French militia

French militia

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Title: Arrest after a raid carried out by militiamen of the Vichy regime

Creation date : 1943 -

Date shown: 1943

Storage place: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin) website

Contact copyright: © BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / BPK image

Picture reference: 16-537366

Arrest after a raid carried out by militiamen of the Vichy regime

© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / BPK image

Publication date: January 2017

Historical context

The French militia and the Vichy regime

The French militia was created by the Vichy regime on January 20, 1943. Made up of around 30,000 members (including 15,000 active), this paramilitary organization's main mission is to fight against the "terrorist" movements of the Resistance. In reality, the militia quickly formed the political police of Vichy and came to play a supplementary role with the Gestapo and the other Nazi forces present in the territory.

Openly fascist, anti-Communist, anti-Semitic and anti-Republican, the militia is officially placed under the command of Prime Minister Pierre Laval. In fact, it is headed by its secretary general Joseph Darnand, founder of the Legionary Order Service (SOL, 1940-1943) which is its ancestor.

On the orders of the Germans or even on their own initiative, the militiamen take part in the hunt for Jews, resistance fighters, resistance fighters, refractory workers in the compulsory labor service (STO) or all those whom the regime considers dangerous. Across the country, militiamen carried out veritable roundups, multiplying acts of torture, summary executions, bloody repressions, but also “common law” exactions (thefts, rapes, etc.) against the civilian populations. Such "operations" became relatively frequent during the year 1943, thus anchoring in the consciousnesses and representations the lasting symbol of the armed wing of "French collaboration" in its darkest, most violent and most extremist light. .

So this photograph, which shows one of these "operations", allows us to question the nature and role of such images.

Image Analysis

The militia at work: an "operation" among many

The attribution of this photograph remains uncertain, but it could have been taken by Koll, a German photographer. In any case, since the author of the photo could only have taken it with the authorization of the militia, he can be considered to be a close relative or even a member of it.

On this day in 1943, the militiamen escorted men suspected of belonging to the Resistance and arrested after a raid. The scene takes place in what could be the courtyard of a building (visible in the background), or more simply in the square in front of it. No other indication is given to us on the place (region, nature of this building).

Under the surveillance of two young armed militiamen (rifle and machine gun), advance a line of prisoners, which stretches out from the right of the cadre. The latter are dressed in civilian clothes, simply and even poorly. There are only young men there (even very young, like the second and fourth from the beginning of the line) who advance with their hands on their heads, constrained, their faces closed, sometimes shaggy.

The militiamen are recognizable by their characteristic uniforms: black pants and jackets, equally black berets leaning to the right. We can no longer guess that we can see the insignia of the militia (a stylized gamma) on the lapel of the jacket of one of the militiamen. Both adopt a rather martial attitude - the upright chest and the stern gaze.

Other militiamen are present further away, in the background, as is the truck which may have been used to transport their prisoners.


A show of force

One can of course wonder about the use and dissemination of this image. Beyond its documentary and historical function (reporting and then "archiving" the operation and its progress), we can note that the Vichy regime, the militia itself or even the Nazis did not hesitate to broadcast images. like this to the population.

It was then all at the same time to show that the regime was making order reign by putting the resistance fighters out of harm's way, to glorify the militiamen through a fascist aesthetic (black) of efficiency, of force and violence, to frighten as many people as possible in order to dissuade those who would be tempted to disobey and, finally, to suggest that the French who would like to would not be so dominated and humiliated by the Nazi occupier as by the voluntary collaborators and zealous of it.

A true show of force, this image plays on the contrast between the militiamen, clean, upright and well dressed, and their more ragged, more miserable, submissive prisoners. The manifest relationship of domination between each other would thus prove that the former are right (force does right) and that they have won a newfound dignity by being on the side of the victors (the Germans).

The photograph also illustrates the youth of the militiamen, who also have a disturbing mirror effect with that of the prisoners. If one considers that the militiamen were for the most part employees, artisans or traders, all sociological profiles were involved, ultimately as diverse as those of their enemies.

  • Occupation
  • collaboration
  • Resistance
  • War of 39-45
  • Vichy regime
  • propaganda


AZÉMA Jean-Pierre, "The militia", Twentieth century: history review, no 28 [Vichy: propaganda and repression], 1990, p. 83-105.

AZÉMA Jean-Pierre, New history of contemporary France. XIV: From Munich to the Liberation (1938-1944), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points: History” (no 114), 1979.

AZÉMA Jean-Pierre, WIEVIORKA Olivier, Vichy (1940-1944), Paris, Perrin, 1997.

COINTET Michèle, New history of Vichy, Paris, Fayard, 2011.

COINTET Michèle, French militia, Paris, Fayard, 2013.

Trunk Louis, Lacombe Lucien, movie, 1974.

PAXTON Robert O., The France of Vichy (1940-1944), Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "L’univers historique" (no 2), 1973.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The French militia"

Video: It Happened In Paris: WWII Nazi Occupation 1942 u0026 1944. British Pathé