The Milice was a paramilitary organisation set-up in France during World War Two. The Milice first supported the Vichy government in unoccupied France but was later used in German-occupied France where it supported the Nazi government in Paris. At its peak, it is thought that 35,000 men were in the Milice but no accurate figures were kept.
The Milice was created on January 30th 1943 to fight the French Resistance that was becoming more and more successful as the war progressed. While Pierre Laval was Prime Minister of Vichy France, the Milice itself was under the command of Joseph Darnand, the Secretary General of Vichy France.
The Milice was an organisation that attracted men from a variety of backgrounds. Some simply believed in what the Milice was doing – supporting the Nazis. While France has been defeated by the Nazis, there were some in France who harboured sympathies with the Nazi regime – as was seen by those Frenchmen who joined the SS when allowed to do so. Others who joined were men who had been out of work for a time and the Milice offered paid employment, regular pay and better food rations. Another factor that may have swayed some to join was the fact that members of the Milice were exempt from being used as forced labourers in Nazi Germany.
The primary task of the Milice was to take on and defeat the French Resistance. Members of the Milice worked within the locality they either knew or lived in. As such their knowledge of a local area was far greater than the Nazis. This made them a dangerous opponent to the French Resistance. There were few rules to govern their behaviour as the Nazis were solely interested in information. Those who were arrested by the Milice could be tortured. Men and women who were suspected of being in the French Resistance faced having members of their family arrested by the Milice and tortured for information.
This quickly led to the Resistance attacking members of the Milice. If the Milice had local knowledge to their advantage, the same was true for the Resistance. While the Milice worked in the open and in public, the opposite was true for the Resistance, which worked in the shadows. Members of the Milice could be killed in public or in their own homes. No supporter or member of the Milice was safe. Philippe Henriot, Vichy’s Minister of Information and Propaganda, was killed by the Resistance in his apartment in a government building. His wife was killed in the same attack. On the following day, Paul Touvier, head of the Lyons Milice, ordered the execution of seven Jewish hostages in retaliation.
Between January 1943 and January 1944, the Milice worked only in Vichy France. However, in January 1944, its work was extended into the ‘occupied zone’ – Nazi controlled France. It could be argued that this was a sign of their effectiveness – or what was perceived as their effectiveness – as it was highly unlikely that the Nazi regime in Paris would have required their support if they had been considered ineffective.
Here they were used for another purpose – supporting the Nazis in the round-up of French Jews. There was a large Jewish population in and around the capital, Paris. The Nazis had earmarked a complex at Drancy, a suburb of Paris, as a holding station for French Jews before deportation to the east. The Milice helped not only in the rounding up of French Jews but also in maintaining law and order at Drancy.
To emphasise their support for the Nazi regime, the Milice was used to put down a riot by French prisoners held at Santé Prison in Paris. The evidence points to the fact that much brutality was used by the Milice in putting down this revolt – with no questions asked by the Nazis.
Members of the Milice quickly disappeared after D-Day. When it became obvious that the Allies had successfully landed in Normandy and that the Germans were not going to push them out, many members of the Milice fled to Nazi Germany, where they ‘volunteered’ to join the Waffen-SS or to Franco’s Spain – a country known to be sympathetic to the Nazis. Those who remained in France or were caught before they could flee were made to account for their work in the Milice. Many were accused of treason and after a quick trial were either shot or hanged. There are no accurate records for this as no one is completely sure how many men were in the Milice as it had a part-time section, an administrative section and those who were active. No one is quite sure how many men went to fight for the Charlemagne Division in the Waffen-SS or who fled abroad for their own safety. However, post-liberation, France was in no mood to forgive those who had been in the Milice and much time and effort was spent tracking down members of the Milice, especially senior members. As late as 1994, Paul Touvier, was caught, tried and imprisoned.