I came across the title of a book, 'France: The Tragic Years, 1939-1947' by Sisley Huddleston, which struck me as odd, as I supposed France's tragedy to have ended with the retreat of the Germans in 1944. I looked it up on Amazon and saw by its subtitle "An Eyewitness Account of War, Occupation, and Liberation" that the author considered the Liberation as part of France's tragedy and that it lasted three years. (Incidentally, Amazon has it listed as a "Mass Market Paperback" for a mere $973.90 plus $3.99 shipping, a price that doesn't seem to have discouraged shoppers as "Only 1 left in stock - order soon".)

Sisley Huddleston was a journalist who wrote on France for leftist or left-leaning American magazines. He was a lifelong Francophile who has three other books listed on Amazon, Those Europeans: Studies of foreign faces, published 1924, Articles De Paris A Book of Essays, published 1928, and Between the Hills : A Normandy Pastoral, published 1931. Apparently, during the Liberation, he and his wife barely escaped execution. His eyewitness account of the war in France was published in 1955.

Presumably, an execution during Liberation would have been for collaboration with the Nazis, but about the only thing I remembered from history class regarding the treatment of collaborators in France had to do with women and shaved heads. Executions are another thing altogether.

"Collaboration" is an extremely vague, flexible term. What specific charges were leveled at French citizens that qualified as collaboration or evidence of collaboration? Were there incriminating actions, like participation in a certain Nazi procurement program, e.g., that were used as proof of collaboration? Or was it like the Bolshevik "enemy of the people", which needed no evidence of any particular inculpatory act on the part of the accused to justify execution?

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    France: The Tragic Years, 1939-1947 is available to read &/or download as a pdf file for free on Internet Archive. May 15, 2020 at 19:46
  • @sempaiscuba Thanks. Also, according to your link, Huddleston was English, not American. His publisher, however, was American.
    – CWill
    May 15, 2020 at 19:55
  • And it was first published in 1955, not 1965.
    – CWill
    May 15, 2020 at 20:05
  • In fact, according to Wikipedia it seems Huddleston took French citizenship in Vichy France and wrote in sympathy with the Vichy regime. He was arrested in October 1944 by French authorities on treason charges, and imprisoned by the Free French in as a Vichy collaborator. As such, he is probably not an impartial observer, although that would explain why he would consider the liberation as part of "France's tragedy". May 15, 2020 at 21:06
  • Does this article answer your question: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pursuit_of_Nazi_collaborators#France ? May 15, 2020 at 21:07

2 Answers 2


According to Wikipedia, the author of the book, Sisley Huddleston wasn't, as you claimed, "an American journalist and Francophile", but rather a former British subject who took French citizenship in Vichy France, and wrote articles sympathetic to the Vichy regime (apparently, if you are interested (and if you have a subscription), you can read an example in Time Magazine, Dec. 20, 1943).

He was arrested in October 1944 by French authorities on treason charges, and imprisoned by the Free French as a Vichy collaborator. Obviously this raises questions about whether Huddleston can be considered an impartial observer, but presumably, this also answers your question.


What were French collaborators specifically accused of after the WWII liberation of France?



The figure that Huddleston gives in his book France: The Tragic Years, 1939-1947:

"... a total of at least a hundred thousand persons men, women, and even children — murdered"

  • p243

is at the top-end of the range given in the Wikipedia article on the pursuit of Nazi collaborators in France. This is, perhaps, not surprising since the source for that higher figure is Huddleston himself. The article goes on to note simply that:

Reliable statistics of the death toll do not exist.

Julian Jackson gives an estimate of about 10,500, of which about 1,500 were official executions, and the remainder were extra-judicial killings (see below).

The Wikipedia article observes that claims for the number of collaborators killed have ranged from about 10,500 to 105,000. More recent studies (based on contemporary reports by police Prefects) tend towards the lower figure. However, in either case, relatively few of these killings were official, legally sanctioned, executions. The majority were extra-judicial killings (during the épuration sauvage).

For the legally sanctioned executions, the article quotes Julian Jackson's 2001 book, France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, as follows:

"The courts of Justice pronounced about 6,760 death sentences, 3,910 in absentia and 2,853 in the presence of the accused. Of these 2,853, 73 percent were commuted by de Gaulle, and 767 carried out. In addition, about 770 executions were ordered by the military tribunals. Thus the total number of people executed before and after the Liberation was approximately 10,500, including those killed in the épuration sauvage"

  • p577

So, there were something like 1,500 - 1,600 legal executions, all following due process. The High Court, Courts of Justice, and military tribunals would have heard evidence of specific acts of treason before delivering a verdict.

For the remainder - the extra-judicial killings - the accusation was presumably simply that they were collaborators, and the judge, jury, and executioners were people who knew them.

Of course, it is true that, as you observed,

"Collaboration" is an extremely vague, flexible term.

There were certainly 'degrees' of collaboration. Only the most serious cases were considered to be capital offences (i.e. treason) by the courts. Those are the cases described above, and dealt with by the High Court, Courts of Justice, and military tribunals.

Lesser acts of 'unpatriotic behaviour' that we might also consider to fall under the umbrella of "collaboration" were far more numerous, and - when dealt with officially - these came under the jurisdiction of Civic Courts (although these acts were certainly not considered to be capital offences). As Julian Jackson states:

... Civic Courts (chambres civiques) dealt with less serious cases of unpatriotic behaviour which were not technically crimes, but could be punished by dégradation nationale, the loss of civic rights.

Once again, however, many more instances of this kind of low-level collaboration were the targets of mob-justice during the épuration sauvage. These included the examples you remember from your history classes, where women who had fraternised with German soldiers had their heads shaved (and much worse).

  • The figure of 105,000 "summary executions" after the German retreat was the figure given by the Socialist interior minister to the incoming DeGaulle people. By way of comparison, there were only about 20,000 killed during the French Revolution. And on page 240 of the link you posted, Huddleston describes the Communist takeover of many towns and cities in the wake of the retreating Germans. Communists (Huddleston calls them Bolsheviks) did the killing.
    – CWill
    May 16, 2020 at 2:25
  • "wasn't, as you claimed, "an American journalist and Francophile"," I caught the error on his nationality already and posted a correction, which you surely read. Therefore it indicates bad faith on your part to now state that I claim the error. As for being a Francophile, yes he was, and had already spent many years in France before the start of WWII (a war he predicted would occur due to the provisions of the Treaty of versailles)
    – CWill
    May 16, 2020 at 2:30
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    @CWill Actually, I pointed it out to you in the comment under your answer. You chose not to edit the correction into your question, so I have made the point explicit here for those who can't be bothered to read through the comments. May 16, 2020 at 2:33
  • Well, this question is quickly being derailed. No, I pointed it out in a comment that he was English, and corrected the date it was first published in the same comment. In any case, it is still an indication of bad faith that you attempted to insinuate I hadn't corrected the error. I didn't edit the original question because they seemed trivial mistakes.Funny that's what we are now talking about.
    – CWill
    May 16, 2020 at 3:02
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    @CWill Playing down the fact that he was a convicted collaborator doesn't seem to be trivial. It raises questions about his credibility. In any event, I've actually been trying to find an independent source to confirm or refute Huddleston's claim that Adrien Tixier told "Colonel Passy" there had been 105,000 executions (p246). Although he says the statement had been "frequently made", I can't find any reference to it except in sources that are quoting Huddleston. May 16, 2020 at 3:21

Thanks to the link posted by another user, I was able to download and read parts of the book in question--France: The Tragic Years, 1939 - 1947 by Sisly Huddleston, a prominent journalist, with scores of pieces in The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, and The New Republic under his belt and a world exclusive interview with British Prime Minister Lloyd George at the Paris Peace Conference to his name. In addition to his journalistic success, he had published thirty books (!) on France and counted US Ambassador William Bullitt a close friend.

Writing just after the war, and as an eye-witness, Huddleston writes,

"It is estimated that 20,000 persons lost their lives under the Reign of Terror; that 18,000 fell in the frightful butchery that followed the war and insurrection of 1870-1871. The American services put the figures of "summary executions" in France in the first months of the Liberation at 80,000. A former French minister later placed the figure at 105,000.

The Minister was M. Adrien Tixier, a Socialist, who in March 1945, when he was minister of the interior and, therefore, presumably acquainted with the facts, told "Colonel Passy," one of the chief agents of De Gaulle, that from August 1944 to March 1945 there had been 105,000 executions. The statement has been frequently made: there can be little doubt that it was repeated in good faith; and, of course, the executions were regarded as deplorable both by the minister and by the colonel. That there were many executions both before and after these dates is a matter of public notoriety.

It may also be noted that, on October 15, 1943, the Central Committee of the Resistance at Algiers addressed a circular to the metropolitan groups, envisaging the insurrection between the departure of the Germans and the arrival of the Anglo-Anerican forces, thus "guaranteeing the revolutionary suppression, in a few hours, of the traitors, in conformity with the legitimate aspirations of reprisals of the Resistance," and "paralyzing the dispositions of the Vichy administration." The elimination of all officials should be accomplished "by authority." This order confined the revolution to "a few hours" and the time in which reprisals were to be taken, Vichy liquidated, and the functionaries eliminated was foreseen as of short duration. It is obvious, however, that such an operation could hardly be effected so quickly.

As the police records show, there were still sporadic killings at a much later date...

The "Central Committee"specifically planned the mass executions for the time between the retreat of the Germans and the arrival of the Anglo-Americans. These killings explicitly were to be extra-judicial, which is to say, no specific charge was necessary. No proof of any inculpable act was necessary.

In the book he then goes on to describe what a brutal and hideous form the slaughter took.

The whole thing smacks of Bolshevism, which, indeed, Huddleston calls it in the dedicatory letter in the beginning of the book to former Ambassador Bullitt:

My Dear Bill:

More than thirty years have elapsed since you read to me in Paris your letter of resignation from the American Peace Delegation, and since then everything that has happened has justified your protest against a Treaty which was a betrayal of our hopes, a repudiation of our principles, and a frustration of the purpose for which we fought the First World War. We both realized that the statesmen of Versailles had doomed mankind to a future bloody trial of strength.

Our friendship, which has never faltered from those faroff days when you took your stand for truth in diplomacy, is stronger than ever as we enter the dark era in which the ineptitude and the pernicious untruths of the past decade threaten to overwhelm humanity.

More appalling than follies and errors are lying legends. It would be possible to correct mistakes, however damnable, did we possess the courage to acknowledge them. We prefer comfortable falsehoods, fatal expedients, purblind propaganda; and we are disturbed by testimony which upsets the conventional views.

In our correspondence you remark that there are "few of us left who have some understanding of the whole swing of events since 1914," when Sir Edward Grey dolefully observed: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lighted again in our time." A bad peace culminated in a Second World War, and a badly conducted Second World War is leading us to a third world war, with the prospect of Bolshevism triumphant on the ruins of our civilization.

You are good enough to call me "an old friend who has always been right." I have, alas, often been wrong, but at least I have tried to see clearly and to state the plain facts.

My birth in England, my twenty years of working association with America, and nearly a lifetime of residence in France, have made me neither altogether English, nor American, nor French, but something of all three. From my coign of vantage, I have, aided by forty years of training in diplomatic affairs, watched not only the heroic efforts but also the blunders, unrealized in Washington or London, committed in our fight against the evil forces that threaten to enslave us.

My position is unique; my post of observation enabled me to look on with some detachment, though often I was in the heart of things; and it is my duty to refute the strange fictions which falsify all our conceptions. I witnessed in France the civil war and the revolution to which we still refuse to give their rightful names, and the effects of the astounding miscalculations of the statesmen, French, English, and American.

After hopelessly shattering Europe, we are now told that the urgent task is to create Europe. But Europe existed before 1914, when I could travel where I pleased without passport, without permission, without formality. Even after 1918, Europe still lived, and I could enjoy the spectacle of happy and prosperous countries. Today, where is the old Europe? Much of it is behind an iron curtain, and is lost to us. The rest lives in fear, subjected to innumerable restrictions, poor, and dependent on charity.

Having smashed every barrier to Communism, having divided country after country, having abolished tbe sense of justice and of pity, we await, inadequately defended, the coming of the Police State, with the promise of a new liberation when the Continent has become a cemetery.

I try to render one last service, and I am fortified in placing your name in the forefront of a work which is inspired not by hate (deadlier than the atomic bomb) but by the love of our fellows which alone can save us.

SISLEY HuDDLEsToN Troinex, 1952

Just as had been going on in Russia already for nearly 30 years, where nothing more specific than a charge of "enemy of the people" was needed to be executed by the Bolshevik monsters, nothing more specific than an accusation of "traitor" was needed to find yourself the victim of the Bolsheviks in France.

Here is Huddleston's account of his arrest, which only serves to bolster my conclusion in the preceding paragraph.

I speak not from hearsay but at first hand. A full month after the landing, I too was arrested by as ruffianly-looking a band of fellows with machine guns as you can imagine; and the next day my wife was arrested, and my house and belongings sequestrated. Nobody signed any warrant at any time, no accusation was brought, there was not even an "administrative order." It was just like that-anybody could arrest anybody on any pretext-or without pretext. I do not regret this incident, which was ended by the intervention of the representatives of General Eisenhower and of the British ambassador; and General de Benouville, acting for General De Gaulle, also came to my rescue. I was fortunate in having highly placed friends; without them I might have fared-badly.

I know the private reasons which dictated this attempt-there were certainly no public reasons-and despicable indeed they were. My activities, such as they were during the war, were directed to informing the British authorities of the situation in France, and I ran great risks. I do not propose to talk of them, but certainly they should have commended themselves to the Resistants. To forestall any malevolent misunderstanding, I would add that, not content with our release, with suitable excuses, I considered it my duty to launch an action for arbitrary and illegal detention before the highest tribunal in France-the Conseil d'Etat, one of the few bodies that maintained a judicial spirit in the tragic years. The government spokesman admitted the mistake, and the court condemned in the most unequivocal terms, the "gross blunder" committed by its "agents." The administration was ordered to pay me and my wife substantial damages. It will be seen, therefore, that I have little to complain of personally, nor do I harbor the smallest resentment. On the contrary' I pay my tribute to the impartiality and fairness of ordinary French justice. That I should have come off so well, however, cannot blind me to the terrible injustices of the "exceptional" procedure. I was fortunate, but many thousands of victims could not hope for redress.

  • @sempaiscuba He couldn't have been convicted in Sept 1944 because he wasn't arrested until Oct. Wikipedia may be politically reliable, but historically reliable it ain't. Have you read his account above? This was a very well known guy. Had he misrepresented the account of his arrest, there would have been a lot of contemporary notice of the fact. But there isn't. There is silence. That makes his first hand account far more reliable than Wikipedia's blanket assertions 80 years later. There was no conviction. There was no treason.
    – CWill
    May 17, 2020 at 10:22
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    His account is - at best - unreliable. FWIW, that isn't just a modern assessment. See for example the review of France: The Tragic Years, 1939-1947 by René Albrecht-Carrié in Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 71, No. 1, Mar., 1956) which concluded "This book is, on the whole, a sorry document that serves little useful purpose.". As for details of his conviction, they can apparently be found in in Philippe Bourdrel's 2 volume."L'épuration sauvage 1944 - 1945". May 17, 2020 at 10:48
  • I just Googled René Albrecht-Carrié. History professor at Barnard. Lots of favorable reviews of sympathetic treatments of, yep, the Bolsheviks and communism. (You are indefatigable in your defense of them.) I think it's safe to dismiss Mr Albrecht-Carrie. As for the details of Huddleston's imaginary conviction, you say they can apparently be found somewhere in French? If you can produce them, produce them.
    – CWill
    May 17, 2020 at 11:16
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    I did: Philippe Bourdrel's 2 volume."L'épuration sauvage 1944 - 1945". If it helps, Huddleston's claims have also been challenged by Julian Jackson (France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944 - cited in my answer and also available on Internet Archive), Peter Novick (The Resistance versus Vichy), the official French gov't investigation in 1952 and many others (see e.g. the bibliography to Épuration à la Libération en France linked in my earlier comment). Are they all also "indefatigable in their defense of Bolsheviks and communism"? May 17, 2020 at 12:01

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