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.
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.
There is not a lot that needs to be said on this topic. The Germans occupied the vast majority of Europe. They were there, and, like soldiers of every army of every period of history, as soon as they got comfortable they started scouting around for women. And, as always in times of military occupation, there were 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, as if this was ‘the proof’ of, well, you know. Sort of like mounting the moose head on the wall.
Some of the Germans even brought their French girlfriends back to the base with them. Oh, naughty, naughty, that had to be against some kind of regulations. 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. They undoubtedly were safer in there with him than on the streets, subject to abuse by partisans.
Members of the Norwegian collaborationist Special Squad Lola (Sonderabteilung Lola) whose mission was to infiltrate the Norwegian resistance, are being tried after the war. Spirits seem to be high – indicating the level of callousness of these hardened war criminals. Lola worked under the orders of the SS/SD; several hundred Norwegians were tortured, and it is believed that Lola killed more than 80 people.Ten defendants, all men, were found guilty and shot.The rest received long prison sentences.
Unity Mitford (L) and her sister Lady Diana Mosley, born Mitford (R) with SS troops at the September 1937 Nuremberg Nazi Party rally. The sisters were familiar faces in pre-war Germany. File KV 2/882 in the National Archives contains Secret Intelligence Service reports from 1936 stating that Unity sees a lot of Hitler when he is in Munich, is ‘more Nazi than the Nazis’, and that she gave the ‘Hitler salute’ to the British Consul General in Munich, who requested that her passport be impounded.
There were collaborators all across Europe. Pictured above are some from Norway and England. It is estimated that there were hundreds of collaborators and wannabe collaborators in England. There were substantial pre-war ties between the English gentry and Germany, and this led many young English women astray.