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Fighters in the Shadows

Fighters in the Shadows

A New History of the French Resistance

Robert Gildea

ISBN 9780674286108

Publication date: 11/30/2015

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The French Resistance has an iconic status in the struggle to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe, but its story is entangled in myths. Gaining a true understanding of the Resistance means recognizing how its image has been carefully curated through a combination of French politics and pride, ever since jubilant crowds celebrated Paris’s liberation in August 1944. Robert Gildea’s penetrating history of resistance in France during World War II sweeps aside “the French Resistance” of a thousand clichés, showing that much more was at stake than freeing a single nation from Nazi tyranny.

As Fighters in the Shadows makes clear, French resistance was part of a Europe-wide struggle against fascism, carried out by an extraordinarily diverse group: not only French men and women but Spanish Republicans, Italian anti-fascists, French and foreign Jews, British and American agents, and even German opponents of Hitler. In France, resistance skirted the edge of civil war between right and left, pitting non-communists who wanted to drive out the Germans and eliminate the Vichy regime while avoiding social revolution at all costs against communist advocates of national insurrection. In French colonial Africa and the Near East, battle was joined between de Gaulle’s Free French and forces loyal to Vichy before they combined to liberate France.

Based on a riveting reading of diaries, memoirs, letters, and interviews of contemporaries, Fighters in the Shadows gives authentic voice to the resisters themselves, revealing the diversity of their struggles for freedom in the darkest hours of occupation and collaboration.


  • With its deep concern for human failings, and for the suffering that came from bravery that was badly channeled or poorly rewarded, Gildea’s book might have been dark and pessimistic. In fact it is vivid with real life and ordinary heroism. In this, what is an apparently straightforward aim—that Gildea felt it was high time to give resistance fighters their voice in the story—is in fact deeply important… The relentless, persistent way in which Gildea gives voice to a kaleidoscope of men and women of different nationalities and races does more than any author before him to provide a convincingly complex and moving account of the ways in which people in France took up arms against the Vichy state and the Nazi occupation. This book cuts against the grain of classic narratives, not by setting out counter-narratives but by asking for our attention, for a page or two at a time, to listen to detail: the real-life detail of the frustrations, the suffering and heroism of people who exist at several removes from the grand shapers of history.

    —Julian Wright, Times Literary Supplement


  • Robert Gildea is Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford.

Book Details

  • 608 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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