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Response to Review no. 1061

I want to begin by thanking Lindsey Dodd for the considerable time and energy she devoted to reading and reviewing For Their Own Good: Civilian Evacuations in Germany and France, 1939–1945. I am gratified to find that the various threads of the book come across to the reader, and that Dodd thinks For Their Own Good achieves what it set out to do. The following comments cannot respond to every aspect of Dodd’s detailed and careful review. They seek, rather, to further debate about civilian evacuations themselves, and about historical comparison and broader German-French interchange during the occupation.

Although Dodd’s interpretation varies from mine at several points, her review concludes with three broad reservations, which I will address in turn. The first concerns terminology, though it goes beyond wording and translation questions alone. Whereas I have used ‘evacuee’ to refer to any civilian displaced by aerial bombing or combat, Dodd would favour more differentiation between various categories of displaced person. Certainly, it would be ideal to provide clear distinctions between types of evacuees; on the other hand, neither the documents themselves, nor civilians’ own experiences, allow for easy distinctions. For one thing, French terms like ‘disperser’, ‘éloigner’ and ‘replier’ have an euphemistic character (like ‘umquartieren’ in German) that suggests organized retreat, and adds complexity in order to imply that the government was in control of what were often rather improvised and disorderly measures. As time went on, they were used interchangeably in official correspondence. Dodd is of course right to point out that there was a difference between ‘those who were evacuated to specified (or self-chosen) locations pre-emptively and those who fled before an invading army … or because [their] home was destroyed by bombing.’ However, this distinction can be over-played. Children evacuated pre-emptively might be joined by parents who fled military action, for example. Would the family then be referred to as evacuees, or as refugees? On the whole, the pre-emptive vs. emergency evacuation distinction seems no more compelling than other distinctions, for instance between long or short-term evacuations, obligatory or voluntary measures, self-supported and state-supported evacuees. Where such distinctions seemed important, I tried to indicate this in the text. As a side note, in chapter six, where the slippery terminology is itself a subject of discussion, I generally added quotation marks to ‘evacuation’, used another word (deportation, transfer), or explained in the context that the displacement was not intended to assist or protect the civilians involved.

Dodd’s second reservation goes to the heart of the challenges of attempting historical comparison. Dodd is right to underline that the French and German situations were not the same. In no way is For Their Own Good intended to suggest this. Instead, in addition to documenting similarities, it uses each case as a mirror to highlight unique aspects of the other. No doubt the result glosses over certain details, and may paint in black and white what were actually varying shades of grey. Future research will surely add nuance to the account. However, it seems to me that much can be gained from this kind of comparison, in which two (or more) national cases are examined within a single research project. The more common approach, which involves placing chapters on different countries, written by different authors, next to one another in an edited volume, allows specialists to bring their detailed knowledge of each national case to bear, but often misses a crucial element – the relationships between the cases.

With regard to evacuations, transnational links have been downplayed. The German and the French literature is not only very limited; it is also often written as though events occurred in two neighbouring vacuums. This seems particularly inappropriate in the French case, given the pervasive influence of the German forces of occupation through much of the war. It has resulted in an analysis of the French civilian aid organization Secours National, for example, that minimizes its interest in its German counterpart, the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (NSV), entirely. My contention is not, as Dodd suggests, that the Secours National was ‘pro-Nazi’. Rather, it is that some Secours National leaders were curious about how the Germans organized civilian war relief in Germany. An interest in the mechanics of civilian war relief, and the most effective ways to undertake this does not, in my view, imply collaboration in the full ideological sense of the word. Gabriel Cognacq of the Entr’aide d’Hiver (an initially rather hostile off-shoot of the Secours National) expressed this quite clearly: ‘The NSV is very strongly built. The thing to do is frame the Secours National no less sturdily without making it a German affair’ (my italics, cited p. 68–9). Cognacq, and the Secours National’s general secretary Pilon, demonstrated their interest in German civilian war relief most clearly in 1944, when they travelled to Germany to see how the NSV was dealing with the consequences of aerial bombardment. A focus on formal political collaboration in occupied France, and the absence of truly comparative analyses of Germany and France in the war years, has tended to obscure cultural transfers and interchange of this kind.

A broader examination of evacuations and civilian war relief, rather than simply collaboration, also calls into question a distinction Dodd seems to be making between a ‘mainstream of French war relief’ and the strongly collaborationist Comité Ouvrier de Secours Immédiat (COSI).  Members of the Secours National, Entr’aide d’Hiver and COSI ran the full spectrum from relative neutrality (Le Crom even alludes to resistance at the Entr’aide d’Hiver and Secours National (1)), through Pétainism, through cooperation to collaboration. Naturally, there was animosity between those at opposite ends of this spectrum, particularly the Secours National and COSI, but drawing a stark contrast between the ‘good’ (Pétainist) Secours National on the one hand, and the ‘bad’ (Collaborationist) COSI on the other, seems unwarranted. Perhaps it is this distinction, too, that leads Dodd to argue, with regard to COSI, that its activities may more properly be understood as being linked to spoliation rather than evacuation. My point is not only that COSI was one (in this case strongly Collaborationist) organization among several that delivered war relief to civilians in occupied France. It is also that despoliation and civilian war relief, including evacuations, were linked in France as in Germany, albeit to a lesser extent. In the French case, COSI’s spoliation was partly justified to the French public on the grounds that property removed from the Jews would help French victims of war.

Dodd’s final reservation concerns the broader representativeness, or applicability, of the case studies used in For Their Own Good. This is, as always, a valid concern. In France, Normandy was in no way typical, nor does it give a broad illustration of all aspects of the national picture, as the book explains. One can only hope that future studies, including Dodd’s own research, will round out the picture. They will doubtless help produce a more nuanced view of French evacuees’ situation, and at the same time, contribute to the European and global literature on the varied impacts of war on civilians.


  1. Jean-Pierre Le Crom, ‘De la philanthropie à l’action humanitaire,’ in Philippe-Jean Hesse and Jean-Pierre Le Crom, La protection sociale en France sous le regime de Vichy (Rennes, 2001), pp. 183-230, p. 234.Back to (1)