Whether recounting the fate of German resistance fighters in the heart of Nazi Germany, Austria’s place in the National Socialist system, the Holocaust in the ghettos or the fight of Spanish republican deportees in the Mauthausen camp , Barbara Necek always manages to make exciting documentaries.

This time, in the company of historian Camille Fauroux, author of Producing War, Producing Gender. French women at work in National Socialist Germany (EHESS, 2020), Barbara Necek looked at the fate of the 80,000 French women who voluntarily left for Germany, between 1940 and 1944, to work in factories, workshops, enemy enterprises. By revealing a forgotten part of history, his work is, once again, remarkable.

Using unpublished filmed archives and testimonies from Chantal (16 years old when she arrived in Germany), but also from the daughter and grandson of Suzanne Becail, stationed near Stuttgart in the Salamander shoe factory, we discover the long-erased history of women who were neither resistant nor collaborators.

Money and freedom

In the spring of 1945, on the trains returning from Germany to France, prisoners of war, forced laborers and deportees mixed together. But also groups of women, dressed in civilian clothes and in good physical condition. They are greeted by boos from the wives of prisoners of war. Their crime? They left of their own free will to work for the enemy. Some will be shorn, most will remain silent, rebuild their lives, try to be forgotten.

As the documentary analyzes, these young women (average age 26), mostly from working-class backgrounds, chose to go to work in Germany for multiple reasons: the promise of stable employment, a decent salary, comfortable housing, food, medical care, free time and a guaranteed return to the country stipulated in the employment contract.

Money, therefore, but also the need for freedom, the desire to move away from a patriarchal French society, where mass unemployment reigns, and from the Pétainist regime, for which women’s place is at home. When leaving, a bonus of 1,000 francs allows them to leave money to their family or pay off debts.

If life in Germany for these French workers turns out to be less difficult than that of (non-volunteer) workers from the East, the promises of the employment contract will quickly give way to disappointment: housed in uncomfortable barracks, with poor conditions. life which will, with the passage of time, increased surveillance and more and more frequent bombings on the Reich, become particularly difficult. Two thousand French workers lost their lives.