Fighting Nazism with Racism: A worrying discovery

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General Charles De Gaulle wanted the liberation of Paris in 1944 to be seen as a french only affair. The allied forces agreed to his request by expertly putting a 100% white only Second Armored Division together at a time when two thirds of the French troops were made up of soldiers from the colonies, most of them West African.

According to a recently released document, American and British commanders assured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a “whites only” affair, BBC Radio 4 revealed Monday 6 April. The allied forces positively and enthusiastically responded to a request from General De Gaulle, who wanted the Liberation to be seen as the work of French soldiers.

The allied forces communicated their conditions in a reply insisting that the “De Gaulle division shall not contain any black soldiers,” says the BBC. “It is more desirable that the division mentioned above (the Second Armored Division) consist of white personnel” reads a confidential note written by Walter Bedell Smith, Chief of Staff the then US president, Eisenhower, in January 1944. “This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white.”

British General Frederick, following the French request, contacted the Allied Command: “It is unfortunate that the only French formation that is 100% white is an armoured division in Morocco (…) Every other French division is only about 40% white. I have told Colonel de Chevene that his chances of getting what he wants will be vastly improved if he can produce a white infantry division.”

At the time, only the United States of America practiced a formal segregation, making the British acceptance of this request rather surprising. The Allies eventually got their wish. But to achieve this impossible feat, due to the fact that there were simply not enough white soldiers, they were forced to involve soldiers from the Middle East (Syria) Spain and North Africa (possibly the light skinned)

The Blacks deprived of honour

The Senegalese Tirailleurs, a term used to describe troops from French West African colonies, who comprised “65% of the Free French Forces” were deprived of the little honour they deserved. It should be noted that 17 000 of them lost their lives during the French capitulation in June 1940. The Black soldiers were not to become part of a triumphant welcome in Paris. Could it be that for those they had fought and shed their their blood, they were indeed less human? To make matters worse for these soldiers who had been pushed to the front lines, after the liberation, many were “stripped” of their uniforms. And that is not all, at the height of this despise and ingratitude, they would see their pensions frozen by a law in 26 December 1959. This is was named “la cristallisation”.

After undergoing readjustment in 2002, due to the cost of living for these veterans, retirement funds – veteran and disability pensions – were finally unfrozen “la décristallisation” in 2006 and 2007.

The film Indigènes, by Franco-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb released in September 2006, greatly contributed to the successful outcome of a 40 year long process initiated by veterans from the colonies. In fact, what the veterans want is an equal treatment with their French counterparts.

In the long run, the French justice system attempted to redress the wrongs of the State. In October 2008, six Moroccan veterans had their military pensions upgraded. The Finance Act 2007 “decristallised” the disability pensions and veteran pension” but in no way “the military pension, which happens to be the most important allowance” said their lawyer, Mrs. Houssan-Othman Farah. “Fighting evil with evil” is an adage that may have been applied to the letter by the allied forces alongside France as they skillfully fought nazism with racism.

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