July 25, 2021

“The line of demarcation, a France cut in two”, on France 3: a national divide


Between the end of June 1940 and March 1943, from Spain to Switzerland, the demarcation line was a sinister scar of 1,200 kilometers, set up by the Germans to separate the occupied zone from the so-called “free” zone. Some images shot as close as possible to the said line by civilians, at their own risk, allow us to better understand how this internal border, closely watched in places, more blurred in others, could have traumatized hundreds of thousands of citizens. Witnesses, the half-dozen women and men, aged 10 to 15 at the time, found for this documentary by Vincent de Cointet, rich in unpublished images, sometimes colorized, taken by German soldiers or French civilians .

We learn how the strange course of this demarcation line, defined by article 2 of the Franco-German armistice agreement of June 22, 1940, was decided. Rather than occupying all the French territory, too vast, the German troops will concentrate on the “useful” part to fight England. This explains why the cut does not follow a simple north-south route but that the entire Atlantic coast, up to the border with Spain, is occupied.

“This line is a bit that we put in the mouth of a horse. If France rears up, we will tighten the curb. We will relax her insofar as France will be nice ”, cynically sums up a German officer to describe this new internal border.

Illegal crossings

A line of demarcation materialized by sentry boxes, posts painted in red, black and white, severely guarded by soldiers or gendarmes. It crosses thirteen departments, sometimes cuts villages in two and directly concerns 5 million French people living along its route.

If they live less than 10 kilometers from the line, they must bring a so-called “small border pass”, more practical to go from one side to the other than for the French who are not. of the corner and who, for their part, must obtain a “big border” pass, a document which makes controls much stricter.

Read also: “The line of demarcation has been a superb instrument of blackmail”

Family dramas, clandestine passages from one area to another, tragic tales of arrests or heroic exploits by smugglers, the stories are numerous. The attempts of the Vichy regime to “soften” this line which is rotting the lives of millions of French people are also analyzed.

In May 1941, Admiral Darlan proposed that the Germans allow mail and goods to pass more easily through the line, in exchange for the use by the IIIe Reich of French airports in Syria and of a French police force totally under the control of the occupier. This “active” collaboration will push more and more Jews to try to cross the line, precipitating them towards a tragic fate, the French gendarmes often being zealous …

The line of demarcation, a France cut in two, by Vincent de Cointet (Fr., 2021, 92 min). Available until August 6 on france.tv