Books in Brief

In 1935, as president of France, Pierre Laval banned “weapons of war” and decreed that all firearms should be registered with the government.  In 1945 he was tried and found guilty of treason for his collaboration with the German occupation.  Between those two years, Hitler built his strong war machine, and in 1940 he invaded and occupied  France.  Immediately after her defeat, the French government, under the terms of the armistice, agreed to administer the country on the Wehrmacht’s behalf.  Among its first steps was to order every gun owner to surrender his weapon to the authorities within 24 hours under penalty of immediate execution.  As the government held the records, the order should have been easy to enforce, and for the most part it was.

Even so, less than one third of an estimated three million hunting guns were turned in, and over the next five years those that remained in the hands of French citizens proved a serious problem for the Germans.  Many in the Resistance and other French people relied on their firearms to extricate themselves from situations in which their activities had involved them, and the frustrated occupiers resorted to a series of amnesties further to disarm the public.  While many citoyens forfeited their lives to their own stubborn bravery, they nevertheless became part of a shadow army that greatly aided the Allies in defeating Germany...

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