French female collaborator punished by having her head shaved to publicly mark her, 1944

By RHP | Posted on: March 8, 2014 | Updated on: March 9, 2014
Woman being shaved by civilians to publicly mark her as a collaborator, 1944

Woman being shaved by civilians to publicly mark her as a collaborator, 1944

French women who befriended the Nazis, through coerced, forced, or voluntary relationships, were singled out for shameful retribution following the liberation of France. The woman photographed here, believed to have been a prostitute who serviced German occupiers, is having her head shaved by French civilians to publicly mark her. This picture was taken in Montelimar, France, August 29, 1944.

At the end of World War II, over 20, 000 French people accused of collaboration with Germany endured a particularly humiliating act of revenge: their heads were shaved in public. Nearly all those punished were women. This episode in French history continues to provoke shame and unease and as a result has never been subject of a thorough examination.

French female collaborators punished by having her head shaved to publicly mark her

20, 000 women were lynched, 1943-1946

Throughout France, from 1943 to the beginning of 1946, about 20000 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 put 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.

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.

She has a swastika drawn in her forehead.

She has a swastika drawn in her forehead.

Of the collaborative acts of which women were accused, four categories can be defined: political, where they had belonged to a collaborationist organization or, more modestly, had held opinions in favour 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 fifth 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.

Most of the women lynched were accused for having consorted with German troops.

Most of the women lynched were accused for having consorted with German troops.

The punishments were carried out by French civilians and Resistance members.

The punishments were carried out by French civilians and Resistance members.

“…at the same time as slaps and spits rained down on the unfortunate girls.”

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.

The march of shame through town.

The march of shame through town.

A disturbing video from the lynching.

Eyes of Shame.

Eyes of Shame.

Bonus: If you would like to read something more on this topic we recommend this book: Shorn Women: Gender and Punishment in Liberation France by Fabrice Virgili. And if you are a movie person than you must see the Italian movie “Malena” (starring Monica Bellucci).

13 thoughts on “French female collaborator punished by having her head shaved to publicly mark her, 1944

  1. Paul

    Lynching means hanging by a rope from the neck until dead. Not having haircut and spit on. There is no evidence these women were killed is there?

    Reply
  2. Helen

    I agree with you, although lynching can just mean killed, not necessarily hanged (beating or hacking to death). These women were not “lynched”, although I am curious to know if any *were* killed.

    Reply
    1. Steven Milward

      In band of brothers, they had a scene like this, and they were told normally they would be shot, and this was more compassionate.

      Reply
  3. Molok

    You made me feel bad for these women with your erroneous use of the word ‘lynch’. Then I watched the ‘disturbing’ video of the ‘lynching’ to see some Nazi collaborators having their heads shaved, which is pretty easy going if you ask me.

    Reply
  4. Jovanna

    I have photo of the French women being walked through the street – a handwritten note on the back of the photo reads “This here is a picture of women and girls who loved the germans and when the germans left, the Free French cut their hair and shaved their eye brows off. And do hey look like a mess. Good for them”

    Reply
  5. Silver Star

    They used these poor girls as an escape goat. In France, only the weak is punished since many politicians, businessmen and artists managed to get away with their ‘collaboration’…Some of these girls were killed after this weird public ritual.

    Reply
    1. KitKat

      These women arent ‘lynched ‘ , just paraded.. and excluded from the society they turned on for cigarettes silk and chocolate ..,, This was common in many occopied country after liberation and a easy way to pay for ones collaboration ..lol To all the comfy armchaiir morons feeling so sorry , you have no idea what is behind it.. Maybe a 5 year brutal occupation will make one understand better why it was done.. These girls were treasoners to their own people..

      Reply
  6. Amber

    It’s “scapegoat”, not “escape goat” (although for some reason “escape goat” kind of appeals to me).

    Reply
  7. StopAbuse.

    The thing that gets to me is the stoicism with which the women face this, while the perpetuators seem to relish their actions. If you have not actively fought off being occupied, doesn’t it make you a passive collaborator? That would make most French citizens collaborators at the time.

    Reply
  8. Peter (from france)

    These public humiliations were a complete farce and anyone who actually participated to the Resistance hated these public shaving (all the ones that weren’t targeting actual collaborators, who ratted out the resistance members, leading to their torture and death, or torture, deportation and death).

    Most of the shaving was done by the “résistants de la dernière heure” crowd [ed: funnily enough, googling “résistants de la dernière heure” on the global google.com website gives the “Femmes tondues” wikipedia article as first result). These “last-hour résistants” who waited for the germans to leave to suddenly become “resistant” fighters, were the ones who paraded around in the streets with their guns and humiliated these women.

    Actual resistance fighters were too busy fighting off the remaining german forces and organizing the post-occupation politics (preventing the US from taking over France, like they later did with West Germany), they had no time to chase the few ladies who had a flirt with a young german.

    A lot of committees, Resistance cells and french intellectuals protested against these public shaving, especially since it was mostly (vast majority) punishing women who simply worked (laundry, cooking, etc) for the germans staying there (nb: these women had to pay the rent and food themselves to survive during war time) or had a relationship with a german soldier (when all the men were in labor camps or dead, it’s perfectly normal to continue to live), or simply punishing prostitutes who were just doing their job. Sadly, only in a few regions resistance cells managed to keep these public shaving low, declaring that prostitutes and women who had sex with german soldiers were all spared from any public shaving, with only the actual collaborators being shaved.

    It should be noted that these public shaving are still viewed these days as terrible and completely unfair, as the real collaborators (men and women alike) were mostly left untouched: a few were shot (especially the ones whose actions led to the death of many men and women in the Resistance), the rest got away with it (price of peace I guess… :/). Fucking Maurice Papon: repeat offender (mass-deported the jews in Paris, killed hundreds of résistants, killed tons of peaceful protesters during the troubles in Algeria), never got punished for that.

    Regarding Steven Milward and Band of Brothers, it is not accurate – women who had a relationship with a german soldier, or worked (as housemaid, cook, etc) were not killed. The rare exceptions being the few cases where some family members, especially the husband’s family, committed honor killing (ex: french husband is killed in combat, or die in labor camps, and the wife is caught enjoying the proximity of a young german man) and were not related to the Resistance movements.

    Liberation/post-occupation executions by the Resistance only occurred to people (regardless of sex) who:

    – made money out of the Occupation (by directly making business and profits with the german troops) = the war profiteers

    – terribly exploited the black market (selling rotten food to starving families, in exchange of their jewelry, exchanged at a tenth or twentieth of its actual value),

    – directly informed the german and vichy france authorities about jewish families living nearby, to exterminate them (= sharing the nazi ideology) and/or to loot the furniture/jewelry/goods there, or even steal the whole damn house/apartment (paying up the vichy france authorities to falsify the ownership certificates)

    – directly informed the german or vichy france authorities about resistance activities, people who were helping out resistant (hiding them, giving them food and clothes, transport), leading to thousands of arrests immediately followed by torture, executions and deportations of the résistants (some still teenagers). It even led to reprisal killings against the neutral civilian population: perfectly innocent teenagers and young men were hanged on balcony and lampposts, because someone ratted out “the village” was hiding some résistants.

    – some of the “collaborating” members of the french administration and vichy france authorities, even if most snaked their way out of the executions by buying a golden ticket:
    (a) by simply using money (and political support for the post-war situation)

    (b) by secretly diverting *some* résistants from deportation train convoys, usually sparing the pro-De Gaulle ones while leaving the independent, mostly communists/socialists, in the wagons – it progressively “cleaned” up the Resistance ranks, while awarding a “secret” get-out-of-jail card for the “collabos” (see: NAP and Super-NAP processes).

    *NAP/Super-NAP: “Noyautage des administrations publiques” (and its “super” variants for the highest ranks), ‘coring of the public administration’ = officially only about infiltrating the ranks of the administration to falsify papers/documents and get military intelligence data, actually heavily about ‘infiltrating’ the Vichy state through two-ways deal and negotiations, especially when it became clear Hitler wouldn’t defeat the Red Army on time before the rasputitsa (saving Moscow) and the extremely deadly winter (saving the factories), allowing Staline to get enough T34+IL2+artillery to roll the germans back, while the Allies would be landing on the western front.
    Accelerating the inevitable end of the Axis occupation of France while preserving and reinforcing the strength of the Resistance could allow France to jump back on its feet and deny the US the control of the french territories (originally to be cut in sectors, like the western Germany), so several french war criminals/criminals against humanity were offered clean records in exchange of their ‘collaboration’ (sic), and an awful lot of them took the offer (continuing to work in the french administration for years).

    (c) by strongly collaborating with the Allies (US/UK) authorities and informing them a lot about the existing Resistance cells (structure, members, strength, alliances, movements), especially the ones with communists/anarchists/socialists members*.

    *Addendum; these members were actually very important: they were the most experienced, networked and dedicated Resistance members, having already fought in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and right after the Battle of France (1940, up until the Liberation in 1944)(3 years in Spain + 4 years in France, that’s 7 years of guerilla warfare experience, an extremely valuable skill during that period). They were also the most politically-conscious members of the Resistance, fighting against totalitarianism and not just against the invaders of France. On the other hand, the later christian and right-wing resistance cells mostly fought for France only, once De Gaulle (center-right wing) became the leader of the Resistance.

    Why is it any important ? These “red” members could pose a threat to the US interests in the upcoming Cold War and were taken very seriously by the western Allies: these members were the #1 reason (by far, confirmed countless times from different sources) why the Allies never armed the Spanish republicans and the International Brigades (volunteers fighting against the dictator Franco and Hitler’s massive air and logistic support) and even BLOCKED arms shipments (coming from Russia and communist organizations around the world) going to help the struggling spanish republican army.

    These members are also the sole reason why the US and Churchill refused to airdrop weapons and explosives to the Resistance, only drip-feeding them with weak explosives (barely able to take out parts of bridges or bending rails), and a handful of Sten during the very late stage of the war, forcing most resistant fighters to salvage WW1 weapons from depots and stealing weapons from german soldiers during costly raids.

    These “red” resistance fighters actually never posed a threat during the Cold War, half because french communism was deeply different from USSR communism (the authoritarian stalinism wasn’t compatible with the social and democratic variant of communism found in France back then), half because De Gaulle was a political mastermind who managed to keep them all in check.

    These “red” résistants paid the highest cost, in human lives, in risk taken, families lost, being the first to be tortured and executed by vichy and nazi forces, being the first to be sent to death and labor camp (very very few survived to tell their stories). They never paraded in the streets, they never asked for medals or public recognition. These brave resistance fighters are NOT the ones you see taunting their guns while speeding in cars with a “FFI” sign crudely painted on it, throwing innocent women on the pavement, to cut their hair and spit on their faces. For the true resistance fighters, that was the most vile and depressing show they were seeing after kicking the germans out.

    Never forget the true résistants, never forget what they did. Never forget the false ones, never forget their disgusting acts and cowardice on innocent women.

    Same with the germans who fought in the german army simply because they were germans, vs. the nazis who fought for nazism because they believe in nazism. They’re not the same kind at all: some french fought in SS units until the end, same with thousands of eastern european nazis joining SS ranks to exterminate thousands of jews. Nazism was everywhere and far from limited to germany. The german nation was simply much more vulnerable to nazism because of the terrible economic crisis (reinforced by the WW1 misery enforced by the winning side), and ended up being the home of all the nazis around the world, hijacking the german army and german industry in the process.

    You had nazis in France (ended up with the Vichy state), you had nazis in the UK (ended up delaying UK involvement), you had nazis in the US (delayed the USA involvement a lot, forcing the anti-Hitler side to… make sure people “learned” about that threat), you had fascists in Italy (ended up taking power, and remaining strong and fully funded+armed throughout the Cold War), you had fascists in Spain (ended up taking power and keeping it for decades thanks to US support too, w/ the Cold War context), you had fascists in Portugal (ended up taking power and keeping for decades, Cold War context again)(see South America during the Cold War too).

    All nations had growing pro-fascism and totalitarian movements, all nations had thousands of people being in near-complete agreement with the nazi ideology. We, western powers, simply let the nazis residing in Germany take over the place, by leaving its entire population to misery and despair, without reacting on time: it is our fault, our complete failure.

    So please, leave all the stereotypes, the generalizations and the simplifications at the door – they’re all useless, you won’t need them to understand your world. The truth only exists within complexity: if anything in history is simple, it’s a lie.

    The historian and professor Henry Laurens once said “Si vous avez compris quelque chose au Liban, c’est qu’on vous l’a mal expliqué” (approx. “If you understood anything about Lebanon, someone wrongly explained it to you”). It applies to everything in history.

    Reply
    1. KitKat

      You touched a very interesting subject here Peter .. not meaning the shavings itself as this happened in Holland (where im from) a lot too .
      Public more less settling the score .. nasty.. but collabing was nasty too and getting a bald head seems a small price to pay really ..these girls stoically undergo it as they knew very well this was coming to em one day .. but the part im very interested in is the Red resitance issue you came up with.
      We had several suspicious incidents here where in the last months of war where as if by magic many red groups were captured and executed . Official story is some got arrested and talked causing many groups to be exposed .. but when later the very same police people and magistrates etc that were in German service got reinstated by the govt in exile in London (scandal!) in their old functions things started to leak out . Stories of treason , Free dutch in London afraid for those active red groups that leaked names directly to SD and Abwehr to get rid of em .Basicly its the cold war already starting while ww2 wasnt even over yet .
      Several times there have been investigations..and after every investigation more and more documents were disappearing as if by magic ..
      No wonder knowing Dutch royalty is/was involved in this ..Its known as ‘the Velser affair’ , and up to today its stirring up a lot of emotions.
      It has several overlappings with the so called England Spiel..wich is just as controversial and the leaking of the Market Garden plans.. something else thats being totally ignored by many historians but true none the less.

      Reply
  9. Jean

    Male collaborators were generally killed, most females were shamed in this manner. And there is a difference between being passive and collaborating. Collaborators of the enemy in most countries is punishable as treason.

    Reply

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