treatment of this anniversary sharpened the political divisions between Vichy, the collaborationists and the Resistance. Second, on le 14 juillet, each of these political forces chose to glorify, qualify or condemn the French Revolution. In the process, their respective selected symbols, words, ceremonies and silences surrounding the day projected competing narratives of the French past and contending visions for the post-war future. Finally, by gauging the French public's response to the various conflicting manipulations of revolutionary memory, le 14 juillet became a vital occasion for measuring the political direction of the nation. Forced to observe the holiday, but unable to adapt its significance to its own vision for France, Vichy ultimately saw its commemorations of the fete nationale suffer from the same sterility and flatness that plagued the regime's larger view of French history. Conversely, the Resistance made the occasion central to its construction of a revolutionary past that appeared both fresh and applicable. The large numbers of French people who turned out to the resisters' observances of le 14 juillet 1942 signalled a turning of the tide in the on-going contest for cultural legitimacy waged by Vichy and Resistance forces.

The role of le 14 juillet and the memory of the Revolution in Occupied France proved to have a series of enduring legacies. The liberation of Paris and much of France by the autumn of 1944 did little to sever the connection that the Resistance had created with the Revolution. In December 1944, the Comite departemental de liberation called for a meeting of the 'Estates General of the French Renaissance' the following 14 July. This gathering would bring together all of the major Resistance movements to craft a programme for post-war France. The conspicuous choice of the name of the body that had begun the Revolution in 1789 indicated that the victors of the Resistance claimed to be creating a second French Revolution. Meanwhile, the official celebration of the Allied victory and the liberation of France also occurred over three days and nights of enthusiastic and spectacular festivities on 14-16 July 1945.

From 1946 onward, the observance of the fete nationale took on a new and different character. With the exception of the bicentennial celebrations of 1989, never again would the occasion provoke the same contestation or the outpouring of excitement that it had witnessed in the years 1940-5, or even under the Third Republic (Sanson, 1976: 141-4). Whereas before and during the war the Revolution of 1789 had been the reference par excellence of the ideals of revolution and liberty, the events of the Occupation years had permanently altered its role in the French collective memory (Andrieu, 1995: 917-18). Numerous active resisters and many more witnesses to acts of resistance survived the Occupation years. Their on-going presence meant that the Resistance, in contrast to the Revolution, represented a memory that could be recalled in the context of a living social network. This experiential component pointed up a distinction between the Resistance as a vibrant milieu de memoire and the Revolution as a more distant lieu de memoire. (11) At the same time, the Revolution continued to serve the Resistance as what Ann Rigney has recently termed a 'model of memorability' (Rigney, 2005). (12) Through its intertwined military, political and memory triumphs, the Resistance had forged an everlasting link to the Revolution in the French public imagination. In the process of superimposing the struggle of the original revolutionaries upon its own experience and identity, the Resistance had positioned itself to become the favoured commemorative reference of liberty and revolution for many of the French people in the post-war era. In short, World War II had become the new foundational event in the French collective memory.

The post-war relationship between the Revolution and the Resistance, however, was not so simple. It involved a mutual exchange of credibility, by which the Revolution also renewed itself through its association with the Resistance. In his 1978 classic, Penser la Revolution francaise, Francois Furet famously declared the Revolution to be finally 'finished'. He acknowledged that French national memory had only gathered final consensus around the revolutionary values following the Second World War and the defeat of fascism, yet he neglected to explain the role of the successful appropriation of the Revolution's memory by the Resistance (Furet, 1978: 17). Vichy's defeat and loss of cultural legitimacy left the anti-revolutionary tradition covered in shame. At the same time, the triumph of the Resistance elevated the revolutionary tradition and values to a new plane of national unity. In the aftermath of de Gaulle's role as chief spokesman of the Resistance, his tenure as president of France from 1958 to 1969 helped to solidify the newfound status of the Revolution as a positive political reference appropriated by both left and right (Andrieu, 1995: 918). Rather than continuing to politicize the Revolution as a part of the imagined French past, political parties and figures began to vie for the right to complete the revolutionary ideals in the imagined French future (Furet, 1978: 17). In order to stake this claim, political forces often attached themselves to the Resistance, or demonized their opponents by invoking the memory of Vichy. This process of national memory relocation helped to create a powerful post-war myth. According to this myth, the resistance of the French people during the war had been almost universal, and formed one more chapter in a seamlessly connected history of great revolutionary and republican traditions.


I would like to thank the following individuals and institutions for their invaluable assistance at various stages of the writing of this essay. At Amherst College, my undergraduate thesis adviser Catherine Epstein shepherded the much larger work from which this is drawn through to completion, while David Blight and Nasser Hussain served as diligent and thoughtful readers on my committee. I also appreciate the willingness of the Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies at Florida State University to invite me to give an earlier version of this article at their conference, 'Cultural Memory in France: Margins and Centres', in autumn 2003. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Laird Boswell, Suzanne Desan, Rudy Koshar and Lou Roberts read earlier drafts of the article and provided extremely helpful suggestions.


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Ihl, Olivier (1996) La Fete republicaine. Paris: Gallimard.

Je suis partout (1941) 'Quatorze juillet', 14 July.

Je suis partout (1942) 'Charlotte Corday et sa passion: Il fallait ce1ebrer le treize juillet', 17 July.

Je suis partout (1943a) 'Un portrait inedit de Charlotte Corday', 9 July.

Je suis partout (1943b) 'A basle 14 Juillet, fete de la Republique maconnique et juive', 9 July.

Kedward, H.R. (1993) In Search of the Maquis: Rural Resistance in Southern France. New York: Oxford University Press.

Laborie, Pierre (1990) L'Opinion francaise sous Vichy. Paris: Seuil.

Lusebrink, Hans-Jurgen and Reichardt, Rolf (1997) The Bastille: A History of A Symbol of Despotism and Freedom, trans. Norbert Schurer. London: Duke University Press.

Paxton, Robert (1972) Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order. New York: Knopf.

Le Petit Parisien (1940a) '14 juillet de recueillement: a Vichy, le marechal Petain a assiste a un emouvant defile militaire', 15 July.

Le Petit Parisien (1940b) '14 juillet de recueillement: la ceremonie religieuse', 15 July.

Le Petit Parisien (1941) 'Un message du marechal Petain a l'occasion du 14 juillet', 13 July.

Rigney, Ann (2005) 'Plentitude, scarcity and the circulation of cultural memory', Journal of European Studies 35(1): 11-28.

Rousso, Henry (1990) Le Syndrome de Vichy: de 1944 a nos jours. Paris: Seuil.

Sanson, Rosemonde (1976) Les 14 juillet, fete et conscience nationale, 1789-1975. Paris: Flammarion.

Sentis, Georges (1989-90) 'La Revolution francaise, une des sources de la Resistance', in Michel Vovelle (ed.), L'Image de la Revolution francaise, vol. 3, pp. 1633-42. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Sweets, John (1986) Choices in Vichy France: The French Under Nazi Occupation. New York: Oxford University Press.


University of Wisconsin-Madison


(1.) Particularly notable works of this type are those of Paxton (1972) and Laborie (1990).

(2.) Two notable examples of this are the work of Kedward (1993) and Sweets (1986).

(3.) The pioneering work of Rousso (1990) remains the most significant and comprehensive on the subject.

(4.) I have utilized a collection of sources that allow me to speak to both le 14 juillet specifically and revolutionary memory more generally. I have relied heavily upon the treatment of le 14 juillet and other revolutionary anniversaries and subjects in a total of fifteen newspapers that span the political spectrum of both the authorized and the underground press. I also have closely examined the presence of revolutionary references in the tracts of most of the major resistance movements, and in the published speeches and writings of many of the leading political figures of the Occupation years.

(5.) Unless otherwise indicated, all translations from French are my own.

(6.) I have drawn my idea of Petain as the 'sacred centre' from Lynn Hunt's notion of the sacred centrality of the king and the king's body in ancien regime France (Hunt, 1992: 1-52, 193-204).

(7.) This point remains somewhat unclear. Without offering substantiating evidence beyond the appearance of the holiday in the Almanac Hachette of 1943, Bertram Gordon says that 'in 1943, the fete nationale continued to be celebrated'. But all other indications are to the contrary. In The Almanac of the Call of Union, a German publication distributed to French prisoners of war, it was omitted from a list of holidays that included the Festival of Joan of Arc and the birthdays of Marshal Petain and Adolf Hitler (Gordon, 1989-90: 1666). Newspaper postings regarding the holiday during 1943-4 typically spoke of it as a day of 'neither rejoicing nor any ceremony'. See, for example, La Croix (1943). Furthermore, Rosemonde Sanson states in her description of 14 July 1942 at Vichy that 'Petain ... for the last time, had presided over a ceremony of remembrance' (Sanson, 1976: 137).

(8.) This overall characterization of the collaborationist press must be qualified by mentioning leading collaborationist Marcel Deat, who edited a very popular Parisian daily, L'Oeuvre, and who trumpeted the Jacobins as the great models of bold, revolutionary transformation and revolutionary state violence and control, for both the Nazis and the National Revolution that he hoped to carry out. Deat (1944) offers his clearest articulation of these ideas.

(9.) No numbers on pages in referenced work; page numbers counted by the author.

(10.) Emphasis in Sanson; it is unclear if the emphasis is Sanson's or in the original text. Here I have borrowed in part from the translation of Lusebrink and Reichardt (1997).

(11.) A notion posited by Maurice Halbwachs, the milieu de memoire represents the living environment of memory, that is the familiar social network and surroundings that naturally elicit and maintain the spontaneous memories of individuals; Pierre Nora's idea of the lieu de memoire denotes, in contrast, a monument, document, event or other 'site' of memory to which symbolism becomes attached and which is maintained only through a very conscious effort of construction and commemoration.

(12.) Rigney uses the term 'models of memorability' to articulate the way that one act of remembrance can stimulate other acts of remembrance in a subsequent situation, so that a single language or narrative frame can be used again and again.

Ethan Katz is a George L. Mosse Distinguished Graduate Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Address: 62 Lakewood Gardens Ln., Madison, WI 53704, USA [email:]
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Author:Katz, Ethan
Publication:Journal of European Studies
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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