When one thinks of WWII, a barrage of imagery comes to mind. Vast armies and tanks rolling into battle, major airplane formations supporting them, and as is often the case with war, especially WWII, macabre evidence of the Holocaust. In the midst of all this chaos were the men and women of the occupied countries. When news of the capitulation of their governments came out, the citizens of these nations reacted in different ways. Some quite naturally scared fled in panic with whatever of their belongings they could take…often just the clothes on their backs, others decided to make life easy on themselves and started collaborating with the occupiers, and a brave few decided not to take it lying down, they fought and resisted!
3. French Resistance 1940-1944
The case of the French capitulation to Hitler’s army still draws a lot of debate and controversy to this day. Contrary to popular opinion, the French did not just roll over and play dead, they fought a decent frontal war against the Germans. They were simply caught off-guard by the German decision not to attack directly at the heavily defended Maginot Line. Knowing further open resistance was futile, the French decided to spare Paris the destruction other capitals had seen from the German Luftwaffe. This of course did not end French resistance, it only started it.
The seething anger many French men and women had to endure when witnessing the ignominy of watching German troops parade in the heart of Paris came to a boil when those very same German troops and officers started coming under increasing attack from hit and run squads of the resistance.
Despite the repressive measures undertaken by the Gestapo and their French collaborators the Milice, the Resistance only grew in scope and strength. By the time the Allied invasion of France had started in 1944, the French resistance was credited with tying down large numbers of German troop columns. This contributed to the chronic shortage of manpower for the Germans at the Normandy Beach landings and thus gave the Allies the advantage to take the beachheads and push into mainland France.
2. Yugoslav Resistance 1941-1944
Yugoslavia suffered the same fate as most other European nations during WWII, it was invaded and occupied by Hitler’s zeal to acquire more territory. Although the Yugoslav Royal Army put up a valiant effort, the result of the invasion was a foregone conclusion; they were hopelessly outclassed and were defeated within a couple of weeks. Like other occupied people…the Yugoslavs started to resist. Unlike the French resistance where ideologically different factions collaborated to oust the Nazis in Yugoslavia ,it was more complex.
A significant portion of the population in the region of Croatia decided to collaborate with the Nazis and were rewarded with their own puppet state, becoming enthusiastic Nazis and their militia, the Ustaše, carried out horrific massacres. In other regions, two resistance movements emerged, the Communist Partisans under the leadership of Marshall Tito and the Royalist and Nationalist Chetniks. Initially they did work together to fight the Nazis, but eventually the Chetniks started collaborating as well in fear of losing the country to the Communists.
This collaboration tainted the Chetniks and they lost support from Great Britain and America, who decided to throw in their lot with Tito’s Communists. The Yugoslav resistance movement is considered one of the largest and most successful ones in WWII, owing to the great sacrifices its soldiers and civilians made to keep vast numbers of German units tied down in the Balkans and away from British and American theaters of war.
1. Polish Resistance 1939-1945
The destruction of Poland during WWII is arguably the most tragic event of the war. Poland was ground zero, it’s where Hitler decided he wasn’t pussyfooting around anymore and was going to use brutal force to get his way. Typical Hitler harbored extreme hatred towards the Polish people and had made plans to systematically destroy the country and its people. Of course this was just one half of the problem the hapless Poles had to contend with, Stalin wanted a piece of the pie too and made a secret pact with Hitler to partition the country and destroy its intelligentsia, culture and history.
It was the German invasion of Poland that prompted the official declaration of WWII from Great Britain and France. Though here the Poles would come to learn of the nature of western betrayal, neither Britain nor France did anything, their reaction was tepid that the press labeled their state of war with Germany as The Phony War. All this misfortune of course did not deter the Poles from creating the largest and most militarily successful resistance movement of the war.
With 400,000 men and women under arms, the Polish resistance was a force to be reckoned with, making the Gestapo respond with ever increasing repressive methods. All to no avail, the Polish resistance the largest contingent being the Armia Krajowa or Polish Home Army reached its zenith in the autumn of 1944 when it initiated the Warsaw Uprising, the largest military operation of a resistance movement on the continent…even taking and controlling parts of the city for weeks, inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans. Here again, the Poles learned an even more bitter lesson in western betrayal; as the Germans retreated, Stalin’s Red Army moved in, killing and imprisoning Polish Home Army soldiers because their loyalty lay with the Polish Government in exile in London and not with Stalin’s puppet government. Poland’s final tab lay at 6 million dead, 3 million of them Jews perishing in death camps and suffering the pain of foreign occupation once again.