CFP: Foreigners in the French Resistance – modalities, impacts and construction of the memory of the involvement

17.11.2017 Add to calendar

22.-23.06.2018, Geneva
Deadline: 17.11.2017

Many thousands of foreigners participated in the liberation of France, a country that was not theirs. Starting in June 1940, under the flag of General De Gaule, foreign resistance groups were formed in London, the Middle East, and North Africa. In France, the resistance relied on existing immigrants, and illegal immigrants from bordering regions, about 200 of which were from Switzerland.

At the time of liberation, a wave of nationalism buoyed by the success of the French resistance, is the foundation of a memory that leaves no room for the contributions of foreign or foreign-born peoples. Following the liberation, the reconstruction of the identity of the country was based essentially on nationalism or national identity, and the beginning of the cold war further drew attention away from the subject. A historiographical perspective has allowed history to focus on the contribution of Spanish, Italian, German participants in the resistance, further glossing over the efforts made by other foreign people. Little attention is given to the analysis of the contribution of outside participants coming from neutral countries. The engagement of the Swiss people during the resistance has not been thoroughly analyzed, and this contribution receives little mention in books or periodicals.

The Swiss case is also of interest from both a national and transnational perspective. The Swiss citizens who participated in the French resistance were motivated not by ideological concerns, to fight against nazism, or for values such as liberty, democracy and human rights. Their motivations are more prosaic : legal or familial issues, feeling marginalized, or searching for camaraderie among the ranks of the resistance fighters. Through this lens we can see that participation in the French resistance was an outlet for those who could not find their place in Swiss society of that time.

During that turbulent period of time the Swiss authorities were focused on using glorification of the military as a strategy to maintain unity. Then, whenever the are back home, after combatting more or less long time, a lot where juged by the swiss military authorities for serving in a forein army. Many participants faced harsh judgement for having served in a foreign military, with no distinction being made between those who served for different lengths of time. Condemned at the end of the war, they and their contribution may be forgotten. As a result of this history, and though historians have often revisited the subject of the movements and workings of the Swiss population during World War II, the engagement of Swiss people in the French Resistance is an important story that is still not well known and poorly studied.

Although they do not tell the whole story of Swiss involvement in World War II, their existence naturally leads to further questions such as what were the socio-economic characteristics of these resistance fighters, and what reasons motivated them to leave Switzerland in order to participate.

We can then ask the following questions : how significant is it that Swiss participants may not have been motivated by the larger aspirations of the French Resistance ? Did the romantic aspirations of the French Resistance have an effect on which or how many Swiss fighters participated ? Did these motivations play any role in determining the narrative about the French Resistance in the post-war period ? In what ways was the Swiss experiences of French Resistance fighters different from the French ?

The objective of this seminar is to examine the different reasons for participation in the resistance, and to compare experiences using the social and economic contexts, and to examine how these different social and economic contexts shaped the subsequent discussion. By using comparing both French and Swiss contexts, we can leverage the transnational dimension to examine the differences and convergences in the story of the French Resistance, which will contribute to the overall understanding of this subject. This analysis should help to enrich the material on the multinational participation in the French Resistance, and also the development of the narrative of the French Resistance and how it continued even during the post-war period.

Event organizer: 
Université de Genève, Prof. Irène Herrmann, Dr. Peter Huber, PhD. student Marie-Laure Graf
Irène Herrmann
Université de Genève
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