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Book Review: "Women in War" - The Quiet Strength of Forgotten War Heroines

Translated by Monika Navarro

Translated Tuesday 13 June 2006, by Monika Navarro

Women in War (1939-1945), by Claude Quétel. Éditions Larousse, 2006, 238 pages. 22 euros.

They are schemers, manipulators, poisoners. Throughout history, women have often been relegated to backrooms or bedrooms. From Marie-Antoinette to Mata Hari, their place was either in the shade or caught up in scandals.

"In any case, they are eternally forgotten in the history of war; half or more of humanity seems to have been overlooked by researchers, and historians find it difficult to establish this multitude as historical objects", writes Claude Quétel in this work whose purpose is actually to rehabilitate "this quiet strength" and to give it the visibility it deserves at the heart of the conflicts which accompany our memories.

The book also invites us to trace the long and detailed path of women, from the victims of the Exodus to those patiently queuing for supplies; from factory women to field combatants; from rear auxiliaries to maquis resistance fighters, arousing even the enemies’ admiration. "They were deported and proved to have strong spirits and great endurance toward incredible physical ordeals, so that many men envied them. From the Eastern front lines to the heart of secret nocturnal assignments, women were the axis of the victory", continues the author. Whether they were French, British, Russian, American or German, within this analysis women combine all the talents of patience and courage, and for once get away from the trivial place usually assigned to them by school books.

Women at war, women against war, under the bombs, in combat or even in the crucial actions of the French Liberation, throughout the pages of this book they erase what was nothing but purely odd appearances within historiography, and ascend to the decisive roles that made the victories against Nazism. Through previously unreleased iconography and careful comments, women are restored to their rightful place at the pantheon of those who opened the road to our freedom. Rebels of the Warsaw Ghetto, Soviet women hanged in front of the nazi hordes, women smuggling tracts in the key plateaux of the Resistance - Vercors or les Glières (1) - the very spirit of women whose faces we would nevertheless have liked to find in the book, and whose portraits are yet to be done so that the gaps of history are finally filled: Suzanne Masson, France Bloch, Cécile Ouzoulias, Germaine Trugnan and many others, those who, within the ranks of the executed, were the pride of anonymous people...

Michel Étievent

Original article first appeared in l’Humanité on 27 may 2006



(1) The Vercors is a plateau in the départements of Isère and Drôme in Eastern France.
During the German occupation of France in World War II, many members of a maquis of the French resistance died fighting in 1944 on the plateau.

The plateau des Glières was one of the most famous sites of the French Resistance.

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