French women shaved for collaboration.
© NARA / The Caen Memorial
Publication date: March 2016
A public demonstration
It is estimated that 20,000 to 40,000 women accused, rightly or wrongly, of collaboration with the German occupier, were sheared in France between the middle of 1944 and the end of 1945. Whether it is the most often "horizontal" collaboration (of those who, for love, to try to survive or because of their profession, slept more or less regularly with the Nazis) or more classic collaboration (denouncement, espionage, participation in various operations) , the guilty suffer the same infamous punishment.
From the first days of the Liberation, with a second major wave on the return of prisoners of war and the requisitions of the S.T.O. in the spring of 1945 and until the end of this year, it was civilians spontaneously rendering “justice” (but within an official framework, an official being present) or even the powers in place (in particular the local Liberation committees) who organize these very numerous "ceremonies" throughout the territory.
Public by definition since the punishment and the punished must be seen, the mowing and thus the mowing are almost always photographed. Whether the images are used by the press, which distributes them widely, or, as is the case with "French women shaved for collaboration", for reporting purposes (here for the American army), they have a value at the both documentary and symbolic heavy with meaning.
The mowing "ceremony"
This anonymous photograph was taken in Lower Normandy in 1945, presumably for the US military. It represents a part of a group of shorn women (the whole is cut on the right for the spectator) who, placed on the trailer of a truck (we guess the driver's cabin, on the left), are shown and exposed to view. The convoy, for a while at a standstill, seems to pass near the central square of a village, or a place in any case symbolic and public (the French flag can refer to a monument to the dead or to the place of town hall), delimited by two houses visible in the background.
Quite numerous and for many quite young, the women are dressed without any particular distinction. All are freshly shaved, with serious, tense and dark faces. Many bow their heads, looking contrite, not daring to look ahead (especially the three women seated in the foreground for the viewer). One of them, standing, wipes away her tears. Three unshorn people (who therefore belong to the group of those who punish) are standing in the back of the trailer (on the right), two of whom are holding a piece of paper serving as a sign on which is written "The collaborators' float ».
In stark contrast, another man seated in the cab of the truck (left) wearing a cap plays a drum, presumably to attract and warn the population, with a happy face and an almost festive mood.
Atonement and purification
This shot first of all allows us to grasp the theatrical aspect of these ceremonies. This is indeed a real staging, which is reminiscent of fairgrounds or official events. The trailer of the truck acts here as a platform (the barrier of which delimits the space represented by those who look at it), the man with the juggling drum, those who hold the heralds' sign. Festive and serious at the same time, this established and official staging seems almost archaic (apart from the truck), anchored in a first medieval and then secular tradition of spectacular punishments (pyres or shearing for witches or adulterous women, executions, etc.).
The mowed body is here symbolically denied, defeminized. The hair, this adornment which is like the metonymy of their dangerously seductive and immoral nature (and which refers to the flesh through which these women have just sinned), is shaved in an operation of purification. An operation which also more generally erases the shame and the taint of the Occupation for all through the atonement, suffering and punishment of some.
Because it takes place in front of the inhabitants of a village, it constitutes a symbolic and official reappropriation (French flag) of public space. Because it seems to be led and executed exclusively by men, it can also be understood as the reaffirmation and return of a certain order, that of the legitimate and legitimized domination that the good males (French and no longer foreign) exercise over women and their bodies, this eternal object of fantasies and worry of those who want to sit down and exercise their power.
- War of 39-45
- Liberation (war)
Farid ABDELOUAHAB, The Year of Freedom: June 1944 - June 1945, Paris, Acropolis, 2004.
Jean-Pierre AZÉMA, New history of contemporary France, volume XIV “From Munich to the Liberation, 1938-1944”, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1979, new. ed. 2002.
Dominique FRANÇOIS, Mowed women: the demonization of women in 1944: the pyres of the Liberation, Coudray-Macouard, Cheminements, coll. “The War in Memory”, 2006.
· Fabrice VIRGILI, "The“ shorn ”at the Liberation: the body of women, the stake of a re-appropriation", in Françoise THÉBAUD (dir.), Resistances and Liberations. France. 1940-1945 (Clio. Women, Gender, History, no 1), Toulouse, University Press of Mirail, 1995. Link: http://clio.revues.org/518
To cite this article
Alexandre SUMPF, "The" shaved "of the Liberation"