French Trotskyists Under the Occupation

Recovery Operations

Source: Ohé Partisans!, no. 4, August 1945;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2010.

When the Saint-Just Company was formed our armaments were a 7.35 caliber pistol and two 6.35 calibers with defective bullets.

The day the insurrection began the company disposed of two machine guns, a few rifles, and more than forty pistols for thirty FTP. And these arms didn’t go unused.

They were all obtained through recovery operations. In passing it should be said that we never received even a pistol from a parachute drop. This is true for all FTP companies. We know full well why, but it is useful to return often to this fact, especially now when certain troublemakers seek to have people forget that the class struggle continued under the Occupation and engage in crooked maneuvers under cover of the lying formula “Everyone united, like in the Resistance.”

Training is necessary even when it comes to courage.

At first the sight of a uniform in intimidating. Our first recovery occurred at the Croix de Chavaux. The policeman made us a long and touching speech. We surrendered the pistol.

When you think back every guy is pitiful, but there’s a beginning to everything and there’s no use in bragging.

Later, every time that a cop alluded to his four kids, to the court martial, or to prison we kindly but firmly answered: “Join the maquis, old man.” The argument didn’t often work, but we didn’t care. Aside from the advantage of bringing a new pistol to the company we had the sweet joy of speaking freely and being respectfully listened to by a policeman. This was something that happened rarely enough for us to appreciate it when it did.

If these excerpts from our company reports are read by the prefecture I’m sorry to tell them that with a few rare exceptions their agents’ attitude was pitiful and that we had to read pamphlets six months after the liberation to learn the potential courage of the police during the Occupation.

What seemed remarkable at the beginning later on appeared humdrum.

The boys remember the jokes employed to liven up the recuperations. One night after nightfall we were strolling on boulevard Blanqui. Not a German, not a policeman in sight. Bébert knew that the police often stood quietly in entranceways while waiting for the unforeseen.

We decided to create the unforeseen and four young people, assuming a festive air, walked along singing “The Internationale.”

What was bound to happen happened. A lovely voice reached our ears:

“Will you shut up with that song?”

Jo, his hand on his revolver, chuckled with joy when we answered the cop:

“In fact, Mr. Policeman, we wanted to talk to you.”

There was nothing special about the recovered pistol, but an hour later we split our sides laughing when we thought of the shocked look on the copper’s face.

The Germans have better revolvers and two clips.

But the tactics are different.

When a soldier sees himself on a quiet street surrounded by two or three guys, pistols in hand, he says to himself, “terrorists,” and immediately believes that we want to take his life. He thus has a tendency to take his gun from its holster.

This is why diplomacy is required.

Jim’s team almost always fired before saying “Hands up!” As an example of this there’s the affair of the Jardin des Plantes.

We in the Spartacus team were opposed to these methods. Principally because the guys were more politicized. We didn’t look to kill soldiers and, on the contrary, each time this was possible we declared that we were communists.

We said (and I can’t guarantee the spelling, only the very approximate pronunciation) “Handeur hour, dou nitch kapout, ich vill pistol.”

On June 17 on rue Vergniaud, recovery of a pistol from a German blabbermouth.

On July 4, at 11:30 p.m., near the Porte d’Orleans. This one was charming. He gave us the holster after a few minutes of jargon: “Nitch Gaullists. We communists. Katyn, Nazi propaganda toc toc. Arbeiter alles leander; good kamerad, etc...” When he left he shook our hand saying, “Auf vidersen kamerad.”

Everything didn’t go as well as this, and this wasn’t the principal work.

I noted the good moments for the old friends of the Saint-Just who are delving into their memories of the past in order to forget the filthiness of the present.

This can perhaps be useful for the young working-class comrades. For on the day we are all waiting for it will be good to recall that even 7.65 bullets punch holes in the most impressive uniforms; that the guy who laughs is stronger the one who’s morose; and that the one who fires first is the one who’s right.