The political round-up of 16 January 1944 in Mussidan

6 January 1944: Philippe Henriot becomes Secretary of State for Information and Propaganda.

16 January: American General Eisenhower officially assumes the functions of commander-in-chief of the allied expeditionary forces. Mussidan raid. First large-scale reprisal operation in the Dordogne. 38 people sent to concentration camps.

On the morning of Sunday 16 January 1944, several hundred German soldiers surrounded Mussidan. The SD (security police) of Périgueux coordinated the operation. The Militia of Mussidan, which knew the area and the inhabitants perfectly, assisted them. They had given them a precise list of people to arrest. The order was given to the population to stay at home. Any man caught in the streets was immediately arrested. In the course of the morning, the occupying forces arrested around a hundred people.

At the same time, almost 600 men of the 3rd Battalion of the 95th Security Regiment (Sicherungs-Regiment 95) and Ost Battalion 799 were on the roads of the neighbouring communes of Saint- Front-de-Pradoux, Saint-Médard-de-Mussidan, Bourgnac and Sourzac. Other members of the SD intercepted by chance the passengers of a traction vehicle in which they discovered a large quantity of arms and ammunition. Its occupants were Jean Laurière, from Sourzac, and two of his men, Claude Coustillières and André Rebès. They were actively sought after. Jeannot commanded a particularly active group of Resistance fighters, who were responsible for the execution of several collaborators in the department during November and December 1943.

The three men were led on foot, hands in the air and faces bloodied, to the town hall in Mussidan where all those who had been arrested were gathered. Roger Sirventon, for example, was taken in place of Jean Besançon, as was Jean Arnaud, who bore almost the same name as the two brothers Marcel and Jules Arnault. Not finding the latter, the Gestapo captured their wives, Berthe and Andrea. They also arrested Mélanie Huet in place of her son Pierre.

Despite the scale of the resources deployed, several resistance fighters, including Robert Crouzille, managed to escape. They immediately joined the maquis where they formed armed groups.

For those who had been arrested, the SD’s interrogation was severe. The sixty or so people released had to listen to the admonitions and threats of an officer who told them: « The inhabitants of Mussidan are doing nothing against the maquis who are looting shops and attacking the gendarmes. If the French don’t know where France’s interest lies, it’s regrettable for them. We are giving you a first lesson. If it is not enough, we will come back and this time we will not release you.

The 38 people held in detention were taken to Périgueux and then to Limoges, to the headquarters of the SD, where they arrived during the night. After spending the night in the Limoges prison, all the men were transferred by train to the huge internment camp of Royallieu, in Compiègne (Oise).

Overall, the Mussidan round-up of 16 January 1944 was a success. It enabled the German authorities to neutralise a large number of those they suspected of supporting or belonging to the Resistance. On the other hand, it did not achieve the second objective, which was to disassociate the civilian population from those whom the occupying forces called « terrorists ».

Maurice Boijentin.

Jean Boijentin.

André Fortané.

Mélanie Huet, on the right.