The Legacy of Nazi Occupation: Patriotic Memory and National Recovery in Western Europe, 1945-1965

By Pieter Lagrou | Go to book overview

9
Patriotic scrutiny

Chapter 4 mentioned briefly the rudimentary 'Nuremberg of the masses' which occurred during the repatriation from Germany. Repatriation brought back an explosive mixture of the most wretched victims of the Nazi regime — the concentration camp survivors — and its most detested accomplices — collaborators who had fled with the Germans, volunteers for the Wehrmacht and the SS. Indignation over Nazi crimes, personified in the returning martyrs, was channelled on to the black sheep in the DP herd, creating a generalised atmosphere of suspicion. Screening in the transit centres was alleged to be inadequate, letting through Gestapo agents, miliciens and even ordinary German citizens trying to obtain the repatriation grant, returning to Germany and in some cases repeating the same operation several times.1 It is interesting in this context to observe that transfer to Germany and repatriation were not always a straightforward round trip, and that some crossmigration occurred. Belgian collaborationists, fearing to return to an environment reminiscent of their wartime behaviour, migrated to France instead and bought farms vacated by their occupants, benefiting from the rural exodus that was itself accelerated by the wartime population displacement. Their concentration in particularly deserted departments — reports in some localities indicate that they took over 50 per cent of the farms — caused resentment in the local population and suspicion as to what had made them flee their own country.2

It can be assumed that, at the national level, the reasons for very many repatriated collaborationists not to return to their original region were all too strong. The same reports stipulate that, for those who did, lynching by the crowds in the railway stations upon arrival could often

____________________
1
Gendarmerie Nationale. Synthèse pour la période du 15 mars au 15 avril 1945 (Paris, 22 May 1945); Synthèse pour la période du 15 avril au 15 mai 1945 (Paris, 13 June 1945): both AN 72 AJ 384.
2
Notably the department of the Eure, Gendarmerie Nationale. Synthèse pour la période du 15 septembre au 15 octobre 1944 and Synthèse pour la période du 15 octobre au 15 novembre 1944, both in AN 72 AJ 384. In my personal observation, I came across several similar cases in the department of the Ariège.

-157-

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