Hostages of Empire


Hostages of Empire

Colonial Prisoners of War in Vichy France

Sarah Ann Frank

France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series

378 pages
2 maps, 2 tables, index


July 2021


$65.00 Pre-order

About the Book

Hostages of Empire combines a social history of colonial prisoner-of-war experiences with a broader analysis of their role in Vichy’s political tensions with the country’s German occupiers. The colonial prisoners of war came from across the French Empire, they fought in the Battle for France in 1940, and they were captured by the German Army. Unlike their French counterparts, who were taken to Germany, the colonial POWs were interned in camps called Frontstalags throughout occupied France. This decision to keep colonial POWs in France defined not only their experience of captivity but also how the French and German authorities reacted to them.

Hostages of Empire examines how the entanglement of French national pride after the 1940 defeat and need for increased imperial control shaped the experiences of 85,000 soldiers in German captivity. Sarah Ann Frank analyzes the nature of Vichy’s imperial commitments and collaboration with its German occupiers and argues that the Vichy regime actively improved conditions of captivity for colonial prisoners in an attempt to secure their present and future loyalty. This French “magnanimity” toward the colonial prisoners was part of a broader framework of racial difference and hierarchy. As such, the relatively dignified treatment of colonial prisoners must be viewed as a paradox in light of Vichy and Free French racism in the colonies and the Vichy regime’s complicity in the Holocaust. In doing so Hostages of Empire seeks to reconcile two previously rather distinct histories: that of metropolitan France and that of the French colonies during World War II.

Author Bio

Sarah Ann Frank is an associate lecturer of modern history at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and an external research fellow at the International Studies Group at the University of the Free State in South Africa.


Hostages of Empire opens a fascinating window to the experiences of French colonial prisoners in World War II. Frank positions colonial captivity in a wider context and sensitively examines the interplay between racism and political pragmatism.”—Ruth Ginio, author of The French Army and Its African Soldiers: The Years of Decolonization

“Based on meticulous, pathbreaking archival work, Hostages of Empire offers an impressive new history of wartime captivity. Skillfully centering the voices and experiences of colonial prisoners, it deepens and nuances in important ways our understanding of the entangled histories of the French empire and the Second World War.”—Claire Eldridge, author of From Empire to Exile: History and Memory within the Pied-Noir and Harki Communities, 1962–2012

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Hostages of Empire
Chapter One: Genesis: French Colonial Soldiers Under the Third Republic
Chapter Two: Phase One: Building the Frameworks for Colonial Captivity
Chapter Three: Everyday Life in Colonial Captivity
Chapter Four: Occupying Their Time: Colonial Prisoners of War and Work in Occupied France
Chapter Five: ‘Colonial Maladies’: Health and Sickness Among Colonial Prisoners
Chapter Six: Helping ‘Our’ Prisoners: Aid and Escape
Chapter Seven: Hostages to Misfortune: Politics and Colonial Prisoners of War
Chapter Eight: Colonial Prisoners Under the Influence: German and French Propaganda
Chapter Nine: The Long Road Home, 1940-1945


Also of Interest