'Récupérez!' the German origins of french wartime salvage drives, 1939-1945

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This article examines the origins, implementation and results of salvage drives carried out in wartime France from 1939 to 1945. In post-war accounts-including memoirs and local histories of the occupation-these salvage drives were understood simply as wartime frugality, a logical response to wide-spread shortages. Yet a careful study of the records of both the French Ministry of Armaments and Vichy's Service de la Récupération et de l'Utilisation des Déchets et Vieilles Matières combined with municipal and departmental sources reveals that these salvage drives were heavily influenced by Nazi German practices. From 1939 to 1940, even though French propaganda had previously ridiculed Nazi German salvage drives as proof of economic weakness, officials at the Ministry of Armaments emulated Nazi Germany by carrying out salvage drives of scrap iron and paper. After the fall of France, this emulation became collaboration. Vichy's salvage efforts were a conjoint Franco-German initiative, organised at the very highest levels of the occupation administration. Drawing on the experience of Nazi German salvage experts, Vichy officials carried out the salvage drives according to German models. Nevertheless, they carefully hid the German origins of the campaign from the chain of departmental prefects, mayors, Chambers of Commerce and youth leaders who organised the local drives and solicited participation by evoking French patriotic sentiment. After the liberation of France in 1944, the French Provisional Government renamed but otherwise maintained the Vichy-created salvage organisations and continued to oversee the collection of scrap iron, paper, rags, glass and bones until 1946. At that point, the government largely relinquished control of the salvage industry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-430
Number of pages32
JournalContemporary European History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Jul

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


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