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It is 1943, I am a high school teacher in Paris, France. We have been under German occupation for 2 years now. How has my teaching curriculum changed under Nazi rule?

It is 1943, I am a high school teacher in Paris, France. We have been under German occupation for 2 years now. How has my teaching curriculum changed under Nazi rule?

It is 1943, I am a high school teacher in Paris, France. We have been under German occupation for 2 years now. How has my teaching curriculum changed under Nazi rule?

Even with the defeat, schools remained opened for the beginning of the 1940 school year, so you would have had to teach starting October 1st. Your classes’ effectives would have been severely reduced, as many students (those whose family had the means) would have fled to the countryside. Many would stay away from Paris for the whole war.

There is a good chance you would not have been able to attend the beginning of classes, though, as many teachers had been mobilized in the French army. Many of them were in prison camps. You could have been one of the 250 000 (about 12%) who evaded German captivity or you could have been among the 330 000 prisoners repatriated for medical reasons in March 1941.

For the year 1940-1941, nothing much would have changed, except that you would see the “vert-de-gris”, German uniforms, here and there, and that you would sense a mood of hostility against teachers. Many commentators, such as Paul Claudel in Paris-Soir, were accusing you and your colleagues of being responsible for the defeat.

Being back alive from the front would have made you look like a coward in the eyes of conservatives, because you were supposed to show the example and die for your country. In the Revue des Deux-Mondes during the Summer, Philippe Pétain would accuse teachers of inciting defeat by spreading pacifism and socialism, and some measures would be taken against them.

The first of these measures weren’t that bad. According to an order sent on August 9th 1940, those who had “spread outdated ideas” were moved to another posting in order to start anew. Okay. On August 16th, inspectors were mandated to find teachers “not worthy enough to teach to French youth”. Not too bad either, but the climate for the beginning of this first school year under the occupation is shitty, a few colleagues ratting to the authorities about the others’ bad ideas or bad behavior.

On October 11th, the first coercitive measure is taken against women, as all female public servants are fired (to take care of their families). So you might lose one or two of your colleagues in the beginning of the year, having to take in their students in your half-full classes.

On November 15th, you might lose another colleague or two as “past involvement” in “anti-French” groups such as the Front Populaire becomes a fireable offense. Still, it’s not that much, as it is thought to amount to about 1000 teachers on the 30 000 in France, a mere 3,33%. Nothing compared to your 13 000 colleagues in German prison camps.

On October 31th, an order is given to identify all Jews teaching in French schools. For this, they rely on colleagues telling on each other. Their jobs would have to be cancelled by the beginning of December. Same thing goes for communists and freemasons. In class, though, nothing much has changed as the major reforms would come in for 1941-1942, but the figure of Pétain becomes omnipresent : songs, pictures depict the Maréchal, new heroes like Jeanne d’Arc and Vercingétorix become important. Some books are now forbidden, both by the Vichy regime and the Germans, you have to slightly change your syllabus.

Starting October 1941, every public servant has to pledge allegiance to Philippe Pétain. You do it with mental fingers crossed. Why lose your job ? A portrait of the Maréchal and a French flag are now mandatory in every class. Every Monday morning, the flag has to be raised in the schoolyard in a ceremony.

Every Saturday afternoon, it has to be folded to mark the end of the week. Big reforms are planned to happen in the coming years, the main theme of teaching has to be “travail, famille, patrie”, work, family, fatherland, but the new program is announced for 1946.

Anyway, you teach as you always did, pretending to care about the new regime when inspectors or colleagues you can’t trust are around. Repression against your Jewish students starts to intensify, but you might not see it firsthand. Some of them might disappear by the end of 1942, either because they fled to the free zone or worse.

Meanwhile, your life conditions worsen. After a short period of improvement after the Summer of 1940, when 2/3 of the city had fled and everything was missing in stores, many things become scarce. Curfews whenever some German officer gets shot by a “terrorist”, no more sweet Virginian tobacco, only that crappy stuff that tastes like sawdust.

Coffee ? Tea ? Chocolate ? Dream on. Maybe on the black market. Soap ? Save it. Coal ? Paris is so cold and wet during winter… You had a car? No you hadn’t, you’re only a teacher. Anyway, there is no more gas for those who had one.

Everybody’s riding a bicycle. You even see horses coming back in the streets. Your cat ? Gone missing since two weeks. You suspect the neighbors ate it. You go back to school. Monday, somewhere in 1943. You know the Germans are losing the war since Stalingrad, some even whisper a version of “Lili Marlene” saying the Russians are coming for them. Where are the Americans ? Where are the British ? You follow them on “Radio Londres” in your friends’ apartment. What are they doing in Africa ?

It’s Monday. You have to raise the flag and sing “Maréchal, nous voilà!” with your students. Some are missing. You have no news from your Jewish ex-colleague who was sent in a work camp last June. Hopefully they feed him well. You are luckier, you teach. At least, you have a job for as long as you can put up with the Pétain thing.

1. Written by u/JustePecuchet.
2. Jean-Michel Barreau, Vichy contre l’école de la République, Flammarion, 2000.
3. Stéphanie Calcagni. Éducation et enseignement sous le régime de Vichy, 1940-1944. Education. 2013.
4. Rémy Handourtzel. Vichy ou l’échec de l'”école nationale” (été 1940-été 1944) In: L’école et la nation: Actes du séminaire scientifique international. Lyon, Barcelone, Paris, 2010 [online]. Lyon: ENS Éditions, 2013.
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