Book Review: The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis


by Matthew Cobb

London: Simon & Schuster UK / Chicago: Independent Publishers Group, Trafalgar Square, 2009. Pp. xii, 404. Illus., maps, notes, biblio, index. $16.95. ISBN: 1847391567

A Fresh Look at the French Resistance

Author and journalist Cobb gives us a new look what in popular perception involved “a man in a black leather jacket laying explosives on a railway track, accompanied by a woman in a beret carrying a Sten gun.” His treatment looks at the Resistance as a social, cultural, and political movement within the framework of the war and the Occupation. So while he does give us iconic episodes involving “the woman in a beret”, he spends a lot more time dealing with the problems of creating, organizing, arming, and managing the movement. 

Cobb opens with the French disaster of 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy regime. He the discusses the origins of varied streams of resistance, from arch-right wing nationalists to communists and even anarchist revolutionaries which were eventually forged into a cohesive movement. Cobb examines the complex relationships of Resistants, the Vichy Regime, the Gaullists, and the Nazis. He gives us an interesting picture of the problem of keeping those who sought immediate violent action against the Occupation under control by those who believed that careful planning and coordination with the Allies was necessary, a common problem in resistance and insurgent movements, which could and did lead to disaster.

Cobb gives us what is perhaps the most comprehensive look in English at the Resistance and life in France during the Nazi occupation. There are many details of daily life, including the grim statistics of repression (perhaps 100,000 people perished), several appearances of the “the woman in a beret” and her male companion, as well as many less dramatic but likely more valuable actors, such as shipyard or railroad workers quietly sabotaging the Nazi war effort while seemingly working hard to further it. And, of course, he gives us a moving account of the triumphal days of the Liberation, which he has recently addressed in greater detail in his latest book, Eleven Days in August

The Resistance, originally published in Britain in hardback in 2009, is an excellent read for anyone interested in World War II in Europe or in resistance movements and insurgencies in general.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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