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Ambivalences / controversies Organisation of resistance Repression

Traitors

Who can be considered as traitor? In France, Yugoslavia and other occupied countries, resistance groups considered all those who collaborated with the German or Italian occupiers as traitors – traitors to their own people, country or nation. A symbol for this became Vidkun Quisling, the head of the collaborator regime in Norway: from 1940, to be a quisling was a term used as synonym for being a traitor in many European countries by opponents of Nazi Germany.

 

In Nazi Germany, the term was used differently: Here it was the regime which used it for Germans who resisted – they were called “traitors to the fatherland” (Vaterlandsverräter). This was especially the case during the war, where resistance, for example the attempt to kill Hitler on 20th July 1944 was considered as an insidious stab in the back of the fighting nation, and the persons who participated were put on trial and sentenced, often to death, for “high treason” (Hochverrat).

 

What all resistance groups had in common, in Germany or in occupied countries, was that they were constantly faced with the problem of traitors in their own ranks. Nazi authorities and collaboration regimes tried to infiltrate resistance groups. This could happen in different ways: a person who worked for the regime tried to become part of a resistance group; or a person who was already member of a resistance group was “turned” into a secret Gestapo agent – for material reasons, or by pressure after having being arrested and tortured, or after threats against his family.

 

In one dramatic episode, the Gestapo arrested a communist sympathizer, Smail Ibrahimbegović, in his hometown in western Bosnia. Turned, he managed to join the Partisans and rise up the ranks as an intelligence officer, where he committed counterespionage and fished out communist informers who worked within the regime administration. He was caught by accident, when a group of children found a wounded carrier pigeon with a small map of Partisan positions. The investigation showed that the data could have only come from him. After admitting everything, he was executed by a firing squad.

 

The work of traitors had often dramatic consequences: in France, the most important leader of the united resistance after de Gaulle, Jean Moulin, was arrested on 21 June 1943 with other resistance leaders during a secret meeting in the little town of Caluire. Until today there are heated debates which resistance member gave the information to the Gestapo about this secret meeting, and for which reasons.

 

Nicolas Moll & Vladan Vukliš

Sources / Further reading
  • „Qui a trahi Jean Moulin?“ (Who betrayed Jean Moulin?), short video with English subtitles: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=589210785749714
  • Patrick Marnham, War in the Shadows: Resistance, Deception and Betrayal in Occupied France (Oneworld Publications, 2020) https://www.psbooks.co.uk/war-in-the-shadows ; see also: “Betrayal in Occupied France: Who killed Jean Moulin, leader of the French Resistance?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vipssm1KYI0
  • Fabrice Grenard, La Traque des résistants, Paris: éd. Tallandier/ Ministère des armées, 2021.
  • Louis Eltscher, Traitors or Patriots? A Story of the German Anti-Nazi Resistance, 2019
  • Milovan Dželebdžić, Obaveštajna služba u Narodnooslobodilačkom ratu 1941–1945 (Beograd: Vojnoistorijski institut, 1987)

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