Horizontal Collaboration: Sleeping With The Enemy

Mar 7, 2024 3 comments

The historic D-Day landing by Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, marked the beginning of a crucial phase in World War II—the liberation of France and the rest of Western Europe. In the aftermath of the storming of the beaches, a wave of jubilation, relief, and hope surged through the liberated towns and villages as Allied troops and resistance fighters swept across France, bringing an end to years of occupation, violence, and despair.

Amidst the celebrations, however, a darker undercurrent emerged. Many individuals, burdened by the anguish and trauma of war, directed their pent-up emotions towards those perceived as collaborators with the enemy. This led to a period known as the ├ępuration sauvage, marked by a series of executions, public humiliations, and assaults targeting suspected collaborators.

Approximately 9,000 members of the pro-Nazi French Militia faced summary execution during this tumultuous time. Women accused of "collaboration horizontale,"—associating romantically or sexually with German soldiers— bore the brunt of public outrage. Subjected to degrading acts such as having their heads shaved, being stripped half-naked, and publicly paraded while facing taunts, stones, kicks, and spitting, they symbolized the betrayal felt by their communities during the war.

Many of these shorn women were merely prostitutes who had engaged in professional services for the occupying Germans. Some were subjected to rape, while others became targets of personal vendettas, framed and falsely accused. Yet, there were also cases where women had only fleeting encounters with the enemy. Ann Mah recounts the story of a funeral wreath maker in Toulouse, who, while working at home with an open window, conversed briefly with a passing German soldier. Despite the soldier never setting foot inside her home and the entire interaction occurring at the window, a witness recalled the incident after the liberation, leading to the woman being dragged from her house, shaved, stripped, and paraded through the town. Similarly, Antony Beevor mentions the plight of a cleaner in the local German military headquarters in Villedieu, who found herself victimized by the mob's fury.

Many victims were young mothers, their husbands confined to German prisoner-of-war camps. Struggling to survive during the war, they often had no means of support, resorting to liaisons with German soldiers as their sole means of obtaining food for themselves and their children. The accusers, driven not by moral indignation but by sheer jealousy, resented the food and luxuries these women had received as a result of their actions.

Regardless of their social standing or reputation, women accused of collaboration horizontale found themselves exposed to public scorn. Even French actress Arletty was not spared, found guilty for her liaison with a Luftwaffe officer. She endured the humiliation of having her head shaved and a swastika drawn on her naked scalp, paraded through the streets while enduring the jeers and spittle of the mob. As Antony Beevor notes, “it was not the fact that Arletty had slept with the enemy which angered them, but the way she had eaten well in the H├┤tel Ritz while the rest of France was hungry.”

While the victims were almost always women, the perpetrators were typically men who acted without legal mandate or official authority from the courts. While some were indeed loyal members of the resistance, many were collaborators themselves, using these acts of retribution to deflect attention away from their own lack of resistance credentials.

The humiliation meted out to these women sickened many French people and the Allied troops. In Bayeux, Churchill's private secretary Jock Colville recorded his reactions to one such scene. "I watched an open lorry drive past, to the accompaniment of boos and catcalls from the French populace, with a dozen miserable women in the back, every hair on their heads shaved off. They were in tears, hanging their heads in shame. While disgusted by this cruelty, I reflected that we British had known no invasion or occupation for some 900 years. So we were not the best judges."

The scale of the wild purge is staggering, with at least 20,000 French women documented as having their heads shaved as a form of punishment and public humiliation. However, historian Antony Beevor suggests that the actual figures could be much higher, reflecting the widespread nature of these reprisals.

The practice of head shaving as a means of punishment was not limited to France; it extended to other countries occupied by Germany during World War II, including Belgium, Italy, and, to a lesser extent, the Netherlands. In Norway, women accused of horizontal collaboration faced public exile, arrest, or internment instead of having their heads shaved. Moreover, any children born from relationships between local women and German soldiers were also viewed as part of the betrayal and subjected to exile.

In a significant gesture towards reconciliation, in October 2018, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg publicly apologized to the victims and their children for the injustices they endured following the liberation.


  1. I can not believe such savagery, they were no better than the Nazis. As the article says, most likely spite and envy. Reminds me of the Salem witch trials.. Horrifying.

    1. Most of all this clearly proved that the world is pro-male and anti-female in the end, unfortunately.

    2. Indeed, patriarchy at its finest!! The very gall! To shave those women's heads and publicly humiliate them, while male collaborators were merely summarily executed!!! We need to, as a group, signal our outrage, disgust and moral superiority to these judgemental Frog bastards, who were no better than the Nazis, in order to participate in mob justified, culturally ignorant condemnation to establish that when we do the same damn thing, WE ARE JUSTIFIED BECAUSE WE ARE RIGHTEOUS!!! THEY WERE NO BETTER THAN THE NAZIS!!! NO DIFFERENCE!!!


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