Photo of the Day

A French woman collaborator and her baby, whose father is German, tries to return to her home followed by a throng of taunting townspeople after having her head shaven following the capture of Chartres by the Allies, August 1944. It appears that she is passing some women who suffered a similar fate. Photo by Robert Capa.

?Collaboration Horizontale?

French women who befriended the Nazis, through coerced, forced, or voluntary relationships, were singled out for shameful retribution following the liberation of France

It’s called surviving in an enemy territory. You had to play nice in order to live.

At the end of World War II, many French people accused of collaboration with Germany endured a particularly humiliating act of revenge: their heads were shaved in public.

What do you get when you put mental trauma, mob mentality, and female sexuality in a room and shake them up? You get the Shorn Women of France, who were forcibly shaved and paraded around towns as punishment for mixing with the Nazis.

The parades were known as ugly carnivals, which is a pretty good name if you’re looking at the jeering, maniacal faces in the crowds.?It is impossible to forget Robert Capa?s fallen-Madonna image of a shaven-headed young woman, cradling her baby, implicitly the result of a relationship with a German soldier.

After the war many thousands of European girls were arrested, beaten, raped, or murdered for having relationships with Germans. The insane ‘crime’ was called ‘denunciation. Women were not the only ones charged with this erroneous ‘crime’, men also were charged in great numbers.

German soldiers with their french girlfriends.?It is easy to forget that the Germans occupied Paris for over four years, Warsaw for over five years, and other major cities for just as long.

German soldiers with their french girlfriends.?Everyone in the Wehrmacht knew that Paris was the place to be. The official German propaganda outlets even advertised its allures. Essentially, and this is no exaggeration, Paris became almost synonymous with “giant cathouse” in the Wehrmacht.?Conquering soldiers had a lot to offer a girl, especially a soldier who has rank and can most likely offer all sorts of inducements. Clearly, these ladies had no difficulty meeting all those lonely men and offering them some solace, and the soldiers had an easy time taking advantage of naive girls who had no idea of the enormity of what they were doing.?There were collaborators all across Europe.

German soldiers exchanging their clothes with their girlfriends.?Some of the women simply fell in love and married their German beau. Who could foresee that the world would change so drastically so quickly?

There are thousands upon thousands of joyful pictures of the liberation of France in 1944. But among the cheering images there are also shocking ones. These show the fate of women accused of ?collaboration horizontale?.?To sum it up, when a woman who had engaged in?collaboration horizontale?? that means having sex with occupying troops ? was punished, her head was forcibly shaved as the first step. Depending upon how the partisans felt, she also might have been disrobed, tarred and feathered, and perhaps beaten.

The punishment of shaving a woman?s head had biblical origins. In Europe, the practice dated back to the dark ages, with the Visigoths. During the middle ages, this mark of shame, denuding a woman of what was supposed to be her most seductive feature, was commonly a punishment for adultery. Shaving women?s heads as a mark of retribution and humiliation was reintroduced in the 20th century. After French troops occupied the Rhineland in 1923, German women who had relations with them later suffered the same fate. And during the second world war, the Nazi state issued orders that German women accused of sleeping with non-Aryans or foreign prisoners employed on farms should also be publicly punished in this way.

Soldiers cutting the hair of a collaborator on Bastille Day. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images). 12th August 1944.

Two French spies, (woman in dark dress and man in white shirt), denying charges of having acted as informers for Nazi Gestapo to a crowd of hostile onlookers in a French village. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images). 1944

Nearly all those punished were women. Most historians have stressed the sexual anxiety created by the Nazi Occupation and how women?s sexual activity was judged as part of a public ?cleansing? after liberation. Similar to the vigilante gangs that punished men who collaborated with the occupiers, groups would band together to judge women by parading them in the public square. This episode in French history continues to provoke shame and unease and as a result has never been subject of a thorough examination.?Some women accused of collaboration claimed that they were coerced or forced to be in a relationship with a German soldier.

In occupied France everyone collaborated with the Germans to one degree or another. You had to just to survive. Food, clothing, fuel, and other resources were in short supply and the Germans had a lot of influence as to who got what. These women probably didn’t do anything worse than find German boyfriends. The young French men were either POWs, captive workers in Germany, Free French far away, or working for the Vichy regime. Also after liberation the French turned on each other in really ugly ways. Many claimed to have been “with the resistance.? Others sought to settle old scores or take heat off themselves by falsely accusing others.

The perks of sleeping with SS men during the occupation were extra rations, access to forbidden luxury goods (perfume, stockings, etc.) and freedom from certain restrictions.

The Germans occupied the vast majority of Europe. They were there, on the scene, and the local men either were not (dead, in prison camps, in hiding, fled to England) or were greatly diminished in status. Like soldiers of every army of every period of history, as soon as the Germans got comfortable, they started scouting around for women. And, as always in times of military occupation, there were willing women to be found.

And, sure enough, the German soldiers found them. It’s not quite clear what the big deal was about exchanging clothes with your French girlfriend, but that seemed to be the thing to do. And it seemed quite common.

Angry French citizens publicly shamed and rebuked women accused of having collaborated with the Nazis. Women often were the most upset with other women who collaborated. Many?were still outcasts 12 plus years after the war.

If you saw a French woman with a shaved head in the 1940s, something was terribly wrong. Specifically, she was in a concentration camp, or she had an affair with a Nazi soldier and her countrymen have punished her for her love crimes.

Throughout France, from 1943 to the beginning of 1946, about 20,000 women of all ages and all professions who were accused of having collaborated with the occupying Germans had their heads shaved. Just as the identity of those who carried this task out varied so too did the form it took. For example, among those who carried it out can be found members of the Resistance, those who took part in fighting at the time of the Liberation, neighbors who came down into the street once the Germans had left and men whose authority depended on the police and the courts.

All of them carried out this violent deed either behind closed doors, inside the walls of a prison or the home of the women so punished, or in a public square. If, in the last instance, it was men who wielded the scissors and the clippers, the population as a whole ? men, women and children ? were present at the event, which was both a spectacle and a demonstration of the punishment to be meted out to traitors.

Brutalized women, their heads shaved, are loaded into the back of a truck. A dark fate of death and rape in their future? It was very likely for many.

In France, the expression to refer women sleeping with Nazis was “Horizontal Collaboration”

The imposition of punishment with distinct sexist overtone, characterized by branding or marking, has overshadowed its use for all acts of collaboration. After the war up to the present, photographs of the women with shaven heads have become the only evidence of practice about which those who carried it out have remained silent ? attention has been directed at the victims and at the act itself, leaving both what preceded and followed it (collaboration, accusation, arrest, judgment, condemnation) neglected.

Of the collaborative acts of which women were accused, three categories can be defined: political, where they had belonged to a collaborationist organization or, more modestly, had held opinions in favor of the enemy or shown opposition to the Resistance and allied forces; financial, if they had benefited from professional or business contacts; personal, if they had relationships with members of he occupying forces. They could also be accused someone to the occupying authorities.

A fourth reason for being arrested and for having one?s head shaved was to be someone from one of the Axis countries; this did not necessarily indicate collaboration but it invited suspicion. In total there were 23 , 2315 people who had their head shaved as a punishment for being a collaborationist.

Lee Miller, one of the photographers who documented the event, talks of the ease with which this shift could take place:??I saw four girls who had been led through the streets and I rushed toward them to take a photograph. At once I found myself at the front of the procession and the local people thought I was the female soldier who had captured them, or something like that, and I was kissed and congratulated at the same time as slaps and spits rained down on the unfortunate girls?.

A ?collaborator? – a French woman having her head shaved following liberation, as punishment for an on-going sexual relationship with a Wehrmacht soldier during the occupation of France.?Some of the onlookers appear quite amused.

The punishment of shaving a woman’s head had biblical origins. In Europe, the practice dated back to the dark ages, with the Visigoths. During the middle ages, this mark of shame, denuding a woman of what was supposed to be her most seductive feature, was commonly a punishment for adultery. Shaving women’s heads as a mark of retribution and humiliation was reintroduced in the 20th century. After French troops occupied the Rhineland in 1923, German women who had relations with them later suffered the same fate. And during the Second World War, the Nazi state issued orders that German women accused of sleeping with non-Aryans or foreign prisoners employed on farms should also be publicly punished in this way.

Also during the Spanish civil war, Falangists had shaved the heads of women from republican families, treating them as if they were prostitutes. Those on the extreme right had convinced themselves that the left believed in free love. (The most famous victim in fiction is Maria, the lover of Robert Jordan in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.)

It may seem strange that head-shaving, essentially a right wing phenomenon, should have become so widespread during the leftist liberation euphoria in France in 1944. But many of the tondeurs, the head-shavers, were not members of the resistance. Quite a few had been petty collaborators themselves, and sought to divert attention from their own lack of resistance credentials. Yet resistance groups could also be merciless towards women. In Brittany it is said that a third of those civilians killed in reprisals were women. And threats of head-shaving had been made in the resistance underground press since 1941.

French female collaborator punished by having her head shaved to publicly mark her, 1944. Sometimes they fell in love with the young stranger, sometimes they were trying to feed their family… No-one was innocent yet women were publicly humiliated as a way to make people forget their own humiliation and betrayal when they abdicated. The resistance had a symbolic and moral impact more than a real effect. In brief, wars are always stupid and pointless.

There was a strong element of vicarious eroticism among the tondeurs and their crowd, even though the punishment they were about to inflict symbolised the desexualisation of their victim. This “ugly carnival” became the pattern soon after D-day. Once a city, town or village had been liberated by the allies or the resistance, the shearers would get to work. In mid-June, on the market day following the capture of the town of Carentan, a dozen women were shorn publicly. In Cherbourg on 14 July, a truckload of young women, most of them teenagers, were driven through the streets. In Villedieu, one of the victims was a woman who had simply been a cleaner in the local German military headquarters.

This photo is taken by Robert Capa. It shows a Frenchwoman collaborator and her baby with her mother followed by a throng of taunting townspeople in August 1944.

Life continued naturally behind the front lines. And, naturally, things happened. Some 200,000+ babies were born to German fathers during the French occupation. There was nothing special about French women: in one of the Channel Islands, 900 such babies were registered. In Norway, 8-12,000 babies (including Anni-Frid Lyngstad of Abba fame) resulted. Such marriages also were encouraged in Denmark and Holland.?The Lebensborn e. V. (e.V. is Eingetragener Verein, registered association), meaning “Fount of life,” was founded on 12 December 1935 and blossomed during the war. Promoted by Reichsf?hrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, it was intended to reverse falling German birth rates and promote bizarre eugenics theories. In Norway, the children of these unions faced ostracization and worse fates. The mothers were called “tyskert?ser,” or “Those girls.” The Norwegian children later sued for compensation due to the Quisling government’s promotion of the scheme – but lost in 2008 before the European Court of Human Rights (the Norwegian government offered each child ?8,000 anyway). This has similarities to the “Comfort women” situation in Japan, an issue that reverberates through the years.

A woman, with her baby whose father is German, and her mother are jeered and humiliated by crowds in Chartres after having their heads shaved as punishment for collaborating with the German troops. (Photo by Robert Capa/Getty Images). 1944.

A French woman accused of sleeping with Germans is attacked and her head has been shaved by her neighbours in a village near Marseilles.

Many French people as well as allied troops were sickened by the treatment meted out to these women accused of collaboration horizontale with German soldiers. A large number of the victims were prostitutes who had simply plied their trade with Germans as well as Frenchmen, although in some areas it was accepted that their conduct was professional rather than political. Others were silly teenagers who had associated with German soldiers out of bravado or boredom. In a number of cases, female schoolteachers who, living alone, had German soldiers billeted on them, were falsely denounced for having been a “mattress for the boches”. Women accused of having had an abortion were also assumed to have consorted with Germans.

A French woman with a bloody face is forced to look at the camera while French soldiers do nothing.

A sobbing French woman with a swastika smeared on her face is paraded through the streets with civilians and a soldier.

Many victims were young mothers, whose husbands were in German prisoner-of-war camps. During the war, they often had no means of support, and their only hope of obtaining food for themselves and their children was to accept a liaison with a German soldier. As the German writer Ernst J?nger observed from the luxury of the Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris, “food is power”.

Jealousy masqueraded as moral outrage, because people envied the food and entertainment these women had received as a result of their conduct. When Arletty, the great actor and star of the film Les Enfants du Paradis, died in 1992, she received admiring obituaries that did not mention the rumour that she had her head shaved at the liberation. These obituaries even passed over her controversial love affair with a Luftwaffe officer. But letters to some newspapers revealed a lingering bitterness nearly 50 years later. It was not the fact that Arletty had slept with the enemy which angered them, but the way she had eaten well in the H?tel Ritz while the rest of France was hungry.

Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel was a top fashion designer in France before and after the war. During the war she dated?Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage, who was a professional Abwehr spy. This enabled her to live in the Hotel Ritz in Paris (where she returned many years later) during the war, which was quite unusual for a Frenchwoman because that was where the top German brass also lived. There are documents suggesting that Coco – who was around 60 years old during the war – collaborated with the Germans. Where it gets fuzzy is exactly what she supposedly did beyond some cut-throat business dealings. One incident involved a German attempt to have her broker peace negotiations with the British around late 1943/1944. That idea collapsed when Coco’s friend, an Italian lady with whom she supposedly was in love, refused to participate and carry Coco’s letter to Churchill. After the war, Chanel was questioned but never convicted of any sort of improper activities. She died in her sleep at the Ritz in 1971.

Women with their tops torn off and swastikas scrawled with tar on their faces are paraded through the streets of Paris. Many other women were dragged through the streets naked.

Another woman beaten and tarred with her shirt ripped off.

A young woman has her hair forcibly cut off while a ‘tough guy’ in a beret tries to give his most intimidating expression.

Trying to pinpoint just how far justice was served and how it may have been abused, is not easy. That is a tricky subject indeed. In any event, justice was swift – perhaps too swift.The Allies of course returned, and the Wehrmacht beaus of the collaborator girls left in a hurry. The Germans had their own problems, of course, often not surviving the journey home and perhaps returning sheepishly to somebody they had left behind in the Fatherland.?Often, the photos of collaborator girls were identified as “found on a dead German soldier” or “taken from a German POW.” So, it isn’t as though the Wehrmacht boys had much choice in the matter.?There are likely countless others sitting long-forgotten in attics and basements across Europe.?Even voluntary relationships were not always what they seemed.

Even if the German soldier made it back to Germany alive, it is difficult to do much when you are sitting in a prison camp awaiting processing, or when you are jobless due to the post-war labour laws and destitute.

The bottom line is that the collaborator girls were left without any protectors as the Germans pulled out, and all their friends, of course, had noticed all along what they had been doing. Scenes of tarring and feathering and hair-cutting and all sorts of retribution went on all over Europe.

There even were occasional female collaborators from the United States. Mildred Elizabeth Gillars (November 29, 1900 ? June 25, 1988), for instance, was nicknamed “Axis Sally” along with Rita Zucca. Gillars was an American broadcaster employed by the Third Reich to proliferate propaganda during World War II. She was convicted of one count of treason by the United States in 1949 following her capture in post-war Berlin and served about a dozen years in prison, finally released in 1961. She later went back to college in the United States Midwest to finish her degree and lived a somewhat normal life.

After the humiliation of a public head-shaving, the tondues – the shorn women – were often paraded through the streets on the back of a lorry, occasionally to the sound of a drum as if it were a tumbril and France was reliving the revolution of 1789. Some were daubed with tar, some stripped half naked, some marked with swastikas in paint or lipstick. In Bayeux, Churchill’s private secretary Jock Colville recorded his reactions to one such scene.

“I watched an open lorry drive past, to the accompaniment of boos and catcalls from the French populace, with a dozen miserable women in the back, every hair on their heads shaved off. They were in tears, hanging their heads in shame. While disgusted by this cruelty, I reflected that we British had known no invasion or occupation for some 900 years. So we were not the best judges.”

A group of armed men escort a ‘dangerous’ teenager whose been beaten and tarred.

Another woman about to be brutalized.

It helps to illustrate what happened to many ordinary people, and also show how complex the moral questions can become. There is the strange, sad tale of?Herta Ka?parov?.

The German occupation of Czechoslovakia was remarkable for its indifferent brutality. The German objective, as implemented by Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich and his successor, was no less than to wipe out the Czech culture and make the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, as they styled it, completely indistinguishable from the rest of Greater Germany. There was a problem, however: the Czechs had their own culture and language. Fortunately for the Germans, they had Czechs willing to help them with the latter issue. One who did was?Herta Ka?parov?, who was fully bilingual. She was a Czech living in?T?e?? who had been born with a defect in one of her feet or legs which left her with a marked limp. This had caused some of her peers to make fun of her – which turned out to be a big mistake.

There were many “quiet collaborators” like Herta, but one incident really stood out and probably led to her demise. In the last days of the war, the Soviets overran part of Czechoslovakia and everyone assumed that the war was over. However, in the last successful German counteroffensive in April 1945, the Wehrmacht managed to recover Herta’s region for a time. The SS were determined to commit reprisals against locals who had proven themselves “disloyal” during the brief period of Soviet rule. They enlisted trusted collaborator Herta to help. She drove around the city with them in an open car and pointed out the people who had become “traitors.” Naturally, the SS were not from there and simply relied upon Herta’s recommendations. She spotted four young men, two of whom are believed to have been among those who had made fun of Herta for her limp, and silently pointed at them. The SS needed no further encouragement and immediately executed them.

The war soon ended, and Herta disappeared for a while in Austria. However, in 1946 she was found and brought to trial in T?e??. There was no question of her guilt, and she admitted in court:
I know that I caused the death of several people. I acted out of revenge.

Herta was found guilty of collaboration and hanged from a pole on 13 September 1946 at 18:30. Accounts from the crowd of spectators exhibit relish at the manner of execution, with the hangman actively twisting Herta’s head to hasten the process and perhaps add a bit of pain.

There were countless stories like this. During the war, in places too numerous to list, people had a fleeting opportunity to even old scores, and they did. There was no question of Herta’s guilt, and many were hanged for doing far less. However, bringing it down to a human dimension helps to uncover the moral complexities on all sides.

Nobody is making justifications for Herta Ka?parov? or her execution, which appears absolutely justified. However, the people who had bullied Herta as a child also were not justified in what they did. They certainly did not deserve death for bullying Herta, or perhaps any consequences at all, and what they did was completely legal. However, Revenge, however unwarranted or overblown, can creep in during the night through an open window … or in broad daylight from the back seat of a car … when you least expect it. Herta had her final revenge, as she freely admitted – and everyone knows that revenge is a dish best served cold.

A teenager is brutalized by a mob. Note she is being ‘painted’ by a ‘french artist’ at the bottom of the screen.

The perps have shaved these womens heads leaving a swastika of hair on the top of their heads.

The American historian Forrest Pogue wrote of the victims that “their look, in the hands of their tormentors, was that of a hunted animal”. Colonel Harry D McHugh, the commander of an American infantry regiment near Argentan, reported: “The French were rounding up collaborators, cutting their hair off and burning it in huge piles, which one could smell miles away. Also, women collaborators were forced to run the gauntlet and were really beaten.”

Elsewhere some men who had volunteered to work in German factories had their heads shaved, but that was an exception. Women almost always were the first targets, because they offered the easiest and most vulnerable scapegoats, particularly for those men who had joined the resistance at the last moment. Altogether, at least 20,000 women are known to have had their heads shaved. But the true figure may well be higher, considering that some estimates put the number of French children fathered by members of the Wehrmacht as high as 80,000.

In Paris there were cases of prostitutes kicked to death for having accepted German soldiers as clients. And at the other end of the social scale, several women from the highest reaches of the aristocracy were sheared for consorting with German officers. But resistance leaders in Paris made a determined effort to stop all head-shaving. Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy had posters run off warning of reprisals against would-be tondeurs, and Ren? Porte, another leader who was renowned for his strength, knocked together the heads of a group of youths tormenting a young woman.

While many allied troops were sympathetic to France’s suffering under the occupation, a considerable number had their worst prejudices confirmed by what they saw. American troops who had never been abroad before tended to see France itself as an enemy country, despite the attempts of the military authorities to inform them of the true situation. Some officers gave orders to arrest or shoot any French civilians encountered in the immediate invasion areas. Certainly French men and women found with German weapons were shot on the spot before they had a chance to explain. The possibility that they might have been collecting these weapons for the resistance never occurred to the soldiers concerned.

Nobody seems to know where this photo comes from.This is a young lady in an officer’s (Untersturmf?hrer) uniform. Women could not join SS units except as auxiliaries, and certainly did not wear SS officer uniforms. It has been?seen that German soldiers for some reason found it kinky to dress their conquests in their uniforms. Note that the picture is cut off from showing the pants that she probably is not wearing. This may (or may not) be simply innocent girlish fun. Anything is possible.

An extraordinary battlefield myth soon spread like wildfire. This maintained that young French women, the lovers of German soldiers, were fighting as snipers against the allies. These rumours were soon picked by British and American war correspondents eager for sensational stories. But a number of incidents also found their way into official reports without any doubts expressed about their authenticity. For example a lieutenant with the American 1st Infantry Division reported that they had encountered “four women in German uniform as snipers in trees and five in the town. There was only seen closely enough to identify her as a woman. She wore the German uniform and looked like a French woman.”

These two abused girls are little more than children!

Churchill heard these stories of women snipers during his visit to Normandy on 12 June and wrote about them to Anthony Eden on his return. British officers, however, later became increasingly sceptical of these “latrine rumours”.

Moral confusion, if not outright hypocrisy, existed on the allied side too. At his airfield near Bayeux, Colville found it ironic when General Montgomery ordered all brothels to be closed. “Military police were posted to ensure that the order was obeyed. Undeterred and unabashed, several of the deprived ladies presented themselves in a field adjoining our orchard. Lines of airmen, including, I regret to say, the worthy Roman Catholic French-Canadians, queued for their services, clutching such articles as tins of sardines for payment.”

The notable thing about many of the pictures is how onlookers look almost ecstatic.

The French, meanwhile, were shocked by the attitude of some American soldiers, who seemed to think that when it came to young French women “everything can be bought”. After an evening’s drinking, they would knock on farmhouse doors asking if there was a “mademoiselle” for them. Supposedly useful gambits were also provided in daily French lessons published by the US Armed Forces publication Stars and Stripes, including the phrase for “My wife doesn’t understand me.”

This picture was taken in a refugee transit camp controlled by the Allies after the war. The story is that this young woman is Belgian and had worked with the German authorities against Allied terrorists. Like most attacks on woman after the war, this was a sexual attack in nature. Dessau, Germany, April 1945.

Americans and British saw liberated Paris not just as a symbol of Europe’s freedom from Nazi oppression, but as a playground for their amusement. “As we neared the city we were seized by a wild sort of excitement,” wrote Pogue. “We began to giggle, to sing, yell and otherwise show exuberance.” But when Pogue reached Paris, he was shaken to find that American military authorities had taken over the Petit Palais and erected a large sign announcing the distribution of free condoms to US troops. In Pigalle, rapidly dubbed “Pig Alley” by GIs, French prostitutes were coping with more than 10,000 men a day. The French were also deeply shocked to see US soldiers lying drunk on the pavements of the Place Vend?me. The contrast with off-duty German troops, who had been forbidden even to smoke in the street, could hardly have been greater.

People were viciously attacked, murdered and raped. They were also painted with swastikas on their backs and in the case of the women in this picture – on their faces!

The basically misogynistic reaction of head-shaving during the liberation of France was repeated in Belgium, Italy and Norway and, to a lesser extent, in the Netherlands. In France, another wave of head-shaving took place in the late spring of 1945 when forced labourers, prisoners of war and concentration camp victims returned from Germany. Revenge on women represented a form of expiation for the frustrations and sense of impotence among males humiliated by their country’s occupation. One could almost say that it was the equivalent of rape by the victor.

It is easy to apply modern standards to this process and claim that shaving women’s heads and parading them through the streets was hateful to women. Hate ran high against all collaborators. The guys were usually shot or knifed, or maybe beaten until they were bloody and mangled. This often was done out in the woods or in a back alley by a “committee.” Much more rarely, it was a ceremonial occasion, in which case the shooting or beating took place in the town square with plenty of attentive onlookers.

When done formally, the collaborators were tried in an afternoon (everyone knew who had ‘helped out’), then simply lined up without too much fuss or appeal and gunned down or hung. Women also were executed, though it was not as commonly done as with the men.

Those were different times and people who had been put through Hell did what they had to do without any quibbles.

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