The escapees from France (1940-1944), the forgotten ones of the Second World War

It is a little-known episode in the history of France. During the second World War, 19,000 young French people (men and women) crossed the Pyrenees at the risk of their lives. They voluntarily enlisted in the French Combatant Forces after several months of internment in Spain in sordid jails. 4 to 5,000 of them enlisted in the 2nd Armored Division, the others entered all the corps of the French Army in formation in North Africa. Here is the forgotten story of escaped from France.

The escape from France through the Pyrenees, its causes, its reasons, its actors.

The period of occupation of French territory between the armistice requested by Marshal Pétain in June 1940 and the rout of the German armies following the Allied landings in 1944 provoked various reactions among the population. We exclude from our remarks those which went in the direction of total acceptance of the situation. Neither do we want to write a history of the Resistance, which has been done with skill by recognized historians. Our ambition is to put the reader in the mood that reigned from June 1940.

A period of general abatement was rather short in certain circles where a form of common reflection opposing the behavior of the new government was seeking a course of action. The term "resistance" was still unknown. One of the most representative examples of this situation is that of the “Museum of Man” in Paris.

The appeal of June 18 pronounced by General de Gaulle from the BBC studios in London was able to trigger in many places calls for regroupment. It concerned people in working or sympathetic relationships seeking ways to usefully oppose what was then imposed. Did we still have to wait for this call to pass by word of mouth because not all households had a radio receiver and very few listeners tuned in to the BBC at just the right time. At the same time, many populations were running the roads in search of shelter. This acquaintance was very spread out over time, and could only be done with the necessary caution in knowing the opinion of the interlocutor. Do not forget that from the end of the conflict in France, there were (at least) two camps, whose fervent “Pétainists” were ready to denounce the Gaullist “traitors”.

Very quickly after the establishment of the zones, the southern zone was the site of isolated reactions in which there were mixed up former soldiers or agents of the "Services", but also characters of the underworld who were looking for their ways in a side or the other (or even both). The conditions of the necessarily discreet presence of the German police left the possibility of secret establishment of various resistance organizations and channels of escape. For example, it was in Marseille that in July 1940 Paul Paillole set up the T.R. service (for rural work) which included former French counterespionage.

There were many who were not in close contact with established groups, such as a political cell or, sometimes, a team of people engaged in the same professional or recreational activity. They had to determine themselves, in conscience, in relation to our homeland. Some, many elsewhere, followed the movement accompanying Marshal Pétain.

If we highlight this need for individual reflection, it is because this was the case for a very large proportion of those who chose to leave France to join the Combattantes Forces by rejecting the collaborationist accompaniment of the Marshal.

A mistrust, justified by certain misadventures in connection with attempts to enter into contact with "resistance fighters", has guided many of the candidates to escape from France rather than to seek to join the resistance fighters.

The Pétain requisition law of September 4, 1942 had already affected 250,000 workers forced to work in Germany, often without even being able to return to their homes before leaving. The Laval law of February 16, 1943, which established the Compulsory Labor Service (STO), affected young men in classes 1920 to 1922. Let us recall that from March 27, 1943, for men aged 18 to 50, it was essential to have a work certificate; failing that, the person concerned could be required to work for the enemy. The closure of companies following the ordinance of February 25, 1942 (OJ of the occupation authorities) aggravates the risks since workers thus without work find themselves without a certificate and, as a result of the closure, are automatically requested to the S.T.O ..

These conditions provoked the stance of the refractories who therefore put themselves outside the law. Several hundred thousand workers were concerned, generally the youngest. Among these refractories are candidates to escape from France to join the regular armed French units of Free France. All that remained was to find the best way to satisfy this desire. For the record, there were passages in Switzerland which excluded any combat, but without having an appropriate "sesame", the amateurs were turned away. There were also plenty of "stash", those who found shelter with country families or friends, but the problem of their diet under the known dietary restrictions may have been embarrassing for the protectors. All this was not very glorious!

The beginning of internal organization in France.

Inorganization does not mean uselessness. Although without any thoughtful organization at their origin, certain networks quickly activated in the east, a particularly supervised area, to allow the escape of Alsatians and French or British prisoners of war who had successfully escaped from the camps where they were. retained. Other routes allowed the illegal crossing of the line of demarcation that separated the free zone from the occupied zone. In the beginning, it was often single people who served as smugglers. Should we add that these services were voluntary ... with rare exceptions.

The risk incurred was not negligible, as we will show by the orders below.

Ordinance of October 4, 1940 : by virtue of the powers conferred on me by the Führer und Oberster Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht, I order the following:

- Any person who crosses the demarcation line without authorization or who transfers goods or means of payment into the unoccupied zone will be punished without the prescribed authorization.

This already indicative beginning was repealed and replaced by a new reinforced ordinance of which we only give what concerns people.

Ordinance of April 28, 1941, concerning the illegal crossing of borders and prohibited military lines in occupied French territory, as well as the export, import and transit of goods.

By virtue of the full powers conferred on me by the Führer und Oberster Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht, I order the following:

(1) Shall be punished with imprisonment or forced labor, unless, under other provisions, a higher penalty is incurred,

- anyone who crosses, without authorization, the borders of the occupied territory or the prohibited military lines marked in the said territory,

- anyone who, without the authorization of the Militärbefehlshaber in Frankreich or an authority designated by him, will export goods from the occupied territory or have them transit through that territory.

(2) In less serious cases or negligent offenses, imprisonment of up to six weeks or a fine may be imposed.

(3) The attempt is punishable.

Very quickly, the necessary guards near the line which separated the zones supplemented the German police with French police officers and then militiamen of Joseph Darnand in 1943. The latter, moreover, often accompanied gendarmes in checks everywhere.

Who were those who left France in these early days?

We have mentioned above the state of mind of the candidates to escape from France.

We can add a sort of unifying slogan: join de Gaulle. We didn't know it, but it was sort of a "remarkable spot" - sailors say: a bitter - that had a common meaning with no explanation to provide.

We will not talk about people who, for various reasons - political or important situation -, benefited from transport organized by the French or British authorities in London after General de Gaulle had been admitted by the British government and had formed the nucleus. of Free France.

To attempt such a private departure, it was necessary to meet personal conditions, some of which were difficult to fulfill.

Even though we were no longer at open war, thanks - or because of - the armistice, our country was under the yoke of the Nazi occupiers. Its representatives in occupation (GESTAPO or SS) were perfectly trained by their regime to deal with any "appropriate" measure any case suspected of divergence from the laws enacted on the spot.

The first condition related to the consequences, against his relatives, of the action that the person concerned wished to take. Parents could be very badly handled if the fugitive was a minor. If he was of age and the head of the family, the anger of enemy police officers could have dramatic consequences for members of his family.

A person with a family had to take infinite precautions in this regard. Either the family could be brought to safety, sometimes in the free zone with also a change of identity if the "rebel" was no one known, or it was the individual himself who changed his name.

In the first case, as General de Gaulle did, his family was able to reach England. Second case: Philippe de Hautecloque who took the name of Leclerc and who was found at the head of Force L then 2th DFL and 2th DB. These two exemplary particular cases could obviously not be reproduced by ordinary citizens!

It is certain that the division of our country into two zones facilitated many actions. The free zone was not outside the secret surveillance of the Germans, but barring a helping hand that it was difficult for them to operate due to the conditions of the armistice, people could be safely put there.

The second condition was to find the right place and the right way to leave France with a chance of success.

Some, taking advantage of the still poorly organized surveillance of the coasts, crossed the Channel in the first days of the occupation, and thus escaped from France, joining the few Frenchmen who surrounded General de Gaulle in London.

A few had an opportunity to reach North Africa by taking advantage of a short period of disorganization in the south of the metropolis. There were even canoeists who left France for Cap Cerbère with the hope of going as far as possible by coasting. They were arrested by the Spanish maritime police and got to know Franco's prisons.

There are known cases of escape from the Pyrenees, whose surveillance was ineffective. These were immediately imprisoned in Spain for a period ranging from a few weeks to a few months, then sent back to France and handed over to the gendarmes. For the record, this is the fate that the comedian Pierre Dac experienced on his first attempt to pass.

The court then summoned the offender who was usually sentenced to a short sentence and a fine as well as a warning from the judge with an injunction not to repeat his escapade. Pierre Laval hardened the regime in 1942 by strengthening border surveillance and withdrawing consular protection in Spain from illegal emigrants.

The rule generally applied was to send immigrants back to the part of France through which they had crossed the border. As we have just seen, the penalty was light, but it was not the same for those who had passed towards the forbidden part of the Basque Country close to the ocean. They fell into German hands and went into exile in a concentration camp unless they were shot at Souge camp after being interned at Fort du Ha in Bordeaux.

Until then, the departing were allied fugitive prisoners, downed airmen who escaped capture, Jews fleeing persecution, a few volunteers bent on joining England, and also some intelligence agents. This last category no longer needed to use this means of transit as soon as radio communication equipment could be sent to persons accredited in France in 1941 and in 1942 air transfers could be organized.

Ultimately, a few hundred people are concerned. But when the Germans broke the armistice on November 10, 1942 after the landing of American troops in North Africa on November 8, the situation rapidly changed. The so-called free zone disappeared, France was occupied in the same way over the entire territory and the SS and Gestapo prevailed where certain complicit releases of some French police or gendarmes had until then allowed the exercise of forms of resistance. These include: maquis, transport of information, help for those resistant to S.T.O. or to the marshal's youth camps, assistance with the journey to the border, the reception of all those who were not in accordance with the Laws, the protection of the Jews, etc.

A new population of escapees.

In addition to the cases indicated above, Resistance fighters leave France and the application of the Service du Travail Obligatoire (S.T .O.) Forces a number of refractory young people to make the decision to disobey. Some people will think of joining the existing maquis, which was not always a good solution because these maquis were not necessarily able to arm and feed them. In addition, too important a maquis, with naive elements, could be endangered. Some were able to integrate by assimilation into politicized resistance organizations, notably communists, which operated after June 22, 1941, the date of the invasion of the USSR. by Hitler troops.

The others, generally not politicized, will be found in the Pyrenees. The first half of 1943 was the period of the most numerous passages and also, unfortunately, that of the most numerous arrests before the border, 600 on the monthly average. This is because, in the face of the tidal wave, the Germans understood that the French police were not in a position (?) To effectively monitor the Pyrenees and decided to erect a forbidden zone there from March 1943.

A well-supported assessment by historian Robert Belot has 23,000 successful passages.

The distribution of ages in 1943 is as follows: 15-19 years, 10.75%; from 20 to 23 years, 51.6%; from 24 to 30 years, 18.42%; from 31 to 45, 16.93%; over 45, 2.3%.

Robert Belot has established a socio-professional breakdown of the population escaping from France, which is very interesting in the reference book.

What we will hardly know is the number of candidates for this escape who were captured during their trip, in transport, in stations, crossing the demarcation line (even after the invasion of the southern zone), at the foot of the Pyrenees, etc. It is not impossible that this number was twice the number who made it through. Only a few units returned from those who were captured.

The general conditions for crossing the border.

Very few escapees have tried their luck on their own. As a general rule, it was wise to educate yourself, if possible by relationship (bear in mind that these are clandestine wrongdoing) to find a safe path.

Frontier residents who were perfectly familiar with the mountain, its paths and its difficulties were the only ones able to achieve this feat. Many of these were guides before being forced to flee to escape arrest. It was still necessary to find a contact who could introduce the candidate for escape into a relational circuit that leads to the guide. Infinite precautions were essential because the mere fact of announcing your candidacy in the process was not a certificate of loyalty. A candidate could be a traitor in the pay of the enemy or the French militia and could ruin an entire network by arresting participants.

On occasion, a "smuggler" turned out to be an enemy agent and denounced those who trusted him, for a fee. Let us hasten to point out that this case has arisen rarely.

Sections for the crossing of the Pyrenees were formed very soon after July 1940. They were generally at the start, people from the southwest who, in family or sometimes professional relations, in any case with the best knowledge of the opinion of the correspondent, formed a sort of chain of information and guidance to those who knew the mountain. Without wanting to generalize, because it would be abusive, a certain number of Pyrenean mountain people of that time practiced contraband. By habit, they knew the impracticable roads which ended in Spain. Some, but not all, asked for moderate sums of money for the passage (5 to 10,000 francs maximum)

Many of these routes, well identified after the war, suffered very heavy losses as a result of search operations carried out by the enemies. Carelessness at one link in the chain leads to disaster. When we know that some of these organizations covered France from north to south, the risks involved were immense. Risks aggravated by people who sought to be taken care of, we have mentioned above. Despite precautions, there might be traitors and, without going so far, reckless talkers or unconscious.

Some form of intelligence and network organization may have taken shape from Madrid as surprising as it may seem. These services had to be ignored by the authorities and, at least partially, the organization of the French Red Cross in Spain under Bishop Boyer-Mas was able to act as a screen. But German agents and Spanish agents are hard to fool and reading Ippécourt's book who was involved in these services, we measure the difficulties. There could not be a significant effect until the second quarter of 1943.


We cannot hide the fact that a certain underworld has interfered in the circuit of carrying out false documents which are provided for a large fee. If good quality channels exist, as said above, there are less recommendable ones in which anything and the worst can happen. Can the distant city dweller, Parisian, Lille, or Jew wanting to flee horror, who has not had the opportunity to be put in touch with members of a "good" sector, assess their reliability?

In order to show that the actions were not simple, here is an obstacle put up very cleverly by the Germans. In Perpignan, they had created a spy school for young interns before crossing the border and going to North Africa under the pretext of joining relatives.

It is easy to imagine the harm that these "interns" could do, mixed with other escapees. As soon as they were recovered in Spain by the German consular authorities, they could give precise information on the channels, on the guides and after their restarting towards North Africa, they could be able to provide by intermediary agents, a quantity of information. Unless a welcoming committee ad hoc prevented them by taking them as soon as they arrived!

Conversely, in this fool's game, the Germans were deceived by French people who they believed to be Germanophiles but who mystified them at first contact and only left on the orders of their resistance network.

Second test

After having successfully crossed - which does not mean without difficulty - the first test consisting of starting from his residence and reaching the foot of the Pyrenees having escaped all the traps, all the controls on the roads or in the transport; in a way, after making yourself transparent to opponents of all stripes, you had to wait for the right moment.

Whoever knows the Pyrenean populations knows that the appearance of the people, the accent of speaking to them, their social behavior are very particular and specific to the region.

It is the same in all regions of our France although the mixture of populations for half a century has greatly reduced these differences.

In the 1940s, a Parisian was very visible in the Basque Country or in the Ariège if he did not take infinite precautions. Even more so when there was a group of these escapees. As a rule, the inhabitants of the place were discreet and even protective, but there have been exceptional cases of individuals won over to the collaboration to denounce to the Germans "foreign" persons whom they had seen in the city.

The test of the mountain.

Before entering into the story, we must look back to life in the 1930s. Even when paid holidays allowed many to "get out of their homes", very few knew the mountains except the mountain people themselves. Wealthy families who did not wait for paid vacation to go to the mountains to spend their vacations went there to ski in winter and for walks in summer, but by roads or passable paths.

As for the vast majority of city dwellers, the mountain was known to them by the photo of the PTT calendar. The peasants did not participate in the game of paid holidays, the peasant workers who benefited from it did not participate in the crowds of cyclo-campers of the time.

Suffice to say that the young people (aged 19 to 30) who wanted to cross the Pyrenees did not expect what they would live. It was advisable not to distinguish oneself, or as little as possible from the crowd among which one would be called upon to move during the day. The people with whom the future escapee was in contact before the passage recommended to him not to disguise himself as an “alpine hunter”. In other words, it was good to stay in town dress, like everyone else going about their daily business. We had to be perfectly aware of the state of hiding that we had adopted, just like a maquisard. But it should not be displayed. Many of those who forgot these simple sightings were caught, their journey south was over.

Ignorance of the way to go and the conditions of this course was almost general. The conditions of suspicion and mistrust of others that had been experienced for many months, especially in the city, could not be erased, on the contrary the position of outlaw experienced by all did not encourage conversation.

We can say today that the adventure experienced by each of the escapees from France is unique by the originality of his personal journey between his home and the mountains. We can also notice in the course of the individual accounts that the same mountain route has not been memorized in the same way by fellow travelers.

Before moving on to real life stories, we will draw a diagram that could apply to all escapees from any part of the Pyrenees mountains. We only consider the case of the escapees taken care of by a knowledgeable guide. It is indeed difficult to generalize the adventure of the few who crossed the mountain alone, sometimes with some prior knowledge, and who recounted it in war memories. Unfortunately, this attempt was sometimes unsuccessful, either because of the enemy or because of the mountain and its traps.

Gathered behind the guide, in the moonless night, the emigrants went towards the mountain, out of the marked paths, through fields and forests, rising or falling depending on the relief. Depending on the season of the passage, the ground could be snow-covered or not. Depending on the condition of the shoes, this could be a first test. Small mountain streams could be taken like paths covered with vegetation. After one to three hours of fast but possible walking, the troops attacked the barely marked and stony paths usually traveled by goats or smugglers. We climbed endlessly along the mountains bordered by vertiginous drop-offs that we did not see in the night and the mist but that we could guess by the long silence of the pebble leaving the path and slamming on its arrival much more low.

Sometimes a pass allowed a momentary mitigation of the risks of the mountain, but other dangers existed. It was necessary to rely on the knowledge of the guide because there were German patrols with dogs and only the shepherds living in these remote places could have informed the guide about the hours and the frequency of the patrols by the help of young mountain people making outings -returns to supply the isolated. The troops had to have reached certain resting points under cover in the forest to wait until the following night, the only period favorable to displacement. Street clothes could prove to be insufficient to combat the cold of the mountains. The unforeseen duration of the crossing of the mountain caused food problems.

Many of the escapees crossed passages two thousand meters, even two thousand five hundred meters before finding a path downhill. Many then found themselves struggling to walk, the shoes having refused service during these trials.

If the troops had escaped the dangers of the mountain, had not been targeted by enemies, had not been detected by dogs forcing them to flee by other paths known to the guides, had not alerted from the German guard posts established in mountain huts where the soldiers would shut themselves up to sleep, we were finally approaching the border.

The guide then let his people go after advising them to destroy their identity papers and pointed out the crossing near the border line to reach as quickly as possible. Once this line was passed, the group soon found themselves facing the rifles of the Spanish riflemen, who generally captured them without difficulty or brutality.

Everyone thought their martyrdom was over. Everyone understood that it was the police who greeted them. After all, they didn't have a passport or visa!

Some small groups of escapees were able to reach a hamlet or a Spanish farm and were pleasantly received and even lodged overnight. They were astonished in the morning to be facing the Civil Guards. They had been informed of the presence of strangers by someone from the farm, often a child sent on purpose; there was a cash bonus for informers.

Welcoming Spain "Una, big, free".

Usually taken to a small border village, the escapees could receive a snack by paying. From that moment, the esprit de corps "escaped from France" was able to awaken because only a few had a little money or even a watch to sell and paid for all without drawing glory, modestly because 'they could do it.

Afterwards, plainclothes police questioned the immigrants separately and asked them what they had seen of the German armaments near the mountain, heavy guns or motorized regiments. Either way, the Spanish considered the French to be Communists for the simple reason that they were opposed to Pétain. Some French people declared themselves Belgians but many suddenly found themselves Canadians, generally natives of the province of Trois-Rivières.

This declaration was intended to be taken care of by an English consulate but its abuse was very quickly useless because the English could not follow up and the Spaniards had fun with it because the string was so thick.

After the police statements, everyone found themselves locked in jail in a major city like Pamplona or Barcelona or other places where up to fourteen inmates were crammed into one cell for one. D’autres lieux, anciennes casernes, anciens couvents, servirent aux détentions.

Un camp de concentration avait été construit par des ingénieurs nazis, durant la guerre civile d’Espagne sur les modèles tristement connus par les déportés en Allemagne. Il était destiné aux républicains espagnols, les « rouges », pris par les franquistes. Ce camp de Miranda de Ebro reçut jusqu’à 5.000 personnes ensemble et sa honteuse trace a aujourd’hui disparu. Seule une stèle érigée par des républicains survivants en perpétue la mémoire.

Outre les prisons de passage, vingt grands centres d’internement sont recensés.

Les conditions d’alimentation étaient à la limite de la survie et les conditions d’hygiène sous le niveau du moyen-âge. La sous-alimentation extrême par une nourriture souillée et l’endémie dysentérique aggravées par la vermine avec les séquelles infectieuses, conduisaient à des pertes de poids atteignant jusqu’à 30% pour des séjours ordinaires compris entre trois et douze mois. Les délabrements psychologiques étaient importants et n’était-ce la forte raison patriotique qui les conduisit à cette épreuve inattendue, beaucoup auraient perdu pied.

La vie carcérale était très pénible, nous étions vraiment maltraités par les gardiens. Nous avions l’impression d’être oubliés, abandonnés.

L’exemple des services religieux catholiques est significatif. Tout le monde était « invité » le dimanche à être présent à la messe. Le cœur n’y était pas toujours pour les chrétiens, mais les Israélites qui étaient présents parmi nous ne souhaitaient pas assister à cet office. Alors, on les y conduisait à coups de crosse et le canon du fusil dans le dos pendant l’office. En Espagne, fille aînée de l’Eglise, il devait rester un parfum d’inquisition !

Nous n’avons d’ailleurs jamais trouvé un ancien prisonnier qui puisse nous faire l’éloge d’un prêtre catholique espagnol. Ceux qui exerçaient leur ministère en prison étaient plutôt des voyous à la solde du régime ne se privant pas de faire du marché noir à l’encontre des prisonniers. Le secret de la confession n’était pas ce qu’il aurait du être et cela put valoir des jours de cellule isolée à quelque croyant trop confiant.

Dans les mêmes prisons, nous côtoyions aussi des « droit commun ». Parfois gibier de potence, on s’en méfiait d’autant plus qu’ils étaient généralement en bons termes avec les matons, servant aux distributions de soupe et autres services. Plus souvent pauvres types que la faim avait poussés à voler, qui un pain, qui un morceau de viande pour nourrir ses gosses, presque toujours en attente de jugement depuis des mois. Ceux là étaient employés à des tâches de nettoyage, peinture ou coupe de cheveux à la tondeuse. Par eux, quand on avait la possibilité de payer, on pouvait faire venir au travers de l’économat –qui retenait sa dîme au passage– quelques fruits ou pain de maïs de l’extérieur. Le C.F.L.N. envoyait des pesetas aux prisonniers français. Mais nous avons tardivement reçu ces dons car les prisonniers français n’étaient pas portés à la connaissance des représentants de la France libre pour raison diplomatique. Ce ne fut que vers la fin de nos séjours que nous profitâmes de cette possibilité d’achat de nourriture.

La politique de Franco a été très ambiguë à cause de la présence de nombreux agents allemands qui renseignaient leur führer. Ils étaient parfaitement au courant de l’arrivée et de l’incarcération des évadés de France et il y eut sporadiquement le risque de reconduite à la frontière qui fut heureusement arrêté par un ordre supérieur empêchant un gouverneur local de faire ce plaisir à un de ses amis allemand. Par ailleurs, les représentants français de Pétain jouèrent d’abord la modération ; ils tentaient les prisonniers de retourner en France en promettant le pardon. L’attitude de l’ambassadeur Piètri fut d’ailleurs assez fluctuante. Quand une représentation du C.F.L.N. fut enfin admise à Madrid, le nombre et la position des prisonniers français ne furent pas immédiatement portés à sa connaissance. Il y fallut l’énergie de Monseigneur Boyer-Mas qui fonda une organisation de Croix-Rouge à Madrid et qui s’efforça de mener à bien ce qu’il s’était donné pour tâche : la libération de tous ces garçons décidés à se battre.

Après la sortie de prison

Enfin libérés, ils s’engageront pour la durée de la guerre malgré les délabrements physiques consécutifs aux dures conditions du franchissement des Pyrénées : gelures et blessures de membres, notamment des pieds. Délabrements aggravés par l’emprisonnement : problèmes intestinaux ou gastriques qui se perpétuèrent et s’aggravèrent avec les infections transmises par les parasites, etc.

Les rares contacts avec des prisonniers « politiques » espagnols qui attendaient leur condamnation à mort suivie aussitôt de leur exécution avec un courage inouï furent aussi d’un grand secours moral. Peu à peu, par l’action des autorités françaises d’Alger et des Alliés, les prisonniers furent échangés contre du blé ou des phosphates et presque tous s’engagèrent. Ils étaient partis pour cela ! Quelques frontaliers ont pu trouver asile et caution dans la branche espagnole de leur famille. D’autres, âgés ou très affaiblis ne se sont pas engagés en A.F.N.. Ceci explique la différence entre le nombre de passages et le nombre d’engagés volontaires.

Quand nous sommes parvenus en Afrique Française du Nord, nous avons été confrontés, sans rien y comprendre, après notre long emprisonnement et notre isolement, à la farouche querelle entre les généraux de Gaulle et Giraud, entretenue et même aggravée par les tenants de l’un ou de l’autre. Pour nous, l’ennemi à chasser était le nazi, et non un général français !

La désinformation.

Il s’est trouvé des gens pour s’étonner que nous soyons arrivés en Afrique du Nord et non à Londres. De là à penser que les évadés de France internés en Espagne étaient automatiquement partisans du général Giraud ou, beaucoup plus gravement, en accord avec le maréchal Pétain comme le furent de nombreux Français d’Algérie ou du Maroc, il n’y a qu’un petit pas que beaucoup n’hésitent pas à franchir.

Cette façon de penser relève d’un défaut de réflexion.

Prenons un millier d’individus qui viennent de subir une incarcération douloureuse, imméritée pendant 8 à 12 mois. Ils étaient pratiquement au secret. Nous les sortons enfin de prison et les conduisons, rayonnants de joie de la liberté retrouvée, malgré leur délabrement physique, à un navire en partance vers un territoire français où se trouvent des forces combattantes. On leur dit qu’ils vont atterrir à Casablanca. Croyez-vous qu’un seul de ces hommes –ou de ces femmes– va protester en disant qu’il voulait aller à Londres ? Pour quelle raison, dans l’état de son ignorance, sortant de prison, aurait-il une quelconque objection à prendre les armes en Afrique française plutôt qu’en Angleterre ? Il rejoint de Gaulle : « point » !

Comptons pour 19.000 ceux qui purent prendre les armes en A.F.N., (plus rarement à Londres, environ 3.400). Le total des engagés évadés de France et internés en Espagne peut représenter l’effectif d’une à deux divisions dont le personnel était très motivé.

130 sont morts en prison et 300 dans la montagne. 2.500 moururent des suites de l’internement.

Le Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny en a dit :

« Ils choisirent la périlleuse aventure du passage des Pyrénées pour l’Honneur de Servir ».

Nos engagés volontaires combattirent avec la 1ère Armée Française (Gal de Lattre de Tassigny), dont ils constituèrent une partie des effectifs (environ 9.000) ; avec la 1ère Division Française Libre (Gal Brosset) ; avec la 2ème Division Blindée (Gal Leclerc) (4.000 à 4.500) ; avec le Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Italie (C.E.F.I. sous les ordres du Gal Juin). D’autres se répartirent dans la marine, l'aviation, les commandos, les parachutistes (5 à 6.000). Ils participèrent à la marche sur Rome (Monte Cassino), aux débarquements en Normandie et en Provence, ils libérèrent Paris, l’Alsace et sa capitale régionale Strasbourg, traversèrent le Rhin et pénétrèrent jusqu'au cœur de l'Allemagne.

9.000 Évadés de France perdirent la vie en combattant

Pourquoi n’existe-t-il pas une qualification propre aux Évadés de France internés en Espagne qui les sortirait de l’obscurité ?

Des comparaisons nécessaires.

Nous n’en citerons que deux, une qui est justifiée et une qui nous étonne.

1°- Le statut des prisonniers de guerre.

Les prisonniers de guerre possèdent un statut ce qui est légitime, non seulement en raison de leur nombre, mais en raison de la nature de leur capture au combat et des dommages subis.

2°- Le statut des personnes contraintes au travail en pays ennemi.

Le site internet de l’O.N.A.C. (office national des anciens combattants) mentionne un statut des personnes contraintes au travail en pays ennemi, (parmi lesquelles sont compris les engagés du S.T.O.). Des appelés au S.T.O. ont répondu favorablement à cet appel lequel, rappelons-le, n’était pas l’objet d’une contrainte par corps, ils n’y ont pas été réfractaires et sont partis de leur plein gré travailler en Allemagne nazie. Ils ont pourtant été admis depuis 1951 et confirmés depuis le 16 octobre 2008 dans leur rattachement à l’O.N.A.C.V.G. (office national des anciens combattants et victimes de guerre). C’est difficile à admettre mais décret n’est pas loi.

Ce statut ne devrait, en toute justice, s’appliquer qu’aux travailleurs victimes d’une rafle qui les a envoyés par la force en Allemagne.

Quelle réflexion en résulte-t-il ?

Pourquoi la chape de plomb a-t-elle couvert l’action propre aux Évadés de France passés par l’Espagne ? Ils étaient Résistants-Combattants comme d’autres qui ont contribué aussi à la Libération de la France ! Une grande partie d’entre eux font partie des réfractaires au S.T.O. à l’opposé de ceux que nous avons cités plus haut.

Ils sont titulaires du statut de Combattant Volontaire de la Résistance,

Du statut des Déportés et Internés de la Résistance,

Et pour beaucoup d’entre eux du statut des Réfractaires.

Ils sont titulaires des décorations correspondantes et ils portent fièrement au moins celles-ci, la médaille des Évadés venant devant les autres. Cette qualité unique d’Évadé de France, interné en Espagne, engagé volontaire est, en elle seule, la manifestation d’un acte patriotique fort de Résistance non concerté commun à des jeunes de tous horizons. Elle n’a toujours pas donné lieu à la reconnaissance officielle d’une qualification particulière et nous le regrettons.

On constate par ailleurs avec amertume que, depuis la fin de la seconde guerre mondiale, tout a été fait pour que le public ignore que la France n’a pas été libérée seulement par le magnifique débarquement de Normandie et l’action de la Résistance intérieure.

Que fait-on de :

- La Libération de la Corse par des Français,

- le débarquement de Provence,

- les faits d’Armes des Divisions de la 1ère Armée française,

- la poussée de nos troupes et de nos Alliés allant du Sud vers le Nord ?

Tout cela ne compterait-il pas dans le reflux des ennemis ? Nombreux étaient les Évadés de France par l’Espagne qui ont participé à ces opérations.

Cet « oubli » est-il dû au fait que c’est (schématiquement pour simplifier) la 1ère Armée du général de Lattre, parfois familièrement appelée Armée d’Afrique, qui a accompli beaucoup de ce trajet méridional ?

Les Français ont pu participer à ces combats grâce à l’armement des nouvelles unités air et terre en A.F.N. obtenu par les démarches du Général Giraud auprès du Président des États-Unis F. D. Roosevelt ?

Le mensonge et le maquillage d’informations ont un jour une fin. Heureusement, des historiens ont la parole, des survivants aussi !

Jean-Claude B. Montagné

Evadé de France, interné en Espagne. Ancien secrétaire puis président de l’Association des Hauts de Seine des Évadés de France. Membre du Conseil départemental de l’O.N.A.C., commission « mémoire ». Auteur des Lettres oubliées et du documentaire La filière espagnole.

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