How François Mitterrand navigated between the government and the Resistance
In post-war France, it was generally believed that from 1940 the Resistance and its activities were systematically motivated by a determination to combat not only the Germans but also the French State. Yet many members of the Resistance shared the same values as Marshal Pétain. These men and women considered that working for the government and helping the Resistance went hand in hand. Their prime aim was to prepare the terrain so that France’s leaders could resume combat when this became possible. Many of these so-called “Vichysto-resistants” worked for Vichy’s institutions and ministries such as the French Legion of Combatants, which had its headquarters in the Hôtel de Séville.
Created in August 1940, the French Legion of Combatants represented the new order that the Vichy government wanted to establish. Its role as a propaganda machine was immense and its members were among the staunchest supporters of Marshal Pétain and the National Revolution. After escaping from Stalag IXA in Germany in December 1941, François Mitterrand arrived in Vichy in January 1942 and began working in the Legion’s “documentation” service, which was in fact an intelligence unit whose purpose was to gather information on “anti-nationals” such as Communists and Gaullists.
After several months at the Hôtel de Séville, he was employed by the Service for the Orientation of Prisoners of War. In 1943, he received the francisque, a medal awarded by the Vichy regime. The same year, he built up a resistance movement mainly composed of ex-prisoners of war, which became affiliated to the Organisation de Résistance de l’Armée, Giraudist in allegiance. Late in 1943, Mitterrand, hunted by the Gestapo, left Vichy for good.