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“They Are Just Savages”: German Massacres of Black Soldiers from the French Army in 1940

Raffael Scheck
Colby College

When the German army fought in France in May and June 1940, it encountered a large number of black African soldiers who had been drafted into the French army. Whereas German troops, with some notable exceptions, treated white French POWs according to the Geneva convention on the treatment of prisoners of war (1929), they dealt with the black Africans in a way that anticipated the horrors of the racialized warfare associated with the later German campaigns in the Balkans and the Soviet Union. In close combat, German units fought against black soldiers of the French army with a ruthlessness that suggested that no prisoners would be taken. On many occasions, black prisoners of war were shot—sometimes up to several hundred at a time. When Germans did not kill black prisoners outright, they often separated them from the white French captives and subjected them to harsh treatment. Most of these incidents happened during the German offensive against the French defenses along the Somme River launched on June 5 and during the pursuit of the retreating French in the following two and a half weeks. Random killings, abuse, and neglect of black Africans continued en route to the gathering places for prisoners and in the German POW camps. The records in the French army archives document the killing of approximately fifteen hundred black POWs during the campaign, but the fact that these materials are incomplete suggests that the actual number was much higher—perhaps twice as high.1

* I wish to thank my colleagues Elizabeth Leonard, James L. Webb, and Robert S. Weisbrot and the journal’s two anonymous reviewers for precious suggestions on how to improve this article. Myron Echenberg, Nancy Lawler, Gerhard A. Weinberg, Jonathan Steinberg, Paul Gaujac, and Antoine Champeaux also provided much-appreciated help for this project. The archival research would not have been possible without the funding provided by the Social Science Division at Colby College (grants 01.2253 and 01.2270). 1 The records of the French West African units are held by the Service historique de l’armee de terre (SHAT) in Vincennes. Additional documentation exists at the Centre ´ d’histoire et d’etudes des troupes d’outre-mer (CHETOM) in Frejus as well as in local ´ ´ archives. The German archival sources, held at the Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv (BA¨
The Journal of Modern History 77 (June 2005): 325–344 2005 by The University of Chicago. 0022-2801/2005/7702-0003$10.00 All rights reserved.



In this article I will argue that a combination of ideological and situational factors led to the killing of black African soldiers in the front lines. Older notions about black Africans and, in particular, their role in the French army in World War I and its aftermath had been infused with Nazi racism to cast the black soldier as a cannibalistic, mutilating barbarian. This powerful prejudice found an apparent confirmation in the German encounters with black African troops, who often mounted desperate resistance in close combat. The interplay of racist notions and a particular type of fighting, which Omer Bartov sees as central to explaining the atrocious behavior of the Wehrmacht (the German armed forces) in the Soviet Union, thus was already at work in the western campaign of 1940 in the Germans’ treatment of black African soldiers.2 This suggests that the Wehrmacht was willing to embrace the Nazi notion of racialized warfare and its murderous applications earlier than has previously been assumed. Literature on the German massacres of black Africans in 1940 is scarce, and no focused treatment of the topic has been published so far. Few general works about the campaign of 1940 mention the massacres of black Africans.3 Two books on African soldiers in the service of France treat some incidents in detail but do not consider German sources. The first, Nancy Lawler’s Soldiers of Misfortune: Ivoirien Tirailleurs of World War II, is based on interviews with veterans from the northern provinces of Ivory Coast. The second, Myron Echenberg’s Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Senegalais in French West ´ ´ Africa, 1857–1960, presents a survey of the recruitment and deployment of the troops drafted in France’s sub-Saharan colonies from Mauritania to Niger (the Tirailleurs Senegalais came from a region much larger than today’s Re´ ´ public of Senegal).4 David Killingray’s essay “Africans and African Americans in Enemy Hands” draws interesting comparisons between the treatment of black Africans and African Americans as POWs of the Axis powers but adds
MA) in Freiburg im Breisgau, rarely mention the massacres explicitly but provide information on the attitudes and experiences of the perpetrators. 2 Omer Bartov, Hitler’s Army (Oxford and New York, 1992). 3 The exceptions are Jean-Pierre Azema, From Munich to the Liberation, 1938–1944, ´ trans. Janet Lloyd, Cambridge History of Modern France, vol. 6 (Cambridge, 1984), 39–40, and “Le choc arme et les debandades,” in La France des annees noires, vol. 1, ´ ´ ´ De la defaite a Vichy, ed. Jean-Pierre Azema and Francois Bedarida (Paris, 2000), 97– ´ ` ´ ¸ ´ 129, at 102 and 111; and Roger Bruge, Juin 1940: Le mois maudit (Paris, 1980), 117– 18, and Les combattants du 18 juin, vol. 1, Le sang verse (Paris, 1982). ´ 4 Nancy Ellen Lawler, Soldiers of Misfortune: Ivoirien Tirailleurs of World War II (Athens, OH, 1992); Myron Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Senega´ ´ lais in French West Africa, 1857–1960 (London, 1991). See also Myron Echenberg, “Morts pour la France: The African Soldier in France during the Second World War,” Journal of African History 26 (1985): 363–80, an earlier version of the chapter on that topic in Colonial Conscripts.

German Massacres of Black Soldiers in 1940


little to the information provided by Lawler and Echenberg.5 The unpublished master’s thesis by Julien Fargettas, “Le massacre des soldats du 25eme Regi` ´ ment de Tirailleurs Senegalais,” presents an excellent discussion of a large ´ ´ massacre near Lyon, but it is limited by the author’s exclusive use of Frenchlanguage materials.6 Some information can also be found in biographies of the poet and first president of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Senghor, who was a Tir´ ´ ailleur in 1940. Senghor and others in his unit were almost killed after being captured on June 20, 1940. As in some other cases, the intervention of a white French officer induced the Germans not to carry out the massacre.7 Some works on antiblack feeling during the Nazi period mention the killings of black soldiers, but the information presented there is derived from the titles mentioned above.8 The belated and marginal treatment of the massacres of 1940 is stunning, considering that they were well known at the time. A French radio broadcast shortly after the liberation of France stated that murders of African POWs had been “common currency” during the German campaign of 1940.9 German wartime publications, without openly admitting the atrocities, made unmistakable allusions to them.10 But it seems that this knowledge soon fell below the radar of public and scholarly perception. French scholarship on the traumatic defeat of 1940 and the following Vichy period was slow in coming, and the
5 David Killingray, “Africans and African Americans in Enemy Hands,” in Prisoners of War and Their Captors in World War II, ed. Bob Moore and Kent Fedorowich (Oxford and Washington, DC, 1996), 181–204. 6 Julien Fargettas, “Le massacre des soldats du 25eme Regiment de Tirailleurs Se` ´ ´ negalais Region lyonnaise—19 et 20 juin 1940,” 2 vols. (Memoire de maıtrise, Uni´ ´ ´ ˆ versite de Saint-Etienne, 2000). For a summary of some aspects of the thesis, see Julien ´ Fargettas, “Les tirailleurs senegalais dans la campagne de mai–juin 1940,” in Les ´ ´ troupes de marine dans l’Armee de terre: Un siecle d’histoire, ed. Centre d’etudes ´ ` ´ d’histoire de la defense ([Paris], 2001), 137–48. ´ 7 Janet G. Vaillant, Black, French, and African: A Life of Leopold Sedar Senghor ´ ´ (Cambridge, MA, 1990), 166–67; Jacques L. Hymans, Leopold Sedar Senghor: An ´ ´ Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh, 1971), 109. 8 Clarence Lusane, Hitler’s Black Victims: The Historical Experiences of Afro-Germans, European Blacks, Africans, and African Americans in the Nazi Era (New York, 2002); Robert W. Kesting, “Blacks under the Swastika: A Research Note,” Journal of Negro History 83 (1998): 84–99; Robert W. Kesting, “The Black Experience during the Holocaust,” in The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined, ed. Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck (Bloomington, IN, and Indianapolis, 1998), 358–65. 9 “It has become known since then [1940] that these killings were common currency on the French front.” SHAT 34 N 1081: “Notice sur le Capitaine Indigene Charles ` N’Tchorere.” ´ ´ 10 Der Feldzug in Frankreich: 10. Mai–23. Juni 1940 (n.p., n.d. [1940?]), and Mit dem Generalkommando XXXX. A.K. vom Rhein zum Atlantik: Feldzug gegen Frankreich (n.p., n. d. [1940?]), both from the library of the Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv. ¨



prevailing image of the Wehrmacht in West Germany, as presented in the memoirs of generals and the popular press, drew a strict line between atrocities committed by the SS and the alleged professionalism and fairness of the Wehrmacht.11 The condition and accessibility of archival resources may also have discouraged scholarly research into the matter: the incomplete and damaged German divisional records became available to the public only in the late 1960s, and it took until the early 1980s before France opened its military documents for 1940.12 Although there were always doubters in Germany and elsewhere, the paradigm of the “clean” Wehrmacht has vanished in scholarship only recently, and it may still be quite strong among a minority of Germans, as some angry reactions to the famous exhibit The Crimes of the Wehrmacht suggest.13 In recent years, the pathbreaking works on the German army’s complicity in racial crimes have understandably focused on the Soviet Union, where the greatest atrocities took place and where the German army can be linked to the implementation of the Holocaust. Even the Wehrmacht exhibit excluded the 1940 campaign in France (while giving short shrift to Wehrmacht crimes in Poland in 1939).14 France had begun mobilizing West African soldiers as early as the 1850s, and the Tirailleurs Senegalais played an important role in the expansion and ´ ´ policing of the French empire in Africa. Given France’s increasing demographic weakness in comparison to Germany, the thought of raising a large army of black Africans in the defense of the French mainland became more attractive in the first years of the twentieth century. An energetic officer, General Charles Mangin, propagated the notion of the “inborn” fighting virtues of the natives of French West Africa and inspired the mobilization of over 160,000 Tirailleurs Senegalais during the First World War.15 With France’s ´ ´
11 For an excellent survey of the debate on the crimes of the Wehrmacht, see Jean Solchany, “La lente dissipation d’une legende: La ‘Wehrmacht’ sous le regard de ´ l’histoire,” Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine 47 (2000): 323–53. The classic work on Vichy is Henry Russo, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA, 1991). 12 For the French documents, see Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 87. 13 Ulrich Herbert, ed. Nationalsozialistische Vernichtungspolitik 1939–1945: Neue Forschungen und Kontroversen (Frankfurt am Main, 1998); Wolfram Wette, Die Wehrmacht: Feindbilder, Vernichtungskrieg, Legenden, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt am Main, 2002), 262–67. The exhibition The Crimes of the Wehrmacht was shown in most German and Austrian cities from 1995 to 2004. 14 Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann, eds. Vernichtungskrieg: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944 (Hamburg, 1995). For war crimes in Poland, see Alexander Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity (Lawrence, KS, 2003). 15 Marc Michel, “Colonisation et defense nationale: Le General Mangin et la force ´ ´ ´ noire,” Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains 37 (1987): 27–44; Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 25–46; Fargettas, “Les tirailleurs senegalais,” 138. For the most ´ ´

German Massacres of Black Soldiers in 1940


own manpower shortage exacerbated by the losses of this war, Mangin was allowed to broaden his efforts after 1918. The introduction of a conscription system for French West Africa in 1919 assured a steady supply of Tirailleurs Senegalais, who were used as occupation troops in the German Rhineland and ´ ´ in the French Levant. In the campaign of May–June 1940, approximately sixty-six thousand Tirailleurs Senegalais experienced combat in France to´ ´ gether with a small number of other black Africans from Madagascar and French Equatorial Africa, where recruiting efforts were much less organized than in West Africa.16 Whereas some Tirailleurs belonged to African regiments with predominantly white officers (Regiments de Tirailleurs Senegalais ´ ´ ´ [RTS]), others were integrated with white soldiers from France into mixed regiments (Regiments d’Infanterie Coloniale Mixtes Senegalais [RICMS]), ´ ´ ´ also led mostly by white officers. Although the conscription system was widely resented in French West Africa and although Africans sometimes encountered prejudice and racism from white French officers, the Tirailleurs Senegalais ´ ´ were reliable troops determined to defend France. Some Tirailleur Senegalais ´ ´ regiments had acquired a reputation for heroic fighting in the First World War and in the wars against Moroccan warlords and rebels in the 1920s.17 The Germans encountered some Tirailleurs Senegalais in the first phase of ´ ´ their offensive, which involved the encirclement and defeat of large Allied forces in Belgium and northern France (May 10–June 4, 1940), but massacres of black POWs are not widely reported from this period. The exception was the killing of wounded Tirailleurs in and near Aubigny, a village on the left bank of the Somme River about ten kilometers east of Amiens. The Germans had occupied Aubigny on their way to the English Channel, but units of the Twenty-fourth RTS had retaken it on May 23. The next day, the Germans fought their way back into the village and shot fifty wounded Tirailleurs whom the French had left behind.18 French battle reports indicate more killing of
detailed treatment, see Marc Michel, L’appel a l’Afrique: Contributions et reactions a ` ´ ` l’effort de guerre en A.O.F. (1914–1919) (Paris, 1982). 16 The overall number of Tirailleurs Senegalais deployed in France between Septem´ ´ ber 3, 1939, and June 25, 1940, was 100,000, but around one-third of them were still in training or in transit when the armistice took effect; see “Troupes Coloniales en 1939–1940: La mobilisation et la periode d’attente,” L’Ancre d’Or Bazeilles, no. 256 ´ (1990), 27–38. For a list of soldiers mobilized in France’s colonies in 1939–40, see Fargettas, “Le massacre des soldats,” 2:26. Altogether, over 122,000 people were mobilized in French West Africa before the armistice, including 9,622 Europeans (mostly officers). The Tirailleurs Senegalais made up the lion’s share of the colonial troops ´ ´ (275,354 men, total), followed by the Indo-Chinese units (88,898 men). 17 Jean de Pradel de Lamaze and Paul Devautour, “L’armee d’Afrique dans la guerre ´ 1914–1918 et les campagnes d’apres-guerre (1918–1939),” in L’armee d’Afrique ` ´ (1830–1962), ed. Robert Hure (Paris, 1977), 263–307. ´ 18 SHAT 34 N 1097: “Rapport sur la capture et la captivite. Medecin-Lt. Hollecker.” ´ ´



wounded Tirailleurs in the following three days while heavy fighting continued in this area.19 The vast majority of black POWs, however, were killed during the second phase of the campaign, which started with the German attack across the Somme River in northern France (June 5) and ended with the armistice twenty days later. Tirailleurs Senegalais were holding several sectors of the Weygand ´ ´ Line, the new defensive position from the Somme to the Maginot Line that the French Army Command had prepared after the disaster in Belgium and northern France. When the Germans stormed across the Somme, they encountered resolute opposition, not least from the Tirailleurs Senegalais. Strong´ ´ points of Tirailleur resistance were ruthlessly bombarded by artillery and flamethrowers, and, where this was impracticable, German units tracked down and killed the Tirailleurs one by one. There is usually no evidence allowing us to determine whether any of these Tirailleurs attempted to surrender before being shot, but it is notable that usually when prisoners were taken during these “cleansing” operations they were white.20 While this is suspicious enough, plentiful evidence exists of abuses and murders of Tirailleurs who became prisoners of the Germans and thus should have enjoyed the protection of the Geneva convention. A cluster of massacres happened during the battles on the southern shore of the Somme in a group of small towns and villages including Airaines, ten to twenty kilometers west of Amiens. Here the German Second, Sixth, and Fortysixth Infantry as well as the Fifth and Seventh Panzer divisions (the latter under General Erwin Rommel) fought against the Forty-fourth and Fifty-third RICMS. It took the Germans three days to overwhelm all French resistance in this area. Already on the first day (June 5), massacres of Tirailleurs occurred. After conquering the village Hangest-sur-Somme, German troops shot several black POWs.21 A white French officer later described what happened after he surrendered with other white officers and an undisclosed number of Tirailleurs in this area: “The enemy then appears, furious, beside himself, ready to finish

19 SHAT 34 N 109: “Rapport du Colonel Froissard-Broussia”; CHETOM 15 H 144: “Les attaques vers la Somme.” 20 An antitank company of the German Forty-sixth Infantry Division, for example, was charged with “cleansing” a forest south of the Somme on the evening of June 5. It reported: “Twenty-seven Tirailleurs Senegalais were shot, two Frenchmen were taken ´ ´ prisoner.” BA-MA, RH 26-46/47: “46 Division. Abendmeldung der Abteilung Panzerjager 52,” June 5, 1940. For similar descriptions, see BA-MA, RH 26-46/47: “46 Di¨ vision. Abendmeldung der Abteilung Panzerjager 52,” June 5, 1940; and BA-MA, RH ¨ 26-46/4 Anlagen zum KTB Nr. 3 (27.12.1939-6.6.1940): “An Flakabteilung 37. Gefechtsmeldung.” 21 SHAT 34 N 1079: “Rapport du Capitaine Campos-Hugueney.” See also Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 94.

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us off all together. An extremely engaged intervention by a German officer prevents the troops from executing the European officers, but there was no indigenous man alive anymore after a few moments.”22 A physician from the Fifty-third RICMS reported that the Germans gave the black prisoners no food for several days, although the blacks received some bread smuggled to them from the rations of white French POWs.23 Still, on June 7 a captured French lieutenant learned that the Germans had undressed several Tirailleurs and killed them with their coupe-coupes, the customary bush knives of West African soldiers. A German officer told the lieutenant and other captured French officers that “from noon on no Senegalese would be taken prisoner anymore” because they had shot at dispersed Germans—which was not a war crime.24 In several instances, black prisoners were shot when they fell behind on a march to an assembly point or when they stepped too far outside the marching column.25 Obviously, trigger-happy German soldiers interpreted such incidents as escape attempts. Their strictness with black soldiers contrasts with the largesse shown toward white French prisoners, who often found it easy to escape. In the area east and south of Amiens, another cluster of abuses and massacres occurred. Here the Twenty-fourth RTS, which had fought at Aubigny in May, and the Sixteenth RTS defeated a strong German attack on June 5 but were pushed southward on the following days, until the unit was surrounded and largely destroyed near the village of Erquinvillers, about twenty-five kilometers east of Beauvais, on June 8–9. German patrols pursued dispersed Tirailleurs and shot many of them on the night of June 9–10. One white officer described the capture of his group during that night: “The Germans separated us [the white officers] immediately from the indigenous [soldiers], who were led in the opposite direction; a little later, I heard rapid salvos of an automatic weapon coming from the direction where they had disappeared.”26 Another white officer described a similar scene nearby: “The Europeans . . . had to sit in front of a ravine under the barrels of machine guns while about fifty surviving Tirailleurs were led to a nearby place and shot with a machine gun. We, the officers, were able to confirm this later when we were led onto trucks that drove us toward captivity.”27 How many black POWs were killed in the region of Erquinvillers was impossible to determine because it proved difficult to distinguish between Tirailleurs killed while trying to break through to the south and those killed after having surrendered. A cautious French document states
SHAT 34 N 1079: “Rapport du Sous-Lt. Joseph Latour.” SHAT 34 N 1081: “Rapport du Medecin T. C. Bonne.” ´ 24 SHAT 34 N 1079: “Rapport du Lieutenant Pottier.” 25 SHAT 34 N 1081: “Rapport du Chef de Bataillon Costa”; and SHAT 34 N 1079: “Compte rendu d’evasion, Sergeant Binet (5–10 juin 1940).” ´ 26 SHAT 34 N 1097: “Rapport du Lt. Michael Dhoste.” ¨ 27 SHAT 34 N 1097: “Rapport du Commandant Benezet.”
22 23



that around 150 black POWs and 6 white officers in charge of them were shot, but other French inquiries put the figure at 400–500 murdered West Africans.28 In the days following this battle, the French defenses began to collapse and the Germans advanced rapidly toward the south. Paris surrendered without a fight on June 14, and three days later the new French prime minister, Marshal Philippe Petain, called for an armistice. Eyewitness accounts prove a continued ´ pattern of threats, abuses, and massacres as Tirailleurs Senegalais fell into ´ ´ German hands during these last days of the campaign. Approximately one hundred black POWs, many of them wounded, were murdered after the German Eighteenth Army destroyed the Twenty-sixth RTS in the departement ´ Eure west of Paris on June 16.29 Other massacres happened on the following days in the departments Yonne and Cote d’Or (southeast of Paris), in the town ´ ˆ Clamecy (Nievre), and in Lorraine.30 In most cases the Tirailleurs had resisted ` before being captured, but there are also examples of killings without any previous resistance. In the town Sille-le-Guillaume near Le Mans, for example, ´ the Germans on June 19 shot fourteen Tirailleurs belonging to a colonial artillery unit that had not seen any combat. The Tirailleurs were separated from the other POWs assembled in the center of town, led away, and shot near a railroad bridge.31 The best-researched massacre of Tirailleurs Senegalais took place in some ´ ´ villages northwest of Lyon on June 19 and 20. Here units of the Twenty-fifth RTS, which had been formed only a short time before and had not seen major combat, decided to make a last stand defending a road leading to Lyon. The unit commanders knew that France had been defeated and that negotiations for a peaceful surrender of Lyon were under way, but they deemed resistance necessary for reasons of honor. Fargettas shows that the Tirailleurs were asked by their officers whether they would agree to fight to the last—which they all did—in defiance of a withdrawal order issued by their army command.32 SevFor this number, see Lawler, Soldiers of Misfortune, 95–96. The lower number comes from CHETOM 15 H 144, dossier 7. 29 See the testimonies by Avenel, Coutures, and Taillefer-Grimaldi in SHAT 34 N 1099; see also Maurice Rives and Robert Dietrich, Heros meconnus, 1914–1918, ´ ´ 1939–1945 (Paris, 1990), 179–81. 30 Maurice Rives, “Les combattants de l’honneur (1),” L’Ancre d’Or, no. 260 (1991), 27–38; Archives communales de la ville de Clamecy, 4 H 55, 4 H 56, and 1 M 49. For the massacres in Lorraine, see nn. 78–79 below. 31 Andre Hu and Frank Tourel, “Informations sur le massacre des soldats senegalais ´ ´ ´ a Sille le Guillaume le 19 juin 1940,” unpublished manuscript, SHAT. ` ´ 32 Fargettas, “Le massacre des soldats,” 2:74–75. Considering Lawler’s interviews (see Soldiers of Misfortune), however, we have to wonder whether the Tirailleurs, who were often kept in the dark about the general situation, fully understood the hopelessness of the plan.

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eral battalions of the Twenty-fifth RTS engaged German units in a fierce battle but were overwhelmed after a few hours. At least fifty survivors were murdered on June 19 and 20.33 The German units fighting in this region were the SS “Totenkopf” Division, which did not formally belong to the Wehrmacht, and the Großdeutschland Infantry Regiment. Help was also given by tanks dispatched from the Tenth Panzer Division, which was approaching Lyon from the northeast.34 Some Tirailleurs were tortured before being killed, and in one case German tanks rolled over the bodies of shot Tirailleurs to make sure there would be no survivors.35 The German hatred of black Africans continued to manifest itself after the battles. For example, the Germans frequently seized or destroyed the military name tags of dead Tirailleurs, thus preventing the identification of the corpses. Some German units prohibited the burial of dead Tirailleurs Senegalais; after ´ ´ the armistice, an ordinance appeared forbidding the marking and decorating of their graves.36 In one case, German officials even tried to blame the Tirailleurs for the death of French civilians during a German bombardment. Jean Moulin, the prefect of the departement Eure-et-Loir who later emerged as a ´ Resistance leader, was pressured to sign a declaration confirming this lie on June 17. Moulin refused to do so even under torture and was released only after he tried to kill himself.37 In the temporary POW camps, black prisoners often received inadequate food supplies and medical care, and some killings and physical abuses are reported as well. The situation improved after a few months, however, when permanent POW camps were established and when the German government began to consider acquiring a foothold in French West Africa.38 The black POWs seem to have received better food and treatment
33 Fargettas, “Le massacre des soldats,” 2:159. The SS “Totenkopf” Division recorded having taken three hundred prisoners, mostly blacks. BA-MA, RS 3-3/5: “Betreff: Kurzer Bericht. 21.6.1940. Von SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer und Kompagniechef Kuntz,” ¨ and “Gefechtsbericht vom 20.6.1940.” Azema (in “Le choc arme,” 111) speaks of ´ ´ nearly one thousand killed but gives no evidence for this. If we include the Tirailleurs killed in battle, this number may be appropriate. 34 Albert Schick, Die 10. Panzer-Division 1939–1943 (Cologne, 1993), 231–32. 35 It is unclear whether these were tanks of the Tenth Panzer Division or of the SS “Totenkopf” division. The latter, although an infantry division, had some Skoda tanks from captured Czechoslovakian stocks. See Truppenkameradschaft der 3. SS-Panzerdivision and Wolfgang Vopersal, eds., Soldaten, Kampfer, Kameraden: Marsch und ¨ Kampfe der SS-Totenkopf-Division, 5 vols. (Bielefeld, 1983–), 1:119. ¨ 36 CHETOM 15 H 144: “Stadtkommandantur Marcelcave”; and Fargettas, “Le massacre des soldats,” 2:99–100, 114–15. 37 See Moulin’s report, cited in Pierre Pean, Vies et morts de Jean Moulin: Elements ´ ´ d’une biographie (Paris, 1998), 232–43. 38 See Norman Goda, Tomorrow the World: Hitler, Northwest Africa, and the Path



than white prisoners for a while.39 Thousands of Tirailleurs were released from the POW camps in the course of the war, most because of illness. One of them was Leopold Senghor, who obtained release in 1942 with the help of friends ´ and a French doctor.40 Still, many black POWs perished in the camps or after dismissal, mostly because of pulmonary disease. To what extent bad treatment exacerbated the West Africans’ vulnerability to disease is unclear, however.41 * * * When trying to determine why the massacres of black POWs happened, we first have to consider that the Wehrmacht in May and June 1940 did not have an order that, like Hitler’s notorious Kommissarbefehl of 1941 against the political commissars of the Red Army, decreed the execution of a specific group of prisoners. The German army command had distributed the text of the Geneva convention to all units in August 1939, and the guidelines for the treatment of POWs in German divisional records for 1940 reiterated those principles without singling out African prisoners.42 Specific orders on black POWs were issued in some units, but they only warned of the “perfidious” fighting methods of the blacks and asked that black prisoners be strictly guarded and treated “with the greatest rigor.”43 These orders may help to explain the ruthlessness with which German soldiers attacked Tirailleur strongholds and some of the cruelty toward black POWs, but they implied that captured black soldiers would be led to the rear, not shot on the spot. It had been
toward America, Texas A&M University Military History Series, no. 57 (College Station, TX, 1998); and Vaillant, Black, French, and African, 180. See also SHAT 34 N 1090: “Rapport d’Evasion du Lt. de la reserve Fall, Papa Gueye (29.1.1941),” and ´ ´ ´ “Compte-rendu d’evasion. Sous-Lt. Philippe, Emile. 7.9.1940,” in the same folder. ´ 39 See SHAT 34 N 1090: the testimonies by Philippe Vergez and Gueye Fall. Some ´ black POWs had been transported to camps in Germany, but most of them were returned to France by the end of 1940. See Yves Durand, La captivite: Histoire des prisonniers ´ de guerre francais, 1939–1945 (Paris, 1982), 58–60. ¸ 40 Vaillant, Black, French, and African, 177; Hymans, Leopold Sedar Senghor, 112. ´ ´ Vaillant claims he was released in February; Hymans says June. 41 Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 96–97; Durand, La captivite, 59; Helene de Gobi´ ´` neau, Noblesse d’Afrique (Paris, 1946), 12, 99–102. For an example of the ambiguity regarding numbers, see Killingray, “Africans and African Americans in Enemy Hands,” 181, 190. The discrepancies in the available data forbid precise statements on the death rate of black POWs after the campaign. After comparing all numbers, I conclude that there are between one thousand and four thousand unaccounted-for black POWs. 42 See, e.g., BA-MA, RH 26-4/17: “Gefangenen-Abschub”; BA-MA, RH 26-12/6: “Merkblatt fur Gefangenenwesen, 5.6.1940”; and BA-MA, RH 26-27/4: “Besondere ¨ Anordnungen fur die Versorgung” (with instructions on the treatment of POWs, late ¨ May 1940). But German orders stated that armed civilians had to be treated according to court-martial rules: BA-MA, RH 26-11/3: “Tagesbefehl Nr. 9,” April 9, 1940. 43 BA-MA, RH 26-4/16, p. 1 (burned sheet); and Bruge, Juin 1940, 118.

German Massacres of Black Soldiers in 1940


customary in World War I to shoot POWs in revenge for war crimes committed by the enemy, but such reprisals were forbidden by article 2 of the Geneva convention. The treatment of captured Tirailleurs Senegalais therefore de´ ´ pended on individual commanders. In making their decisions, German commanders must have found it difficult, maybe impossible, to negate the influence of a tradition that defined armed black men as cruel savages and illegitimate combatants. Already during the colonial wars in Namibia and East Africa in 1904–7, the German army had circulated (mostly fabricated) stories of Africans having mutilated German soldiers and settlers. These atrocity stories served to justify the harshest possible repression of Africans—even genocide.44 In World War I, German propaganda denounced the use of “wild” Africans in a war among allegedly “civilized” Europeans and accused the Tirailleurs Senegalais of having mutilated ´ ´ German prisoners and dead soldiers.45 Although no massacres of black POWs similar in scale to those of 1940 are known from the First World War, there is evidence that German soldiers shot some captured Tirailleurs, probably in retaliation for killings of German prisoners.46 Later, the presence of Tirailleurs Senegalais in the French occupation army in the Rhineland triggered a histri´ ´ onic German press campaign suggesting that the French had let loose “uncivilized hordes” of rapists and perverts on the German population (the “Black Horror on the Rhine”). That many alleged crimes lacked corroborating evidence did not undermine the power of the accusations.47 Radical rightists in Germany spoke of a “Negroized France” that needed to draft Africans to make up for its weaknesses (such as abundant hedonism and a low birthrate) and that would further degenerate through racial mixing.48 The Nazis, who placed

Horst Drechsler, Let Us Die Fighting: The Struggle of the Herero and Nama against German Imperialism (1884–1915), trans. Bernd Zollner (London, 1980), 146; ¨ Helmut Walser Smith, “The Talk of Genocide, the Rhetoric of Miscegenation: Notes on Debates in the German Reichstag Concerning Southwest Africa, 1904–1914,” in The Imperialist Imagination: German Colonialism and Its Legacy, ed. Sara Friedrichsmeyer, Sara Lennox, and Susanne Zantop (Ann Arbor, MI, 1998), 107–23, at 112–13. 45 Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 33–35. 46 Joe Lunn, Memoirs of the Maelstrom: A Senegalese Oral History of the First World War (Portsmouth, NH, 1999), 136. 47 Sally Marks, “Black Watch on the Rhine: A Study in Propaganda, Prejudice, and Prurience,” European Studies Review 13 (1983): 297–334; Keith Nelson, “‘The Black Horror on the Rhine’; Race as a Factor in Post–World War I Diplomacy,” Journal of Modern History 42 (1970): 606–27; Gisela Lebzelter, “Die ‘Schwarze Schmach’: Vorurteile—Propaganda—Mythos,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 11 (1985): 37–58; Rainer Pommerin, Sterilisierung der Rheinlandbastarde: Das Schicksal einer farbigen Minderheit 1918–1937 (Dusseldorf, 1979). ¨ 48 See, e.g., Kathe Schirmacher, “Frankreichs farbige Truppen,” in Frauenkorres¨ pondenz der DNVP 7, no. 51. July 13, 1925; and Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans.



black Africans very low on their racial hierarchy, fanned the flames of the “Black Horror” campaign and secretly sterilized the mixed-race children from the period of the French occupation of the Rhineland after taking power in 1933. By this time, Nazi control of the media ensured that the voices opposing the demonization of black soldiers had lost all public outlets in Germany.49 Many German officers and soldiers preparing for the attack on France therefore had been confronted with images that cast the black soldiers of the French army as mutilating “savages” who would not respect the Geneva convention and in turn did not deserve to be protected by it. During the western campaign of 1940, a German propaganda offensive dramatically revived these images as part of a psychological warfare campaign. In an effort “to fill the German people with anger and hate against France within two weeks,” Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels issued two directives to the German media on May 29 and 30, respectively, aiming to renew memories of the “Black Horror” and to denounce France’s use of colonial troops in the war.50 A look at the Volkischer Beobachter, the official newspaper ¨ of the Nazi Party, reveals that Goebbels’s directives were immediately put into action. On May 30 the paper charged the French with the murder of defenseless German prisoners and threatened retribution particularly against West African soldiers, called “black animals clothed in khaki by the French”: “We will no longer tolerate that German soldiers have their throats cut by colored soldiers . . . and that our wounded are murdered in bestial ways. . . . These murderous beasts will find no pardon.”51 Similar stories appeared in other newspapers, the radio, and the weekly newsreels shown in German cinemas over the following days. Some German prisoners, mostly aviators, had indeed been mishandled by French civilians or soldiers, including Moroccans, but in no case were West Africans involved.52 The biweekly statements on public opinion compiled by the German Security Service (SD) suggest that Goebbels’s campaign met with overwhelming and immediate success. As early as June 3, the SD concluded on the basis of local reports from the previous three days that “the hatred of the population,
Ludwig Lore (New York, 1939), 625–26. This argument had already circulated in France before 1914 as well. See Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 28. 49 Pommerin, Sterilisierung, 77–84. See also Alexandre Kum’a N’dumbe III, Hitler ´ voulait l’Afrique: Les plans secrets pour une Afrique fasciste, 1933–1945 (Paris, 1980). 50 Willi A. Boelcke, ed., Kriegspropaganda 1939–1941: Geheime Ministerkonferenzen im Reichspropagandaministerium (Stuttgart, 1966), 368–70. 51 “So fuhrt das ‘ritterliche’ Frankreich Krieg. Augenzeugen berichten; Franzosische ¨ ¨ Morde an Wehrlosen; Harte Vergeltung ist diesem Abschaum der ‘Grande Nation’ gewiß!” Volkischer Beobachter 53, no. 151 (May 30, 1940): 4. ¨ 52 Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, 1939–1945 (Lincoln, NE, 1990), 147–51.

German Massacres of Black Soldiers in 1940


which so far has primarily targeted England, begins to turn with full force on France, too. This is because of the news about the atrocities committed by French colonial troops.” A report from East Prussia says, “The repeated news on the radio about the murder and abuse of German prisoners by the French, particularly by colored troops, has infused the entire population with amazing anger and boundless hate.” A report from Innsbruck, Austria, detected overwhelming popular desire for “the most ruthless revenge for these crimes.”53 One typical reaction was, “These black beasts should be shot after being captured.”54 Given that German civilians expressed such massive rage and called for the killing of black POWs already in the first days of June, it is plausible that officers and soldiers exposed to this propaganda had a similar reaction. Many members of the Wehrmacht read the Volkischer Beobachter and heard the radio ¨ programs that so impressed people at home. They did have some time to read and listen to the radio while preparing for the offensives unleashed on June 5 on the lower Somme and on June 9 in other sectors. German army documents from the campaign mirror all the elements of Goebbels’s propaganda. Descriptions of combat with black soldiers are full of racist projections. An account from the Sixth Infantry Division, for example, describes house-to-house combat on the Somme on June 5:
In one house Private Apke wants to search the basement with his pistol in his hand when a Negro jumps on him out of the dark and hits him three times with his bayonet. Apke, having received only a light neck wound, drops the pistol and takes the gun from the black man in a wrestling match. He rams the bayonet through the black man’s chest. The wounded man screams and grabs Apke, trying to bite through his throat. Apke liberates himself from the huge Negro only with great difficulty. Still reeling and wounded from this fight, he calls his comrades. A hand grenade finishes off the Negro.55

In this as in many similar documents, the black soldier appears as a biting beast of prey, a monkey hiding in trees, or a snake slithering through the underbrush of a forest.56 The German prejudice also manifested itself in angry reproaches that German officers directed at captured French officers who commanded black units.

53 Heinz Boberach, ed., Meldungen aus dem Reich 1938–1945: Die geheimen Lageberichte des Sicherheitsdienstes der SS, vol. 4, Meldungen aus dem Reich Nr. 66 vom 15. Marz 1940–Nr. 101 vom 1. Juli 1940 (Herrsching, 1984), 1207. ¨ 54 Ibid., 1222, 1238–39. 55 BA-MA, RH 26-6/108: “Gefecht an der Somme am 5.6.1940.” 56 See, e.g., CHETOM 16 H 339: Die Wehrmacht, November 6, 1940, 21–22; and Hans Schaefer, Division Sintzenich: Erlebnisberichte aus dem Feldzuge in Frankreich 1940 (Frankfurt am Main, n.d.), 172, 184.



Usually the German interrogators expressed outrage over France’s use of “savages” in its army. A white officer from the Twenty-sixth RTS, quite typically, was threatened with execution when the Germans who captured him found out that he commanded a black unit. A German officer told him, “Your dirty Negroes are savages who do not take prisoners and mutilate the German soldiers before killing them.”57 Another commander from this unit was asked by the Germans, “Why do you wage war with savages, with Negroes?” When he answered that the Africans fought for France because France had brought them civilization, a German general became outraged over the word “civilization” and claimed that a German officer had just been mutilated by Tirailleurs.58 When the commandant of the Twenty-fourth RTS protested against the physical abuse of captured Tirailleurs, a German corporal exclaimed, “They are just savages.” The commandant replied that if there were savages nearby they were to be found elsewhere than among the Tirailleurs—a courageous answer given that he, too, had been threatened with execution.59 Not surprisingly, the racist images of black soldiers were most powerful in units particularly committed to Nazi ideology. This is true for the SS “Totenkopf” Division and the Großdeutschland Infantry Regiment. The core of the SS “Totenkopf” Division had been drafted from SS guards of concentration camps such as Dachau and Buchenwald, and the Großdeutschland Regiment was an elite unit previously charged with guard duty in the government center of Berlin. The regimental documents recall with pride that Hitler himself once called the Großdeutschland the “guard regiment of the German people.” The war diaries of both units reveal a particularly vehement hatred of black soldiers. The Großdeutschland was involved in the massacres near Erquinvillers and Lyon, and the SS “Totenkopf” Division shared responsibility for the killings near Lyon and possibly for some massacres in the departements Cote d’Or and ´ ˆ Yonne.60 The stereotype of the mutilating black soldier, revived and reinforced by Nazi propaganda in the midst of the French campaign, was certainly important in motivating the killing of black POWs. Yet it cannot be the complete explanation, because it fails to account for the inconsistency of the German actions.
SHAT 34 N 1099: “Rapport du Lt. Coutures.” SHAT 34 N 1099: “Circonstances dans lesquelles le Capitaine Chouaniere Paul ` adjutant major au 3eme batallion du 26eme Regiment de Tirailleurs a ete fait prisonnier ` ` ´ ´´ le 17 juin 1940 a Ermenonville la Petite.” ` 59 SHAT 34 N 1097: “Rapport du Colonel Amadee Fabre, ex-commandant du 24eme ´ ` RTS.” 60 See BA-MA, RS 3-3/2, 4, and 5; and, for the Großdeutschland Regiment, BAMA, RH 37, vols. 6327, 6328, 6335, 6392. I have found evidence for many smaller massacres of black POWs along the route of the SS “Totenkopf ” Division but cannot yet ascertain whether this unit had committed them.
57 58

German Massacres of Black Soldiers in 1940


Given that fifteen thousand to twenty thousand Tirailleurs Senegalais were in ´ ´ German POW camps at the end of the campaign, we can conclude that, overall, West Africans were more likely to be taken prisoner than to be killed. The fact that French officers report so many arguments with German officers about the treatment of the Tirailleurs—and disagreements among the Germans themselves—confirms the inconsistency in treatment, which is also how West African veterans remembered their experiences.61 Even in battle areas where many massacres occurred, some Tirailleurs were being taken prisoner without any abuses. An announcement by one German unit that all Tirailleurs would be shot after noontime on June 7 near Airaines, for example, was ignored by other units in the same sector.62 Sometimes French officers averted a massacre by showing German soldiers the wounds of Tirailleurs Senegalais. In the night ´ ´ of massacres near Erquinvillers, a German soldier who had been a missionary in Africa even stepped in to prevent a comrade from throwing a hand grenade into a basement occupied by wounded Tirailleurs, and German soldiers then helped the French physician to carry the wounded men to safety.63 In some cases, French officers and physicians specifically commented on the good treatment of black POWs. A physician from the Twelfth RTS, for example, noted after being captured with many Tirailleurs in Lorraine, “The Tirailleurs are treated the same way as the Europeans—with great consideration.” Of the soldiers guarding the POWs, he wrote, “They are very correct; there is no incident with the Senegalese.”64 The inconsistencies in the treatment of black prisoners suggest that situational factors, in combination with widespread prejudice, helped to trigger the massacres. Could the mutilation of a German prisoner have been such a situational factor? In many cases, starting with the massacre in Aubigny on May 24, German officers justified the killing of black POWs by claiming that Tirailleurs Senegalais had mutilated German soldiers with their coupe-coupes. ´ ´ Whether these allegations were true is hard to determine. White French officers usually claimed that they belonged to “the realm of absurd legend,” as one of them protested to his German captors.65 Veterans from Ivory Coast vehemently rejected the charges, but one of the testimonies quoted by Lawler denied only the mutilation of dead Germans while admitting cases of torture: “It is a totem of war that you cannot take anything [from a dead soldier]. You could hurt the enemy while he is alive—put nails through his hand before he is dead. That
Lawler, Soldiers of Misfortune, 98–99. SHAT 34 N 1079: “Rapport du Lieutenant Pottier.” 63 SHAT 34 N 1097: “Rapport sur la capture et la captivite. Medecin-Lt. Hollecker,” ´ ´ 27–29. 64 SHAT 34 N 1090: “Rapport de captivite et d’evasion du Medecin-Lieutenant Ver´ ´ ´ gez, Roger-Jacques.” 65 SHAT 34 N 1099: “Rapport du Lt. Coutures.”
61 62



I did see happen. C’est la guerre [That is war]. The Germans took our men and killed many of them. The French didn’t let us kill Germans when we captured them. We had to keep them alive.”66 Occasionally, white French officers claimed that they prevented the abuse of German POWs by black troops. On June 6, for example, two severely wounded German soldiers who had been captured in Airaines became hysterical when they realized that they were guarded by a Tirailleur Senegalais. A French lieutenant reported, “I have to ´ ´ say that I had to intervene with vehemence in order to prevent a Tirailleur with a coupe-coupe in his hand from cutting off their heads.”67 While the available documentation makes it impossible to refute the German accusations completely, there is reason to believe that they were inflated. We have to consider that many encounters between Germans and Tirailleurs Se´ negalais involved close combat in houses, bushes, or forests. The bayonet and, ´ naturally, the coupe-coupe were best suited for this. Killing the enemy with these weapons made no noise that might have betrayed the defender and his holdout.68 A long and heavy knife, wielded by a soldier in anticipation of imminent death, would inflict severe cuts on the enemy similar to the effects of deliberate mutilations. Many German soldiers found with the alleged mutilations may have been killed in close combat with Tirailleurs Senegalais using ´ ´ their coupe-coupes. There was nothing illegal about this, and the coupe-coupe was neither deadlier nor more “barbarous” than other weapons used in close combat. Yet German officers and soldiers so much associated this weapon with mutilations that the mere finding of coupe-coupes could enrage them and spark abuses of black POWs.69 When German officers or soldiers found a dead comrade with a body part cut off they usually made no effort to investigate the circumstances of his death. It would have been crucial, though difficult, to ascertain whether a soldier had been killed after having surrendered or in the course of combat. Only the first case would have constituted a war crime. Yet
Quoted in Lawler, Soldiers of Misfortune, 96. SHAT 34 N 1081: “Rapport du Lt. Leon Bouzou: 5-7.6. 1940.” Some Tirailleurs ´ Senegalais were drafted from areas in Africa where the ritual decapitation of enemies ´ ´ belongs to the traditions of warfare and was reported even after 1940. Claude Sterckx, La tete et les seins: La mutilation rituelle des ennemis et le concept de l’ame (Saarˆ ˆ brucken, 1981), 79–82. ¨ 68 Black units, having run out of ammunition, repeatedly made suicidal charges with coupe-coupes. See, e.g., SHAT 34 N 1099: “Relation succincte des combats auxquels a pris part le regiment du 11 au 22 juin 1940.” ´ 69 SHAT 34 N 1099: “Rapport du Lieutenant Georges Parisot”; CHETOM 15 H 144: Robert Long. For an interpretation of the German obsession with the coupe-coupe as a reflection of the fear of physical and mental fragmentation during and after World War I, see Sandra Mass, “Das Trauma des weißen Mannes: Afrikanische Kolonialsoldaten in propagandistischen Texten 1914–1923,” L’Homme: Zeitschrift fur feminis¨ tische Geschichtswissenschaft 12 (2001): 11–33.
66 67

German Massacres of Black Soldiers in 1940


the Germans tended to see what they wanted to see, believing that Tirailleurs Senegalais always mutilated prisoners with their coupe-coupes. The racist prej´ ´ udice thus endowed this situational factor—the discovery of a dead German with severe cuts—with a meaning that served to “justify” a massacre of black POWs. Another situational factor increasing the likelihood of massacres was the French “hedgehog” tactic pursued in the defense of the Weygand Line after June 5. Rather than striving to hold a continuous line, which had proved disastrous in the first weeks of the campaign, the French now pursued a defense “in depth.” Wherever French soldiers faced superior German forces, they dug in and formed so-called hedgehogs in villages, remote castles, and forests. German tanks and infantry often passed these positions believing that the enemy had withdrawn. The remaining French, however, harassed the Germans from the side and the rear and engaged them in close combat.70 To overwhelm all the dispersed “hedgehogs,” the Germans had to wage many costly and drawn-out battles. This form of combat was typical for the fighting around Airaines and Erquinvillers. The diaries of German divisions engaged in these areas described the hedgehog tactic as outrageous and disruptive, particularly when black units were involved. A battle report of the German Forty-sixth Infantry Division, fighting near Airaines, stated on the evening of June 5, 1940, “During the rapid advance of our infantry south of the Somme, it became distressingly obvious that we were often threatened from the side or rear because the colonial troops let our attack roll over them but afterward reappeared and fought tenaciously.”71 In Erquinvillers, a German officer justified the massacre of Tirailleurs Senegalais ´ ´ by placing them on the same level as the franc-tireurs, armed civilians mounting irregular resistance not covered by the laws of war. (German officers had the right to shoot franc-tireurs.)72 Fear of the Tirailleurs Senegalais must have ´ ´ reached almost paranoid levels, as the Germans were fighting against an often invisible enemy who might hide with his coupe-coupe in a dark corner of a house, in a ravine, or behind a tree—often at night. But this fear and the rage accompanying it were inseparable from the demonic images of black soldiers that many German soldiers carried with them. Troops from mainland France and British units pursued the same tactic on the same front, but German reports
70 For a description of this tactic, see Alistair Horne, To Lose a Battle: France, 1940 (London, 1969), 489. 71 BA-MA, RH 26-46/47: “Abendmeldung am 5.6.” 72 SHAT 34 N 1097: “Rapport du Lt. Michael Dhoste.” In the first months of the ¨ First World War, the German army’s obsession with franc-tireurs had induced it to commit widespread massacres of Belgian and French civilians. See John Horne and Alan Kramer, German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (New Haven, CT, and London, 2001).



about hedgehog positions occupied by white French or British troops usually depicted their resistance as tough but legitimate.73 A final situational factor was determined French resistance in the last days of the campaign. After Petain’s call for an armistice (June 17), many German ´ soldiers expected that the French army would surrender or withdraw, although the armistice was not signed until June 22 and took effect only in the morning hours of June 25. Sometimes German advance patrols after June 17 approached French defensive positions without cover, assuming that the French would no longer fire. Yet in many places the French army did mount resistance and inflicted heavy casualties on overconfident Wehrmacht units, and black troops were often involved in these battles. Their will to resist had been strengthened by the rumors they heard about the murder of black prisoners, and their opportunities to disengage from the front line were very limited.74 White French soldiers could slip into civilian clothes and pose as civilians long enough to get out of the danger zone, but blacks risked being caught as deserters by the French or being taken prisoner by the Germans. As one French commander cynically remarked after ordering his white soldiers to change into civilian clothing while abandoning his black soldiers on a deserted farm, “Putting civilian clothes on them will not make them white.”75 Moreover, having lost their white officers, many Tirailleurs simply had no idea where to go. Most of them knew little French and were ignorant of the local geography and the position of friendly troops.76 These factors combined to make the Tirailleur Senegalais a soldier who often put up a determined defense until the very end. ´ ´ As a consequence, black and mixed regiments suffered much higher casualty rates than all-white units throughout the campaign.77 Most massacres of black POWs in the last days of the campaign occurred in places where Tirailleurs Senegalais mounted last-ditch resistance and in´ ´ flicted heavy casualties on the Germans. Near Brillon in Lorraine, for example, the first battalion of the Twelfth RTS found itself in a hopeless situation during the night of June 15–16. But when the Germans sent emissaries asking its

73 For an example involving a British unit, see BA-MA, RH 26-12/12: “Divisionstagesbefehl 87 (8.6.1940),” and point 3 of “Feindunterrichtung zum Divisionsbefehl zum Vormarsch am 7.6.1940.” The sober tone of this report is surprising, given that other contemporary German military documents passionately denounced “perfidious Albion”—though more typically in the context of politics and naval warfare than in the context of land war. 74 For examples of Tirailleurs having heard rumors of massacres, see SHAT 34 N 1081: “Compte Rendu du Cpt. Rene Brugnet,” and SHAT 34 N 1097: “Rapport du ´ Colonel Amadee Fabre; ex-commandant du 24eme RTS.” ´ ` 75 SHAT 34 N 1081: “Rapport du Sergeant-Chef Maury.” 76 Lawler, Soldiers of Misfortune, 81, 86. 77 Ibid., 88; Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 95; Bruge, Juin 1940, 118.

German Massacres of Black Soldiers in 1940


commander to surrender, the battalion opened fire. After the Germans had stormed the position, they killed black POWs, including many severely wounded soldiers.78 Further south, units of the Fourteenth RTS had prepared defensive positions in the town of Bourmont. A withdrawal order issued by the French army command failed to reach these soldiers, who thus remained committed to holding their positions to the last man. Parts of the German Tenth and Eighty-Sixth Infantry Divisions attacked on June 18 and 19 and conquered the town at the price of over three hundred casualties. Afterward, the Germans shot at least thirty black POWs.79 As Fargettas has shown, a similar situation triggered the massacres northwest of Lyon on June 19 and 20. A German officer from the Großdeutschland Regiment, at the head of a group of soldiers, had approached a French roadblock with a white flag and announced (wrongly) that the armistice had been signed. The Tirailleurs opened fire and killed many Germans.80 Encountering dogged resistance and suffering heavy casualties at a time when the campaign had been decided, German soldiers often vented their anger on their black prisoners. Yet, what German soldiers saw as a perfidious act of resistance when black troops were involved, they tolerated, even appreciated, as a fight for the sake of honor when white troops were involved. The muchcelebrated heroic resistance by the mostly white cadets of the officer school of Saumur on the Loire, for instance, did not lead to a massacre once the resistance had been overcome. The records of the German First Infantry Division fighting in Saumur even express respect for the defenders, including some Arab and Berber sharpshooters.81 * * * It is understandable that German soldiers, expecting a swift advance following the Allied defeat in northern France and Belgium, were angered by the obstinate French resistance after June 5 that slowed them down and caused many casualties. The ever-present but rarely visible threat emanating from “hedgehogs” intensified the normal battle fear, and the occurrence of determined resistance in the last days of the campaign provoked rage over the seemingly senseless death of comrades. Such feelings have induced troops to commit war crimes in other theaters of war—for example, in the Pacific war
Rives and Dietrich, Heros meconnus, 179–81. ´ ´ SHAT 34 N 1093: “Rapport du Colonel Montangerand” and “Colonel Voillemin”; see also Archives departementales de la Haute-Marne, Chaumont, 33 Rev. 898: “La ´ bataille de Bourmont 18–19–20 juin 1940”; and Archives de la Mairie de Bourmont: “Historique de la bataille de Bourmont.” 80 Fargettas, “Le massacre des soldats,” 2:104–5. See also Fargettas, “Les Tirailleurs Senegalais,” 141. ´ ´ 81 ¨ BA-MA, RH 26-1/102: “Berichte uber den Ubergang uber die Loire.” ¨ ¨
78 79



in 1941–45 and in Vietnam.82 Yet all situational factors and the anxiety they created among the Germans would hardly have been effective without the ideological prejudices that many German soldiers harbored already and that were powerfully amplified by Goebbels’s propaganda campaign in late May and early June. Only in light of their degrading image of black Africans could members of the Wehrmacht associate Tirailleur resistance with irregular fighting methods while accepting the same kind of resistance when displayed by white troops. In reality, it was not the legitimacy of the fighting methods that was at stake but the legitimacy of the people applying them. Even if some of the accusations of torture and mutilations committed by Tirailleurs were true, the wholesale revenge and the degrading rules for the burial of black soldiers reveal a racist prejudice that needed little incentive to erupt in murderous action—though not by all Germans, as proved by the many reported cases of decent treatment of black POWs. The record of the SS “Totenkopf” Division and the strongly Nazified Großdeutschland Infantry Regiment suggests that devotion to Nazi ideology boosted the willingness to massacre black soldiers. But regular Wehrmacht units were complicit in these crimes. The massacres of Tirailleurs Senegalais in 1940 show that it was possible, with the help of ´ ´ propaganda and special circumstances, to draw parts of the Wehrmacht into a kind of racialized warfare even before the war against the Soviet Union, in which very different situational factors allowed for a much more extreme Nazi indoctrination of the troops and much more extensive crimes.83

82 See Christopher Browning’s insightful discussion in Ordinary Men (New York, 1992), 159–89. 83 Bartov, Hitler’s Army, chaps. 1 and 2. Bartov stresses that in the Soviet Union, the Germans soon found themselves fighting a better-equipped enemy with old-style trench warfare and that high casualties rapidly destroyed the Wehrmacht’s primary groups, whose cohesion has been seen as the key to earlier German successes. These circumstances made the German army more susceptible to the alternative structure of cohesion provided by Nazi ideology, leading to a demonization of the enemy that justified the worst atrocities. Both of these situational factors were absent in France in 1940, where the Wehrmacht did not face a technologically superior and better-equipped enemy and suffered much smaller losses.