Some Protestants enrolled from the beginning in the Free French Forces (Forces Françaises Libres)
The proportion of Protestants in the Free French Forces and in the circle around General de Gaulle was high. The General Commission was « a nest-full of Protestants », to the extent that Vichy propaganda decided to belittle the general by pretending he was Protestant !
The Rev. Frank Christol in charge of the French Reformed Church in London since 1928, was appointed chaplain of the French troops in London in June 1940. He refused to return to France and joined the Free French Forces. He was very active within the French Protestant colony in England and Scotland. He was a member of the committee assisting families of French soldiers, and his paper « Lien » (Link) was circulated in all French-speaking parts of the world where the Free French Forces were fighting. In his radio-broadcast sermon entitled « The Protestant chaplain of the Free French Forces addresses his coreligionists », he denounced Vichy’s racist laws and Nazi barbarity.
André Philip, a Socialist deputy who had refused to vote total power to Pétain in 1940, played a key role. He held important political responsibilities in General de Gaulle’s circle, to which he rallied the Resistance movement inside France and many Protestants too. He was a faithful supporter and sometimes a lay preacher at the French Church of Soho in London ; President of the French Protestant Committee he had created in 1943 ; he backed the work of the Rev. Frank Christol.
Should also be mentioned : Pierre Denis in charge of the finances of the Free French ; René Massigli brought in by André Philip and minister of Foreign Affairs in the provisional government, as well as Maurice Couve de Murville who after the US landing in North Africa resigned from the Vichy government and became Minister for Finance in the provisional government.
Many Protestants enrolled to liberate France
The French Protestant Federation
On the battle fields the number of Protestants who died for France is difficult to assess, but for example at Bir Hakeim in 1942, when General Koenig pushed back Rommel’s troops, the percentage of Protestants in the Free French Forces – comprising legionaries, soldiers from Oceania and from Africa – was above the national average. The task of the « so-called Free French », as the American Secretary of State Cordell Hull ironically called them, was especially hard.
Many Protestants became Compagnons de la Libération (Companions of the Liberation) either because they had belonged to the Resistance in France, but mainly, to the Free French Forces.
Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was a haven of welcome and rescue for numerous victims of the war. It is the very symbol of the opposition of the Protestants to Nazism and antisemitism.
The Pomeyrol Theses
The Pomeyrol Theses were among the first acts of spiritual resistance to Nazism and opposition to the persecution of the Jews.
Concentration camps had been created as early as 1933 for German dissidents, in Dachau in Bavaria and Oranienburg near Berlin. With the expansion of the Reich, their number grew. Certain names are emblematic : Buchenwald near Weimar, Ravensbrück, the main camp for women near Berlin, Mathausen in Austria, Auschwitz in Poland and Struthof in Alsace.
Apart from eliminating political opponents, the Nazi system’s goal was to exploit these new slaves to run the German war machine ; “by degrading the human destined to be eliminated as part of an inferior race” (Rev. A. Bonifas).
The Protestants and the Vichy regime
At the defeat in 1940, the Protestants’ attitude was similar to that of most of the French : to trust Field Marshal Pétain. The break with the Vichy regime came as early as October 1940, triggered by the persecution of the Jews.
The Resistance and the Liberation
The Protestants had protested early on and widely against the measures taken by the Vichy regime, and had been forerunners in humanitarian aid, (the role of Cimade), but they hesitated to join the armed resistance.