The introduction of the compulsory labour service (STO) and the creation of the maquis

16 February 1943: announcement of the introduction of the compulsory labour service (STO) by Pierre Laval. Autumn: creation of the first maquis of resistance fighters in the Double.

In the Dordogne, Resistance activity was relatively modest until the beginning of 1943. The announcement by the head of the Vichy government, Pierre Laval, of the creation of the Compulsory Labour Service (STO) served as a detonator. He acted under pressure from Gauleiter Fritz Sauckel, the plenipotentiary general for the employment of European labour in Germany, nicknamed the « slave driver of Europe ».

The STO replaced the Relève system, based on the principle of voluntary service. Established in June 1942 by Pierre Laval and providing for the return of one French prisoner of war for every three French volunteer workers in Germany, the Relève, despite Vichy and Nazi propaganda, did not provide Germany with the expected workforce. From then on, all young people born between 1920 and 1922 were drafted for a period of two years. They went to work in the heart of the Reich or, more rarely, in factories in France under the control of the occupying forces. Many did not return until the end of the Second World War. The STO draft dodgers had no choice but to go into hiding. They did so under the often benevolent gaze of the population, which provided them with supplies and kept silent.

They could also count on the support of gendarmes committed to the Resistance cause, such as Marshal Auguste Depelchin, from the Mussidan brigade, and Marshal Gérard Mignon, from the Echourgnac brigade. Their help was invaluable, as they regularly communicated first-rate information on the activity of the collaborators or on the operations being prepared against the maquis.

The ‘legals’ were also important. This name refers to people who, while participating in the action led by the Resistance, did not change anything in their professional and family life. Their most emblematic representative in Mussidanais is Emile Bazillou, the leader of the Front National de Lutte pour la Libération et l’Indépendance de la France (a resistance movement against the German occupation, created at the instigation of the French Communist Party).

In the Mussidan region, the thick forest of the Double, which covers almost 500 square kilometres, is an ideal place of refuge for the resistance fighters. They were supplied and even camouflaged in friendly farms as workers. Gradually, some of the resistance fighters organised themselves into maquis, which were taken over by the Resistance.

The maquis community had its own codes and rituals. Once they had entered the maquis, the newcomers had to erase all the distinctive signs of their previous life. His identity papers are destroyed and his family name disappears.

His identity papers are destroyed and his family name disappears in favour of a maquis name that he chooses or that is given to him. The particularities of some of them were often at the origin of their new identity. For example, Christian Michaud became Zazou, because he regularly sang this song by Andrex.

Once in the maquis, the young refractory learns to handle weapons and to guard the camp. The ability to guard the camp without falling asleep was a prerequisite for integration into the group and its security. Occupying abandoned farms, huts, cabins, saps, and later tent camps

made of parachute canvas called marabouts, the maquisards have basic living conditions. This does not prevent these young men from enjoying this exceptional collective adventure.

Propaganda poster.