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Early resistance Non-violent resistance Repression Resistance in cities Young people

11 November 1940, first moment of resistance in Paris

The text reads:

“Student of France,
For you, 11 November is still
National Holiday
Despite the orders of the oppressive authorities, it will be
Day of Recollection.
You will not attend any classes
You will honour the Unknown Soldier at 17:30
11 November 1918 was the day of a great victory
11 November 1940 will be the signal for an even greater one
All students stand together so that
Long live France.
Copy these lines and distribute them.”


« Étudiant de France,
Le 11 Novembre est resté pour toi jour de
Fête Nationale
Malgré l’ordre des autorités opprimantes, il sera
Jour de Recueillement.
Tu n’assisteras à aucun cours
Tu iras honorer le Soldat Inconnu 17 h 30
Le 11 Novembre 1918 fut le jour d’une grande victoire
Le 11 Novembre 1940 sera le signal d’une plus grande encore
Tous les étudiants sont solidaires pour que
Vive la France.
Recopie ces lignes et diffuse-les. »

On 11 November 1940, a few months after the start of the Occupation of part of France by Nazi Germany, hundreds of Parisian high school students and university students decided to demonstrate on the Champs-Élysées towards one of the capital’s most emblematic, the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph). The date chosen, that of the commemoration of 11 November 1918, is symbolic: the victory over Germany. This appears to be one of the first coordinated public acts of the resistance on French territory following the appeal of 18 June 1940 from General De Gaulle from London. In a city transformed by the omnipresence of the Nazi uniform, road signs in the German language and swastika flags, Parisian youth are mobilizing as quickly as they are courageously in the face of oppression. Life having returned to normal after the panic of the first weeks, the start of the school and university year has taken place almost normally to the extent that the majority of civil servants and teachers are adapting to the situation. This was without taking into account the rebellious attitude of certain students driven by a spirit of resistance. From September, particularly in the Latin Quarter, throwing eggs or tomatoes disrupt the place, just as “V” for victory traced in white paint flourish on the walls while “Vive De Gaulle” bursts into the streets. subway corridors and that anti-Nazi leaflets are slipped into many free libraries. The decision of the Vichy government to no longer commemorate 11 November and to no longer make it a public holiday, combined with the arrest of Paul Langevin, professor at the Collège de France and a true scientific authority, turned the ambient discontent into a movement. more structured motivated by a rejection of the Germans which took shape at the beginning of November and reached its climax on the 11th. That day, at dawn, groups of students come to lay flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier placed under the Arc de Triomphe, symbol of heroism against Germany. At the end of the afternoon, when there were nearly 3000 gathered, singing La Marseillaise (national anthem of France) or “Vive De Gaulle” (Long live De Gaulle), the German police, helped by the French police, decided to intervene with rifle butts and weapons. fire to disperse the demonstrators whose average age is barely 18 years old. Around fifteen injuries were reported as well as around 200 arrests followed by imprisonment. The next day, for a few weeks, all universities in Paris were temporarily closed by the German military command. Remarkable because it was early, this first public act of resistance had no real political roots even if some high school students or had proven communist sympathies. While a silent majority resigns itself to a degrading Occupation, these young miners show the way: to push back barbarism we will have to get involved.


Yvan Gastaut

Sources /further readings

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