22 January 2008

The Vichy Milice

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), pp. 124-125:
Vichy was a neutral government and, except for some confrontations in Algeria, Madagascar and Syria, regular members of the French army did not fight against the Allies during the Second World War. However, some at Vichy did sponsor new agencies, the members of which came to fight alongside the Germans. Some at Vichy also sponsored increasingly vigorous forms of policing, directed especially against the Resistance....

In January 1943 Laval entrusted Darnand with the creation of another body, the Milice. The most important elements of the Milice were the militarized francs gardes, some of which were paid professionals. The Milice marked yet another step away from the L├ęgion, in which Darnand had originated. The Milice, unlike the Legion, explicitly excluded Jews from membership and its members were younger than the legionnaires, having an average age of thirty against the Legion's average age of fifty. The Milice also drew its recruits from cities to a greater extent than the Legion—the countryside was becoming a dangerous place for anyone likely to be a Resistance target.

The Milice became more and more closely associated with the Germans. Darnand himself was commissioned into the SS in August 1943, and in November of that year the Germans began to give the Milice weapons. This association, however, never meant that Darnand entirely abandoned his anti-German nationalism, and even just before joining the SS he seems to have talked about the possibility of supporting the Free French.

There were about 35,000 miliciens by the liberation, of whom around a quarter were in the francs gardes. Some miliciens, such as Henry Charbonneau or Christian de la Maziere, were upper-class young men driven by anti-Communism and the search for adventure. Increasingly, however, recruits to the Milice had more obviously material motives. Many were young, urban and poor. Some wished to secure exemption from labour service in Germany. Others were attracted by the relatively high salaries paid to full-time miliciens (a member of the francs gardes could earn 2,500 francs per month, at a time when a factory worker earned 1,300 francs) or by the opportunities for pillage. Quite large numbers of miliciens were regarded as suffering from mental instability.

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