It’s 1942 and the Germans occupy and dominate the vast majority of Europe. They were there, on the scene, and the local men either were not (dead, in prison camps, in hiding) 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 as shown on many pictures here, that seemed to be the thing to do. And it seemed quite common, as if this was ‘the proof’ of, well, you know.
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. To some extent, that reputation remains to this day in certain quarters.
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? Once in that situation, staying home became untenable – time to follow husband wherever he is headed, even if it is prison camp. And sometimes you need to put aside your cynicism – love is love, for better or worse.
Conquering soldiers have 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 taking advantage of 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.
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.
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”. 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.
(Photo credit: Bundesarchiv / French Archives).