Zone libre

The zone libre (French pronunciation: ​[zon libʁ], free zone) was a partition of the French metropolitan territory during World War II, established at the Second Armistice at Compiègne on 22 June 1940. It lay to the south of the demarcation line and was administered by the French government of Marshal Philippe Pétain based in Vichy, in a relatively unrestricted fashion. To the north lay the zone occupée ("occupied zone") in which the powers of Vichy France were severely limited.

In November 1942, the zone libre was invaded by the German and Italian armies in Case Anton, as a response to Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa. Thenceforth, the zone libre and zone occupée were renamed the zone sud (southern zone) and zone nord (northern zone) respectively. From then on both were under German military administration.

Origins of the zone libreEdit

On 22 June 1940, after the Battle of France, Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, representing Nazi Germany, and General Charles Huntziger representing Pétain's government, signed an armistice at the Rethondes clearing in the forest of Compiègne, which stipulated in its second article:

With a view to safeguarding the interests of the German Reich, the French territory situated to the north and west of the line drawn on the map here attached will be occupied by German troops. [...][1]

The line separating French territory into two zones was defined on a map attached to the treaty.[1]

[...] begins, in the East, at the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, and goes by the localities of Dole, Paray-le-Monial and Bourges up to about twenty kilometres to the East of Tours. Thence, it passes at a distance of twenty kilometres to the east of the Tours-Angoulême-Libourne railway line, then further by Mont-de-Marsan and Orthez, up to the Spanish border.[1]

A German post on the demarcation line between the occupied and free zones near Tours in 1941

This separation line took effect on 25 June 1940.[2] It was thereafter referred to as the ligne de démarcation.[3][4]

French sovereignty persisted throughout the whole territory, including the zone occupée, Alsace and Moselle, but the terms of the armistice in its third article stipulated that Germany would exercise the rights of an occupying power in the zone occupée.[1]

In the occupied parts of France, the German Reich will exercise all rights of an occupying power. The French government commits itself to facilitate by all means the regulations pertaining to the exercising of these rights, and to putting them in place with the cooperation of the French administration. The French government will immediately invite all authorities and administrative services in the occupied territories to conform to the regulation of the German military authorities and to work with the latter in a proper manner.[1]

When the Allies invaded North Africa on 8 November 1942, the Germans and Italians immediately occupied the remaining free part of France. After being renamed zone sud ("south zone"), it was thereafter ruled by the Wehrmacht as a part of occupied France.

The liberation of France began on 6 June 1944 with the Allied forces landing on D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Most of France was liberated by September 1944.

Extent of the zone libreEdit

The zone libre constituted a land area of 246,618 square kilometres (95,220 sq mi), approximately 45% of France, and included approximately 33% of the total French labour force. The ligne de démarcation passed through 13 of the 90 departments:[2][5]

Of the other 77 departments, 42 lay entirely within the zone libre and 35 lay entirely within the zone occupée.

Theories about the separation of the zonesEdit

For the historian Éric Alary,[6] the partitioning of France into two main zones, libre and occupée, was partly inspired by the fantasy of pan-Germanist writers, particularly a work by a certain Adolf Sommerfeld, published in 1912 and translated into French under the title Le Partage de la France, which contained a map[7] showing a France partitioned between Germany and Italy according to a line which partly matched that of 1940.

Henri Espieux suggests:[8] "During the occupations, the Franks were separated from the Occitans by the famous demarcation line. We have long thought that the route of this line was suggested to Hitler by the romance language specialists in his entourage."

Jews in the free zoneEdit

Jews in the zone libre were directly targeted by antisemitic legislation from the Vichy government. Though the free zone was not under direct Nazi control from 1940 to 1942, many of the laws made in these years mirrored the policies of Nazi Germany and German-occupied France despite their completely French origin.[9]

Vichy anti-Jewish legislation was made and enforced by the Vichy government which had administrative and military control in the zone libre, as opposed to the Occupied zone where Germany was a military occupying force. The Law on the status of Jews was signed by Pétain on 3 October 1940, three months after the zone libre was formed. These laws barred Jews from many aspects of daily life including work and naturalization as French citizens. Three quarters of Jews in France who lost their jobs from this statute were from the zone libre. Jews' new classification as foreign made them more at risk for harsh punishment as “foreigners” rather than citizens. House arrest or being arrested and placed into one of the internment camps in France was a common fate. Breaking any French law or anti-Jewish statute could lead to their expulsion if accused by a neighbor or officer. Jews continued to be stripped of their rights and forced out of French society over the two years of existence of the zone libre.[9]

Official justification for the laws varied slightly but held with the top-down anti-Semitism characteristic of the Vichy government at this time. The General Commission on Jewish Affairs stated plainly that these laws were justified in their moral humiliation of Jews and were completely of French origin. The narrative of Jews in France being parasitic was pushed by Vichy France in official statements but was relatively subdued until the last six months of the zone libre when outright antisemitism became a fundamental aspect of Vichy policy.[9]

The free zone and ItalyEdit

On 24 June 1940, two days after the armistice with Germany, the Vichy government signed an armistice with the Italians at the villa Incisa in Olgiata near Rome, instituting a zone of Italian occupation.[10] The Italian occupation zone concerned certain border areas conquered by Italian troops, including Menton. This zone was of limited importance, comprising 800 square kilometres (310 sq mi) and 28,000 inhabitants.[11] Four departments were partially covered by the Italian occupation: Alpes-Maritimes, Basses-Alpes (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence since 1970), Hautes-Alpes and Savoie.[11]

In addition, a demilitarised zone was established containing all French territory within 50 kilometres (31 mi) from the zone of Italian occupation. The department of Corsica (split into two departments since 1976) was neither occupied nor demilitarized by any provision of the armistice (although it was occupied by Italy after Case Anton).

The end of the free zoneEdit

On 8 November 1942 Allied forces invaded French North Africa (Operation Torch). German and Italian forces responded on 11 November 1942 by invading the zone libre in Case Anton (based on a previous plan called Operation Attila, which had not included any Italian forces).[12] The zone libre became the zone sud (south zone) from November 1942 onwards; the invading powers shared out its territory between themselves, with a region covering practically the whole area east of the Rhône passing to the Italians.[10][13] After the capitulation of Italy at Cassibile became public knowledge on 8 September 1943, the Italian armies retreated and the Germans united the southern zone under their own exclusive control. The German military administration in France ruled both zone sud and zone nord; the Vichy regime remained nominally in charge, as it had in the zone occupée.

Other namesEdit

Until November 1942, the Germans called the zone libre "Unbesetztes Gebiet" or unoccupied zone. The zone libre was also nicknamed the zone nono by the French, shortened from non occupée (unoccupied).[14] The occupied zone accordingly became the zone jaja (yes-yes zone). The zone libre was also called the royaume du maréchal (Marshal Philippe Pétain's kingdom) by the French author Jacques Delperrié de Bayac.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e La convention d'armistice, sur le site de l'Université de Perpignan,, consulté le 29 novembre 2008.
  2. ^ a b ""La ligne de démarcation", Collection " Mémoire et Citoyenneté ", No.7" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 January 2020., sur le site du ministère de la Défense Consulté le 24 octobre 2008.
  3. ^ Mary, Jean-Yves; Hohnadel, Alain; Sicard, Jacques (1 June 2003). Hommes et ouvrages de la ligne Maginot [Men and works of the Maginot line / The French Army Encyclopedia]. L’Encyclopédie de l'Armée française. 3. Paris: Éditions Histoire & collections. ISBN 2913903886.
  4. ^ The name ligne de démarcation did not figure in the terms of the armistice, but was coined as a translation of the German Demarkationslinie.
  5. ^ Éric Alary, La Ligne de démarcation (1940–1944), PUF, collection Que sais-je?, no.3045, 1995, p4.
  6. ^ Les racines pangermanistes du compartimentage de la France, pp. 35–37, Éric Alary, La Ligne de démarcation : 1940–1944, ed. Perrin, Paris, 2003, 429 p. ISBN 978-2-262-01598-5
  7. ^ This map is reproduced on p.12 of Éric Alary, La Ligne de démarcation (1940–1944), ed. Presses Universitaires de France, Que sais-je? collection, No.3045, 1995, 128 pages ISBN 978-2-13-047416-6
  8. ^ note 1 page 218 in Henri Espieux, Histoire de l’Occitanie, (préf. Robert Lafont, trad. de l'occitan par Jean Revest), éd. Centre culturel occitan, Agen, 1970, 245 pages.
  9. ^ a b c Renée, Poznanski (2001) [1st pub. Hachette:1997]. Jews in France during World War II. Translated by Bracher, Nathan. University Press of New England. pp. 66–103. ISBN 0-87451-896-2. OCLC 47797985.
  10. ^ a b Giorgio Rochat, (trad. Anne Pilloud), La campagne italienne de juin 1940 dans les Alpes occidentales, Revue historique des armées, No. 250, 2008, pp77-84, sur le site du Service historique de la Défense, Mis en ligne le 6 juin 2008, consulté le 24 octobre 2008.
  11. ^ a b c Jacques Delperrié de Bayac, Le royaume du maréchal : histoire de la zone libre, Éditions Robert Laffont, 1975, p. 14.
  12. ^ « Invasion de la zone libre », Retrieved 24 October 2008.
  13. ^ « L’occupation italienne » Archived March 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 24 October 2008 .
  14. ^ Levieux, Eleanor (1999). Insiders' French : beyond the dictionary. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-226-47502-8.