The ‘Battle’ of Marseille

On the 23rd January 1943 the French and Germans meet at the Marseille Town Hall to agree their plans. SS-Sturmbannführer Bernhard Griese has travelled from Paris to meet local SS commander Mühler and Bousquet, Head of the French Police, and  Barraud, Mayor of marseille.

On the 23rd January 1943 the French and Germans meet at the Marseille Town Hall to agree their plans. From left to right: SS-Sturmbannführer Bernhard Griese has travelled from Paris to meet local SS commander Mühler, Pierre Barraud, Mayor of Marseille, and Rene Bousquet, Head of the French Police, in fur trimmed coat.

The ‘Vichy French’ relationship with the Nazi regime is never easy to summarise. Whilst some Frenchmen had fled France to continue the fight after the defeat in 1940, many did not have the opportunity. The Government established in the town of Vichy was nominally independent, running the southern half of France until the Germans took over the whole country in November 1942. Then the French Navy defied the Germans and had at least denied them the use of the French Fleet.

Others in France were rather more enthusiastic in their cooperation and collaboration with the Nazis:

For reasons of military order and to guarantee the safety of the population, the German military authorities notified the French administration of the order to proceed immediately with the evacuation of the north end of the Old Port.

For its part, the French administration decided on the grounds of internal security to carry out a vast police operation to rid Marseille of certain elements the risks of whose activities weighed heavily on the population.

The French administration worked hard to avoid mixing up the two operations. Sizeable police forces carried out numerous searches in the quarter. Entire neighbourhoods were surrounded and identity checks were made. More than 6,000 individuals were arrested and 40,000 identies were checked.

The Prefecture of the Bouches-du-Rhône 24th January 1943

A German photographer was on hand to document it all.

German troops seal off the old quarter of Marseille, the harbour side community.

German troops seal off the Old Port quarter of Marseille, the harbour side community.

The French police assist in checking through the identity papers of 40, 000 people.

The French police assist in checking through the identity papers of 40, 000 people.

Around 2000 Jews are identified and detained separately.

Around 2000 Jews are identified and detained separately.

The Jewish population from the old quarter is segregated.

The Jewish population from the old quarter is segregated.

The evicted are escorted away by the French police.

The evicted are escorted away by the French police.

The victims wait for the transport to take them to the Railway station.

The victims wait for the transport to take them to the railway station.

At the Railway station the cattle trucks are waiting, under German guard.

At the railway station the cattle trucks are waiting, under German guard.

At the railway station the closely guarded deportees are put on the cattle wagons. Their first stop will be French run transit camps in northern France, from where they will be 'evacuated to the east' - sent on the death trains to Auschwitz.

At the railway station the closely guarded deportees are put on the cattle wagons. Their first stop will be French run transit camps in northern France, from where they will be ‘evacuated to the east’ – sent on the death trains to Auschwitz.

In February German troops prepare the area with explosives.

In February German troops prepare the area with explosives.

A German trooper sounds the alarm.

A German trooper sounds the alarm.

The Old Port district is blown up block by block.

The Old Port district is blown up block by block.

The ruins of the Old Port part way through its destruction.

The ruins of the Old Port part way through its destruction.

German troops continue to work on the remaining sections.

German troops continue to work on the remaining sections.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Francis Sarguis July 18, 2013 at 12:48 am

I was ten years of age and living in Marseille in 1943. I have only vague recollections from the period.

At some point, probably in August, my mother placed me and my younger sister on a train, which took us and a number of other children, to be evacuated from the city (Allied bombing) and to be placed in families in the Auvergne.

I have tried very hard, but mostly without success, to learn more about this program which relocated a number of the children of Marseille, for their own security. As I recall, all parents had to remain in Marseille, to keep the factories humming.

If anyone has information to offer, I welcome it.

Francis Sarguis
fsarguis@cox.net

Manuel January 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Probably The ‘Battle’ of Marseille was the only french “victory” at WW2 war. A “victorious and corageous” action of the french forces…against french citicens.

Martin January 23, 2013 at 11:24 am

Thank you. (And thanks again for the Spike Milligan refreshment the other day!)

Editor January 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

My understanding is that this was a reflection of Nazi ‘philosophy’, shared by the right wing in France. The Jews were viewed as ‘an infection’ which had to be wiped out. The French viewed the Old Port as a den of thieves and undesirables who lived alongside the Jews. Once these had been moved on, it became a matter of wiping out the site of the ‘infection’ so that it could not recur.

However this may be giving the process a rational logic that it does not deserve. The Nazis just hated the Jews and killed millions of people who were no conceivable threat to them, in a process that had no ‘reason’. Blowing up some buildings is just a minor extension of this hatred.

Others may have a more informed view.

Martin January 23, 2013 at 7:39 am

Just a question: Why did the German’s systematically demolish the Old Quarter? (Retribution? Nazification? Clearance for construction? Something else?)

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