Each of these books examines a single outstanding character involved in resistance to Nazi occupation. Lynne Olson’s and Sonia Purnell’s books deal with two women, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade and Virginia Hall, who led French resistance groups. Jack Fairweather’s The Volunteer chronicles the career of a Polish officer, Witold Pilecki, who not only volunteered to go into Auschwitz but later escaped from it.
The collapse of France in 1940 was so swift that the French found themselves occupied and partitioned before they could begin to grasp what had happened. In the unoccupied zone, many, possibly a majority at first, supported the armistice signed by Pétain and collaborated with their conquerors. Others, both there and in the rest of France, sought to resist. However, with no organising structure, their efforts were fragmented (this remained characteristic of the resistance). It is noticeable that Hall does not appear in Olson’s book, or Fourcade in Purnell’s. Other stalwarts of the resistance, such as Odette Hallowes, Tom Carew, Violette Szabo and Lilian Rolfe, are also absent from these books. This is not because the authors have not spread their nets widely enough, but simply because the activities of the various resistance groups did not necessarily impinge upon each other.
There were at least eight major resistance networks active in France during the occupation. Later, when the Nazis introduced deportation and forced labour, many young French people took to the forests and mountains to form larger operational units called maquis. Central to the success of the resistance networks