What happened to black French during ww2?

What happened to black French during ww2?

During World War II, the plight of black French citizens became increasingly dire following the Nazi invasion of France. Massacres against African soldiers, notably the Chasselay massacre in the Lyon region, were intensified. Historian Julien Fargettas recently uncovered new photos shedding light on the harsh realities faced by Senegalese soldiers at the hands of both German soldiers and Vichy authorities. They were subjected to machine-gun fire and suffered abuse in Front Stalags, while also toiling in logging, farms, and factories.

This poignant history, often obscured by wartime propaganda and the legacy of the Treaty of Versailles, continues to haunt us, as the identities of many remain lost in unknown soldiers’ graves. Memorial plaques and the tireless efforts of figures like Jean-Baptiste Marchiani strive to honour the memory of these overlooked Senegalese “tata” and their sacrifices. This article delves into the often overlooked plight of the Black French community during WWII and sheds light on the brutal realities they faced.

Historical Context

To comprehend the complexities of the treatment of Black French citizens during WWII, it is imperative to trace the roots of discrimination back to the aftermath of World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, not only marked the end of the war but also sowed the seeds of deep resentment and economic instability in Germany. The subsequent occupation of the Ruhr and Rhineland exacerbated tensions, providing a fertile ground for the growth of Nazi ideology and the eventual invasion of France.

Nazi Invasion of France and the Plight of African Soldiers

With the invasion of France, the brutal reality of war came crashing down on the Black French population, particularly on the African soldiers who fought valiantly for their adopted homeland. The massacres against African soldiers, such as the tragic events in the Lyon region and the infamous Chasselay massacre, exemplify the grim fate that awaited those who took up arms to defend their French compatriots.

Historian Julien Fargettas’s meticulous research has brought to light the previously concealed atrocities that transpired during this period. Recent discoveries, including previously unseen photographs, have unveiled the extent of the suffering endured by Senegalese soldiers at the hands of German troops. Tales of machine-gun fire and egregious abuse have now come to the forefront, challenging the sanitised version of history perpetuated by wartime propaganda.

Vichy Authorities and the Senegalese “Tata”

Under the collaborationist Vichy authorities, the situation for Black French citizens and African soldiers worsened. Marshal Philippe Pétain’s regime actively condoned discriminatory policies, leading to the dehumanisation of Senegalese riflemen and the establishment of the degrading “tata” system. These soldiers were relegated to menial tasks in Front Stalags, forced to toil in logging camps, farms, and factories, enduring unspeakable hardships at the hands of their captors.

Uncovering Identities and Memorialising the Unknown

The struggle to unearth the identities of the African soldiers who perished during this tumultuous time remains an ongoing endeavour. The efforts of individuals like Jean-Baptiste Marchiani, dedicated to unravelling the truths of the past, have shed light on the previously anonymous graves of these brave soldiers. The establishment of memorial plaques serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by these forgotten heroes, ensuring that their legacy is not consigned to the shadows of history.

The Resonating Legacy and Lessons Learned

Reflecting on the plight of Black French citizens and African soldiers during WWII prompts a critical examination of the pervasive nature of systemic discrimination and the enduring impact of wartime atrocities. It serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of divisive propaganda and the dangers of ideological extremism. The need to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of historical narratives and the imperative of preserving the memories of those marginalised communities is paramount in fostering a more comprehensive understanding of the human experience during times of conflict.


In conclusion, the experiences of Black French citizens and African soldiers during WWII underscore the importance of delving deeper into the annals of history to reveal the untold stories that have long been neglected. By recognizing their struggles and honouring their sacrifices, we can strive to create a more inclusive narrative that embraces the diversity and resilience of all those who endured the ravages of war. Only through a comprehensive understanding of the past can we pave the way for a more equitable and just future.



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