A mid-mountain area near Switzerland and a crossroads for routes to the East and Italy, Haut-Bugey occupies a strategic position. During the years of occupation (1940-1944), it became a centre of active resistance against the Vichy regime and the German occupier. Today, the Ain Museum of the Resistance and Deportation tells this part of Haut-Bugey’s story as a land of resistance.
The occupation in Ain
After the armistice of 22 June 1940 sought by Marshal Pétain, France was plunged into a painful period of occupation. The demarcation line ran through the department of Ain, via Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. Only Pays de Gex ended up integrated into a reserved and forbidden zone run by the German authorities. Nazi flags flew on top of the town halls, which became centres for the occupying German administration.
The rest of the department remained under the governance of Marshal Pétain, now based in Vichy.
But the situation changed. On 11 November 1942, the Germans crossed the demarcation line and deployed their troops all over France, except in the South-East, which was reserved for their Italian allies. Ain then experienced a double occupation: Italian in a zone between Belley and Nantua, and German in the rest of the department. In September 1943, the Italians withdrew and the Germans alone occupied the entire French territory.
14 December 1943
Nantua endured a terrible raid by the German authorities. 150 men aged 18 to 40 were arrested, including students from Bichat secondary school. Most of them would be deported to Buchenwald concentration camp.
The Resistance organises
From autumn 1940 onwards, active groups formed, first in urban areas, like Nantua or Oyonnax in the case of Haut-Bugey. But they struggled in the face of the Vichy regime’s propaganda. Nonetheless, these groups gradually grew thanks to their members’ strong convictions and attachment to republican values. But already, the French police were using repressive tactics to try and quash any attempt at opposition. In Oyonnax, the Deputy Mayor René Nicod was arrested in autumn 1940 during a hunt for Communists by the Vichy regime.
In 1942, the formation of the Secret Army, planned by General De Gaulle and implemented by General Delestraint, led to the emergence of new figures. Doctor Émile Mercier thus became responsible for the Nantua sector. He and his wife Paulette, a chemist, devoted themselves to the struggle from summer 1940 onwards. Active in various Resistance networks, they also helped Jews trying to cross the demarcation line to Switzerland.
Likewise in Oyonnax, the Jeanjacquot family became involved in organising active cells.
Camp de Cize
Prise d'armes de Priay
Birth of the Ain maquis
Estimated number of maquisards in Ain in September 1943. They were mainly based in Haut-Bugey and Valromey.
With the introduction of the Compulsory Work Service in February 1943, a number of resisters attempted to escape the requisition by taking refuge in the Haut-Bugey mountains. Helped by the local heads of the Resistance, they set up camp on the mountain above Nantua. Other groups of young men settled In the Oyonnax hills in order to escape forced labour in Germany.
Very soon, the Resistance started to see these young rebels as potential fighters and decided to train them. This organisation and implementation mission was entrusted to Henri Petit, now known as “Romans”. He decided to head up the formations that became the Ain Maquis in autumn 1943. Although they were voluntary, these troops remained fragile and lacked the equipment and weapons they needed to be effective.
The parade of 11 November 1943
Keen to prove the ability of his men to fight alongside the Allies, Romans decided to organise a parade. It took place in Oyonnax on 11 November 1943. After walking through town with his armed men, Romans placed a floral tribute in the shape of a Cross of Lorraine at the foot of the monument to the dead, accompanied by the message “The victors of tomorrow to those of 14-18”. This event marked a turning point and was aimed at giving the maquisards the legitimacy of genuine soldiers. The success and boldness of this parade finally convinced the English authorities of the Ain maquis’ discipline and willingness to fight. Consequently, they made more air drops of material in order to equip these fighters who were committed to taking part in liberating their territory.
Défilé du 11 novembre Oyonnax
Provisional liberation (8 June 1944 – 10 July 1944)
Volume of air drops made above the Prairie d’Échallon on 1 August 1944, in broad daylight, by 12 B-17 bombardiers. The Allies’ material and logistical contribution was crucial for the Ain Maquis.
Following the Allied landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944, many sabotage plans were implemented to obstruct transport and enemy communications.
On 8 June 1944, Romans and his men managed to take control of a zone that ran from Neuville-sur-Ain to Bellegarde and Hauteville. Nantua became the administrative centre of this liberated territory. On the Sub-prefecture office balcony, Romans proclaimed the Fourth Republic before a jubilant population. He thus took on the functions of Prefect and re-established republican institutions.
Parachutage prairie Echallon
Summer 1944 and the liberation
The hoped-for reinforcements to help maintain this liberated bridgehead never came. On 10 July, the German troops returned in force and made the maquisards withdraw into the mountains of the Crêt de Chalam sector. The population had to face its persecutors. Several arrests, raids and massacres took place during this period. In Nantua, casualties from the maquis who were discovered at the hospital were executed. Dortan was burnt down on 21 July. Fighting continued in August. The Allied troops who had landed on 15 August in Provence progressed northwards. After one last bloody battle in Meximieux, the hour of true liberation finally came for the whole department. But Ain had to count all its people who had died or disappeared. Even today, many traces of this period remain in the Haut-Bugey area, which is engraved in local memory as the heart of the Ain Maquis.
In the night of 6 and 7 July 1944 in Izernore, the first landing in occupied France took place in an American Douglas C-47 Dakota. It dropped off English and American agents and took off again on 8 July with other agents on board, departing for England.
12-13 July 1944: German bombing of Oyonnax
19 July 1944: 120 men aged 17 to 35 are arrested in Oyonnax as part of German reprisal operations. 62 will be deported to Neuengamme concentration camp.
Dortan après incendie
The IV Republic in Nantua
Paulette Mercier - Femme médecin et résistante des maquis de l'Ain et du Haut-Jura
Comment s’est passée alors l’annonce du Débarquement ? L’annonce du débarquement, il y avait des messages qui passaient. On savait que le Débarquement allait… on ne savait pas le jour...
11 November 1943 – around 200 maquisards from Ain paraded in the streets of Oyonnax, in the middle of the occupation. 70 years later, the town of Oyonnax and François Hollande paid tribute to these men with an unprecedented re-enactment of the parade.
Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation de l’Ain 3 Montée de l’Abbaye – 01130 NANTUA Tél. +33 (0)4 74 75 07 50 Consult the museum website