THE SACRIFICE, THE FALL, AND THE RESURGENCE OF FIGHTING FRANCE
AN ADDRESS BY
E. ROBERT SCHMITZ.
Chairman: The President, Mr. W. Eason Humphreys.
Thursday, March 8, 1944
MR. HUMPHREYS: Music is a common denominator for nations and people. Because of this, and in the course of a lifetime, masters of that art find themselves in many parts of the world, with minds tuned to the spiritual, as well as the material, aspect of life.
Some are specially able in translating human trials and aspirations. One such is our guest of honour, Mr. E. Robert Schmitz, the great French pianist.
Mr. Schmitz started his distinguished musical career as a choir boy in Paris, and then, at the Conservatory there, he studied piano and violin.
The countries of Europe, the Orient and the Americas, have acclaimed our guest, especially in respect of French music. A close friend of Debussy and Ravel, a student of the classics, Mr. Schmitz is professionally noted for his ability in the playing of Bach and Chopin.
Chatting about Mr. Schmitz with my friend, Reginald Godden, a few days ago, Mr. Godden said: "Schmitz is completely a part of life today. A great exponent of contemporary music, one who could easily have been a scientist as well as a musician."
Much as we would like it, Mr. Schmitz is not here to play for us. Instead, he comes to consider with us: "The Sacrifice, The Fall, and The Resurgence of Fighting France."
Our guest fought for France in World War I, and was cited for bravery. He still fights for France, using his great knowledge and understanding of his country to inform us, who perhaps are not even yet aware of all that France has done, and is doing, for the common cause.
Today we see our guest as a patriot of France, and, knowing the soul of France as he does, speaks to us of "The Sacrifice, The Fall, and The Resurgence of Fighting France."
Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. E. Robert Schmitz. MR. SCHMITZ: Mr. Chairman, Ladies, Gentlemen, Friends: It is a great privilege to be able to address you today; I feel greatly honoured that you should have asked me to talk about my country, France, and its contributions, past and present, to the United Nations' cause, the cause of Democracy, the cause of Freedom! and Decency! For the sake of clarity I must recall to our minds many facts which we all know; today the full significance of these facts must be present before our eyes in an active way since their relation to the decisions of tomorrow is real and the world will not look with kindness upon those who still could cause unjust and careless distortions of the truth upon which tomorrow must be built! We are all hoping for a better world, just as many of us hoped for that after World War I; many of us are willing to work, sacrifice, suffer, in order to help construct such a better world but in order to make our efforts fruitful we must acquire knowledge of many true facts liberated from the stain of petty politics, private grudges or selfish interest; we must reach for the true facts and without fear nor egotism. We must learn again to accept and fulfill our moral and material obligations towards our fellows! Public opinion often asks questions related to France but the answers seem to get lost "on the way" as they encounter the hurdles of petty politics, private grudges or selfish private interest of individuals, as well as of "pressure groups". I shall proceed by enumerating some of these questions and offering you facts which are answers by their own nature.
The first question, which has found entirely too many assenters, is "Did French Democracy fail to work and its bad Government of the Third Republic cause the Fall of France in 1940?" Of course no normally intelligent citizen of any of the Allied countries should ask this question since the least amount of logic or an elementary sense of strategy puts significance upon the fact that all the countries (not France alone) which were in the first line of defense fell (this includes Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Holland, Belgium together with France); amongst these countries of the first line of defense only three were real democracies, but the others fell also so there is no basis to credit the Fall of France to Democracy in particular. Why did these countries fall? First, because of their geographical position in relation to the aggressor; secondly, because of the international mixed policy of appeasement and isolationism which through nearly a whole decade of years was used to extreme advantage by the German propagandists and made all preparation for the defense of the Allied Democracies impossible since it would be decried at once as "war mongering" by various "pressure groups" within the Democracies; yet it was accepted by us sometimes because of blind idealism and some other times because of sheer egotism; altogether because of a certain amount of reactionary stupidity in certain circles of influence.
France was affected by that international policy like the other Democracies-in 1939, we had lack of unity in our aims, just as all our future Allies; political feuds were going strong everywhere, and were tended expertly by the Nazi propaganda machine; the fear of Communism became one of the most efficient weapons of that German propoganda, since it appeared one of the easiest ways to "divide" people; in France that "well promoted" fear of communism caused even the nationalists to turn to pacifism around 1934 (of course this was helped by the remembrance of the slaughter of a million and 500,000 Frenchmen in the war of 1914-18, which the propaganda machine also incited the French people to compare to the 100,000 Americans killed during the same war). One thing which may not be credited to the international policy is the comparative scarcity of real leaders in French politics during the last 15 years or so; we did not seem to have such political figures as Waldeck-Rousseau (1898-1900), or such an energetic "tiger" as Clemenceau (1917), nor such a great economist and patriot as Poincare (1926); but let us remember that most of the young Frenchmen who might have become the potential great leaders of the France of 1940 were youngsters courageous enough in 1914-18 to be part of the million and half French killed! Now we must consider what part a certain percentage of the international press, not excluding French press, played in this international world policy; let us remember that some French newspapers had even become financed by Mussolini, but let us remember also that in North America one of the leading Midwest newspapers carried a systematic campaign in the 1920's to instill in the minds of all people that France was the only obstacle to world recovery and permanent peace; this was not the decay of the French press, but the embryonic pressure of a propaganda system destined to weaken the first line of defense of the Allies. i.e., France.
It does not really matter whether it was stupidity or ill intent-the fact is that this false representation of the attitude of France has proved itself one of the most wicked and treacherous weapons of the pro-German preparedness toward aggression by shaming the country that had clear-sightedness enough to expect the present attack and forcing her into the crazy hope of peace against all evidence. France's evacuation of the Ruhr under the amicable but insistent pressure of her greatest friends was the crowning development of that propaganda initiated outside France, in the press.
Salient facts of the international policy which weakened France and built the power of Germany do not always show ill intent, but most of the time indicate a candid irresponsibility; these include:
The generosity of spirit and pocketbook toward Germany motivated by the hope of buying peace, but with the result of constructing an evil power. It made the next step, the policy of appeasement carried by France, England, the United States, almost imperative and afforded Germany the time to complete its war machine. Appeasement and isolationism were so strongly promoted that in the U.S.A. even at the time of the 1940 election many of the political leaders were still blind enough to claim that the U.S.A. had thus been kept successfully out of the war, and this in spite of the accomplished facts of the Fall of France and the narrow margin of chance left for the British to stave off the attack across the Channel through their magnificent defense! God forbid that such politicians be allowed to revive the "humanitarian idea" that first help must go to Germany when peace comes! Let us go back in history and remember! In 1918 after four years of havoc, destruction, killings, Germany surrendered. The Treaty of Versailles was signed. The U.S.A. refused to join England in a treaty to protect France, and declined to join the League of Nations. A great propaganda era started to make people forget the war guilt of Germany, and soon to depict Germany as the victim! We heard of the poor undernourished German children; these undernourished young Germans who now have become of age and are the bandits of the Aryan creed, demented disciples of gangster Hitler; these were fed and made strong by the kindness of the former victims of the German Reich; this propaganda became so strong that it left but little place in the world consciousness for those other children, orphans of France, Belgium, who had had their houses blasted and burned over their heads! Then was created further the belief that the Treaty of Versailles was unjust; the Dawes and Young plans followed; the help to Germany augmented; these were sincerely intended for rehabilitation, but this economic rehabilitation was slyly transformed into all that was necessary for total war by Germany. At the time of the Lausanne Conference of 1931, American investors under the Dawes plan and the Young plan had loaned Germany more than the amount she was paying in reparations. The total cash borrowed by Germany while she was paying reparations was six times as much as the total cash reparations payments ever made by Germany! The Versailles Treaty called for 33 billions dollars reparations; Germany did not quite pay four billion dollars in all; the total money Germany paid in reparations was not quite 60% of what she forced France to pay in a very short time in 1870. This is one of the reasons why, in 1932, Germany stood at the head of the world's exporting countries, yet Hitler continued to claim economic and social distress, using this as a pretext to continue his preparations. However, we still refused to believe, hear or see! But let us return to France. Did the France of 1939-40 possess the same quality of courage and sense of honour that won the world's admiration in 1914-18? Because France fell, uninformed people are prone to accuse her of having lost that courage of 1914-18; but then let us compare World War I and World War II in their early stages. Let us remember that in 1914, but five weeks after the invasion of France by the Germans, these were at the doors of Paris; France had Russia and Italy as allies; it is quite possible that if France had had to transfer two armies to a second front against Italy in spite of the heroic fighting qualities of her armies the "miracle of the Marne" might not have taken place; this is not to diminish the glory attached to the French poilus of 1914-18, I am much too proud to have been one of them to intend this in a derogatory way, but we are speaking of facts and statistics! The "miracle of the Marne", "Verdun" and many other great battles took place successfully, but we did not have a second front then. This time, in 1939, the balance of forces was different-we had a second enemy poised on a second front! On September 1, 1939, France fulfilling its pledge of honour towards Poland declared war on Germany; we may well say that France was alone in the first line of defense, except for the help of the British Expeditionary Force of 12 divisions (180,000) which was to become available by the ninth month of the war (one month before the Fall of Paris). France, a nation of 42 millions, was alone against the Axis coalition of 120 millions which for many years had mobilized all its energies to prepare this crushing onslaught; the U.S.A. at that time had an army of 260,000 but not available; the British Expeditionary Force became fully available in May, 1940; the U.S.A. was just repealing the neutrality law, but had no weapons to send us as yet. France was not any more ready than any of the other Allies, but she made the sacrifice that the front line soldier makes; it is most certain that any of the present Allies would have fared no better regardless of courage and sense of honour! As Anthony Eden said so justly, "If it were not for geographic conditions England might have fallen like France." I may add to this that some of my friends of the British Army have even told me "If we British had been on the soil of France and you French on the British Isles, Britain would have fallen and France would have defended the British Isles."
Let us remember it, France of 1939-40 was just as courageous as France of 1914-18, but the task was harder; we must remember that in 1939 she sacrificed herself at a heavy price to buy that vitally needed few months that might enable her allies to start getting ready. 150,000 soldiers were killed, 100,000 civilians were killed, making a total of 250,000 killed which is higher than the combined losses of the British Empire and the U.S.A. since the beginning of the war and up to August 15, 1943. One million and 800,000 prisoners were taken to Germany (this would be as if the U.S.A. had seven million of her men in the Nazi prison camps). Then, is there any civilized individual of the second line of defense who will deny recognition to the soldier or to the nation who falls on the first line of defense!
Let us now consider what has happened in France and in the French Empire since the Armistice of June, 1940. I will quote now from the book Resistance by the distinguished Frenchman Andre Morize: "Today all the nations subjugated by Hitlerism are nothing but vast prisons where executioners torture bodies and seek to asphyxiate souls. But today on the walls of all these jails, millions of hands, in letters of light or of blood, fling to the conqueror and to the world the same challenge 'We Resist'. After the Fall of France in 1940 the people stunned by the defeat were filled with despair and discouragement; some, however, almost everywhere from the first day, with all their clear-sightedness and all their love, refused to accept defeat." Secretly they organized and became the nuclei of living cells of resistance, resistance to the invader, resistance to those who called themselves the Government of France at Vichy; these cells developed rapidly, at first isolated from each other, then gradually a sporadic process connected them to each other; the moving ideal which made and makes the resistance movement so great is that ideal which is embodied in the Declaration des droits de l'homme (Declaration of the Rights of Man). It is also a sense of honour which refuses to accept compromises, slavery, cowardly acts revolting to the conscience of French people who are descendants of those who fought for Freedom in 1789, of those who fought for Freedom in 1914-18 and in so many other occasions.
Here I would like to quote again but this time it will be from one of the greatest French patriots, M. Andre Philip, who at present is on the French Committee of National Liberation in Algiers as Director of Underground Metropolitan France; the quotation will be from his broadcast which originated from London on August 13, 1942, that is immediately after he had escaped Occupied France in order to establish the connection between the French Underground and General Charles de Gaulle. As he expressed it, "We have resisted because we wanted to remain faithful to the fundamental values of our civilization. We believed that liberty and independence are higher realities, and that nothing in the world is higher than respect for human dignity and the responsibility of the individual. We thought it was preferable to die rather than relinquish all that. We thought that ten tons of material force cannot prevail over an ounce of truth, and that the possession of five thousand tanks is not sufficient to change a lie into a truth."
In June, 1940, Marshal Petain negotiated and signed the armistice and within three weeks the Vichy puppet Government found its devious way to establish an obviously fascist dictatorship, and started erasing the very name of Republic from public buildings, monuments, and documents; this was done in spite of the fact that the French Constitution denies the National Assembly power to pass constitutional amendments affecting "the republican form of government"; this was usurpation of power and destruction of the liberties won by the French Revolution, fully contrary to the vast majority of public opinion in every way. However, General Charles de Gaulle, then Under-Secretary of State for National Defense in the Reynaud Cabinet, did riot submit to the capitulation and, on June 16, 1940, flew to England from where he made his stirring appeal to all Frenchmen who could join him to continue the fight.
To ALL FRENCHMEN
France has lost a battle
But France has not lost the war!
A makeshift Government may have capitulated, giving way to panic, forgetting honour, delivering their country into slavery. Yet nothing is lost!
Nothing is lost, because this war is a world war. In the free universe immense forces have not yet been brought into play. Some day these forces will crush the enemy. On that day France must be present at the Victory. She will then regain her liberty and her greatness.
That is my goal, my only goal!
That is why I ask all Frenchmen, wherever they may be, to unite with me in action, in sacrifice and in hope. Our country is in danger of death. Let us fight and save it.
LONG LIVE FRANCE!
GENERAL DE GAULLE.
Important sections of the French Empire rallied to his standard, the Lorraine Cross, and steadily the Free French fighting forces were regrouped. The recognition granted him almost at once, by the Crown, through Churchill, can never be too highly praised. I would like to read you the last phrase in the letter addressed to General de Gaulle on August 7, 1940, by Winston Churchill: "I would take this opportunity of stating that it is the determination of His Majesty's Government, when victory has been gained by the Allied arms, to secure the full restoration of the independence and greatness of France."
The need for a co-ordinating leadership in the struggle for resistance and for liberation of France as well as for a representation of her general interests among the fight ing democracies induced the three main underground organizations of France "Liberation", "Combat", and "Franc-Tireur" to form a Committee, just as three political parties might join in electing representatives of the people to Congress or to the House. This Committee of the people in whose hands resistance was centralized then sent representatives to London. Their conversations with General de Gaulle wound up in an agreement which was published simultaneously in London and in the French underground papers in June, 1942. By May, 1943, complete organization of all French resistance groups was an accomplished fact; a committee of the Movements of French Resistance was set up and includes representatives of the following underground groups; Combat, Liberation, Franc Tireur, Resistance; and the Military Committee of Guerillas and Partisans. This general Committee of the Movements of French Resistance also includes delegates of the Confederation generale du Travail (Labour Union), Confederation Francaise travailleurs chretiens (Christian Federation of Labour), and representatives of all political parties from Left to Right: Communist, Socialist, Radical Socialist, Popular Democratic, Democratic Alliance, Republican Federation. This Committee sent the following message to General de Gaulle on May 14, 1943
"All movements and groups in both north and south zones wish to assure the French National Committee and General de Gaulle, on the eve of his de parture for Algeria, that they stand solidly for the principles they embody, from which they could not depart ever so slightly without strong protest from the French people."
I will now read again this message to you but this time I shall endeavour to replace the English word "they" which is used here with a full realization of its confusing character by the names of Underground and Committee of Liberation where they belong. "All Movements and Groups (of the Underground) assure the F.N.C. and General de Gaulle on the eve of his departure for Algeria that they (the Underground) stand solidly for the principles they (meaning the Committee of Liberation) embody, from which they (meaning again the Committee of Liberation) could not depart ever so slightly without strong protest from the French people."
Thus the actual authority of the Committee of National Liberation in Algiers in representing and leading underground resistance in France is that of powers and obligations vested upon the De Gaulle Committee by the people of France, through a painstaking democratic process of vote realized in spite of the daily tragedies visited upon France by the Nazis and the Vichy so-called Government. On the other hand, while such men as Laval may be considered as plain traitors, it is necessary to realize that France even after nearly four years of the nightmare of so-called collaboration has only few such brigands. France is not divided but rather deeply unified and the strength of such unity is shown by the maintenance of the most cherished prerogative of the French Republic and of other Democracies, that of having the people designate the leaders of their small groups of resistance, then having the leaders of these groups elect central committees, then having these groups elect central committees, then having these appoint emissaries to the French forces outside of France and ultimately designating the French Committee of National Liberation headed by General de Gaulle as its present governing body; here we have no usurpation of power, but merely courageous patriots outside and within France uniting to elect their Chief and organizing for efficient contribution to the cause of the United Nations.
Another aspect of this underground movement which we must fully realize for its courage, its self-sacrifice, the constant deadly danger that it affords to its promoters is the underground press. Of course France is not unique in this line; Norway publishes 12 such newspapers, Poland some eighty, Belgium 65, some in the Czechoslovakia, and some in Greece. In France their number surpasses sixty; these periodicals circulate the news confiscated by the censors and afford the oppressed people on their rare means of knowing what hopes are in store beyond the boundaries of their oppressed country; discovery of who prints, distributes or even reads such periodicals generally means death at the hands of the "butchers" of the oppressor; yet some of these underground periodicals publish as many as 75 thousand copies which are circulated from hand to hand! If you consider the number of such periodicals and their respective number of copies, you become awed by the magnitude of this resistance movement which defies ceaselessly its attackers. Besides spreading the real news unadulterated by the Nazi censors, these publications also spread the instructions necessary to the co-ordination of the efforts of the underground and their friends from without. Some of these are published by French Universitarians, others by Socialist groups, every political group is part of it and co-ordinates, except, naturally, Vichy!
To quote again from the book by Morize: "These newspaper publish documents or texts which the Vichy government seeks to conceal, official correspondence between Vichy, Paris, Berlin, Wiesbaden. . . . and to the exasperation of the Laval Police and the Gestapo it is evident that many of these documents are furnished by Government officials who have remained faithful to France."
I wish the time would permit to describe to you in detail the contribution of the Free French to the war effort of the United Nations; it started almost at once with the control of the strategic territories which have been of immense value to us all in Africa and New Caledonia; it includes more contributions in lives and blood gloriously lost in battle in Lybia as early as December, 1940, in Ethiopia, in Southern Lybia at the time of the amazing march of the column of General Leclerc from Lake Tchad, in Lebanon, at Bir Hacheim under General Koenig, at the Mareth Line, in Tunisia, and now in Italy; to appraise rightly these deeds we should read the declarations made by such Generals as Wavell, Montgomery, and others.
Fighting France had 90 thousand front line troops and through the battles I just mentioned, suffered 17 thousand casualties and took 20 thousand German prisoners; it is impossible to know how many Germany fighters they obliterated from their hordes! At present the initial force of 90 thousand, including one thousand pilots, is being enlarged by the completion of a French army of 400,000; if one added to this the potential power of the vast underground in France, one is then looking at the French Nation altogether, except for a few senile and treacherous politicians in Vichy and perhaps a few egotistic and unscrupulous money-grabbers of the "business as usual type", who are more or less hiding away from the battle, wherever a callous tolerance accepts them.
In spite of the tragedy of Toulon, when the French Navy scuttled itself, the Fighting French navy today numbers close to 100 warships, including the 35,000 ton battleship Richelieu, an aircraft carrier, 7 fast modern cruisers, destroyers, submarines, etc. French merchant ships totalling well over one million tons have rallied to the United Nations war effort. Judging from this France is one of the five most important United Nations at present when considering each nation's contribution to the war effort. France does not act under the leadership of a Government-in-Exile; the French Committee of Liberation and General De Gaulle have assumed the functions of temporary trustees of France; it is in no way their intent to usurp power and the best proof that can be offered is the democratic character of the French underground and its selection of the De Gaulle Committee for leadership, in return for which the Consultative Assembly in Algiers invited numerous French underground leaders recently to contribute to the decisions; these underground delegates are at once the judges and censors of the activities of the French Committee of Liberation, but it is the Committee's invitation which brought them to Algiers; their welcomed presence is a testimony to the trust placed by the French nation in the French Committee of Liberation; sending the invitation to these people is the most eloquent proof of the absolute integrity of the French Committee headed by General de Gaulle. Truly France has designated her leaders; these leaders under the inspiring chairmanship of General de Gaulle have also accomplished an amazing piece of work to preserve the machinery of the true French constitutional Government intact, so that on the day of the liberation such be ready to function at the hands of the people of France.
The mutual trust of underground Metropolitan France and the Committee of Liberation is very strong and these forces are integrated already; it may be said that the people of France await three things with equal fervor
(1) The practical and rapid realization of the promise of arms and ammunitions in substantial quantities for the underground; (2) Invasion and fighting at the side of the United Nations troops; (3) Re-establishment of French Democracy without delays, restoring the French Republic with the help of those who never "let her down".
As France's territory will become liberated by armies which will include French troops, French people will welcome the help of the great Democracies, but will expect to contribute to this liberation; furthermore they will welcome the help of those who never accepted the armistice, they will welcome their bringing back to France the practical processes of the Republic, they will welcome the French Committee's help to re-organize the government in France.
We may say that there may be quite a few Frenchmen who may be suspicious of Allied political intentions as a result of the North African experience; and while most French people have by now understood some of the reasons for certain things, they nevertheless will not accept the maintenance of Vicheyites in positions in which they could again hurt France; even though it may be recognized that a Vichyite may not look the same to an American as he does to a French underground patriot, the French feel that they are best judges as to who has been a traitor in France, because they have informed themselves at length during these four years of tragedy! The French have a deep sense of honour and-are jealous of their rights as a nation. It is this that has made them revere General de Gaulle and accept him as the symbol of their hopes and aspirations; his stubborn courage and foresight have meant much to them. I understand that both London and Washington are recognizing more and more that the Committee of Liberation is and will be the expert organism through which governmental reorganization of France can be best accomplished; this decision of the Allies will help tremendously the morale of France as will an unmitigated recognition of her courage and sacrifices; these things are necessary to the world of peace.
The world wants France re-instated, because the world has its own sense of honour, even though at times it becomes clouded by extraneous elements; but the world wants France also because France is useful to the world and the United Nations know that nine months to start getting ready to defend themselves were bought as the first line of defense by just a few countries amongst which France's sacrifice cannot be measured by any word I can find in the dictionary.