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L'occupation-ALF resources and 2 page cartoon summary

The German occupation of France is a topic dear to my heart and one which can be exploited on many different levels by language teachers. I have just returned from a visit to old friends in a village near Orléans and Ginette our exchange partner's mother whom I've known for 40+ years was telling me of her experiences as a 5 year old. Her mother was running the farm south of the Loire by herself and as the Germans approached, she loaded up a cart and set off on the "exode". They only got 20 or so kilometres into the Sologne area and then came back, presumably after the armistice. Her father was a prisoner in Germany working on the Uboat works by the river Weser near Bremen. She clearly remembers German soldiers coming into the farmyard and machine gunning their chickens and a cow, presumably in order to obtain fresh produce. I never knew to ask about this 43 years ago-but I know now!

My first creative work based on the topic was this cartoon summary which I wrote in 1991 for the Stanley Thorne's Escalade 1 reader-it was for Key Stage 3 if the term existed then! Allo allo was still a popular TV comedy into its 7th series.

I wrote the summary including as much transactional language as possible:- shopping, transport, finding the way and it was surprising just how well the topic fitted. When I went for interview for a head of dept job, the incumbent showed us her materials for the occupation and, guess what, she had my summary as the ultimate condensation of the topic...so if you need it, use it.

l'occupation, un sac de billes, le silence de la mer, aubrac

Download the cartoon summary of the occupation (Stanley Thorne's Escalade 1)

For an introduction to the fall of France which illustrates why the country was in such a traumatised state by June 1940, the Channel 4 World at War, part 2 is essential viewing.

The Vercors novella Le silence de la mer fits neatly into the period following the defeat demonstrating how an old man and his niece resist passively against the German officer billeted with them. Although less than 40 pages in length I found that the poetic nature of von Ebrennac's characterisation of the relationship between the victor and the vanquished alongside the developing romantic attachment of the officer and the silent woman made for a classic of understatement-fertile ground for conjecture and therefore discussion. See summary of ALF resources for book

Written early in the 50's Au Bon Beurre by Jean Dutourd caused a good deal of soul-searching when it was published, dispelling many of the more up-beat, post war appraisals of private behaviour during the occupation. A crémier uses every opportunity to enrich himself and his family against a backdrop of Vichy propaganda. With a sub-plot of an attempted assassination attempt on Pétain this humorous novel feels authentic-even down to the crémier manning the barricades as a member of the résistance de dernière heure. An essential read for teachers wishing to get into the period.

The first film I saw based on the occupation period was in 1975; it was the first film I saw at university. Lacombe Lucien, directed by Louis Malle, was a shocking, morally ambiguous introduction to the topic. I enjoyed covering this title within the film section on ALF and commend it to teachers who may have had enough of Au revoir les enfants or Un sac de billes.

See cinema resources

The release of Au Revoir les Enfants, also of course by Malle, was an attempt by the director to deal with a disturbing experience from his past. I took a group of A level students to see the film at the Cornerhouse in Manchester and have re-watched the film ever since. I shall be releasing a sequence of materials on Malle shortly covering the director's career and examination preparation materials.

Lucie Aubrac's Ils partiront dans l'ivresse which I thoroughly enjoyed researching describes the effect of the German occupation on society and the internal workings of resistance networks in Lyon as this brave woman leads operations to release captive prisoners. The account came out when Klaus Barbie the German officer responsible for torturing prisoners was on trial in Lyon and the book raised many questions about the role of personal reminiscences in the recounting of history. Does Lucie come across as overly self-important and too enthusiastic a name-dropper?-if everything in the story is true, then I'm sure these characteristics are well-deserved. See summary of ALF resources on this book

Un sac de billes by Joseph Joffo traces the perilous adventures of the young Jo and his brother Maurice as they try to stay one jump ahead of both the collaborationist French and the Germans. Many aspects of life during the occupation are illuminated as the war progresses; the humorous tone of the book where the adult Jo looks over the shoulder of his younger self, contrasts with the ever present fear of the boys. Other works such as the film La rafle, home in on the single largest round-up in Paris but the sheer humanity of Un sac de billes gives a more life-affirming message. See summary of ALF resources for this book

In order to gain an overview of the opinions of a wide range of people during WW2 in France the classic Marcel Ophuls documentary "Le chagrin et la pitié" is essential viewing. The interviews all involve people living in and around Clermont Ferrand and include collaborators as well as people who worked with the resistance.

I have enjoyed watching the multi-series "Un village français" over the last few years. Set in a fictious village/town on the ligne de démarcation, the programmes, with a set cast of characters traces the fate of these people through the war years, starting from the exode and going right through to after the war. Available on DVD or through pluzz, the series is useful for teachers to get a feel for the period although it is probably too long winded to show to classes. This is a link to the FR3 homepage for the series.




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