The vision of daily life in the Manche département during the Occupation is often a fairly stereotypical one. Images of shortages, the black market and high living costs for everyone spring fairly readily to mind. But the main source of humiliation stemmed from the Germans’ requisitioning of property. Every day, the Manche residents had to put up with these German soldiers living in their houses and getting the best food items. A good many locals pushed back against this through Resistance acts.

Notice of traffic ban
Notice of traffic ban

Life during the Occupation in the Manche

Food self-sufficiency

Products were in short supply and parallel economies sprung up. Setting great store by their personal freedoms, the Normans found it hard to swallow the Vichy Regime’s imposed economic interventionism. Requisitioning, which was only meant to be temporary, dragged on interminably – whether it involved food items, homes or vehicles. And yet, despite these seizures, coming by food supplies did not prove too much of an insurmountable challenge for the Manche community, for the vast majority of them were largely self-sufficient.

A clear “civil resistance” movement

Manche locals’ conduct during the Occupation cannot be boiled down to a black-and-white choice between that of Resistance or that of Collaboration. Most of the population continued to do their best to get by during this time. Generally speaking this wasn’t so much a case of getting used to the situation as it was silently enduring. But enduring didn’t mean giving up, and it was not long before some of the Manche community began showing their hostility towards the German invader. This is how a “civil resistance” to the Occupying forces rose up very early on. Whether this was driven by a sincere sense of patriotism or a visceral reaction to the requisitioning did not matter. This resistance might have been passive, amounting to no more than refusals, isolation or efforts to stay out the way. But it could also take other forms. Accordingly, a whole repertoire of outward shows of disgruntlement, irreverent deeds or resentment was also recorded.

Acts of resistance in the Manche: intelligence, sabotage and disobedience

The most common form of resistance in the Manche département was civil resistance, which entailed exhibiting “resistant attitudes” such as slashing posters, wearing the cross of Lorraine (a symbol of French patriotism) or grassroots rallies to protest against the Occupying forces. Another, more “active” resistance was also practised during the German occupation. This specialised more in sharing intelligence with the British – informing on enemy numbers, troop movements and military bases. Enemy equipment was also subject to acts of sabotage, including cables, signals, vehicles and buildings. Over the summer of 1942, the Resistance grew and its acts multiplied. In retaliation, the Germans arrested, imprisoned, deported and executed residents caught out in their acts of Resistance. But the locals’ brave sabotage attempts proved instrumental in Operation Neptune by momentarily halting the arrival of German reinforcements.

Warning of the Feldkommandant of Saint-Lô
Warning of the Feldkommandant of Saint-Lô

“Righteous among the Nations”: those who risked their lives to save Jews

By honouring those who refused to submit to the fate of the exterminating intent of Nazi ideology, the medal of the Righteous is helping to restore truth to History. Simone Veil

The title “Righteous among the Nations” is awarded by a commission set up in 1963 and chaired by a Justice of Israel’s Supreme Court. This title is the highest civil distinction that the Hebrew State awards to non-Jews, specifically non-Jews who risked their lives to come to the aid of Jews persecuted by the Nazi Occupying forces. To receive it, a person must have genuinely assisted one or more Jews whose lives were in danger, by consciously risking their own life or the lives of their loved ones, expecting nothing in return.

MEMORIALS TO THE RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS

An Avenue of the Righteous in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Remembrance where the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority “Yad Vashem” has been built. In 1963, in tribute to the “Righteous among the Nations”, Yad Vashem laid down the path of the Righteous, lined with trees named after them, and then the Garden of the Righteous where the lists of names are engraved on the walls, according to their countries of origin.

An Allée des Justes in Paris, in the Marais neighbourhood


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