What Underground Really Means

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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I like to say I worked for the “underground press” during the late 1960s. But despite the primitive working conditions and equipment, there was little in common with the men and women who risked their lives producing contraband underground papers during Nazi occupation of Europe.

These were missives of resistance from Occupied France calling for Victory against the aggressors both Nazi and Vichy (read more). Overall, there were tens of thousands of tracts and more than 1,100 titles of periodicals—quite a few of them very short-lived. The first periodical to be printed was Pantagruel, whose first issue came out at the end of 1940. Its writer and editor Raymond Deiss, being a publisher of musical scores, owned an offset printer. He brought out 16 issues before he was arrested in October 1941. Two years later, he was beheaded in a prison in Cologne, Germany.

The Resistance groups were scattered but were devoted to propaganda and creating underground publications. Very soon, they felt two further needs: federating their efforts and extending their action to other fields—intelligence gathering both for Allied and Free French services, infiltration of the Vichy bureaucracy, sabotage and, starting in 1943, the organization of paramilitary groups (maquis) and the preparation of the armed insurrection that would accompany the expected Allied landing. So it was around the publishers, printers and distributors of the underground press that the great Resistance movements were born at the end of 1942 and developed in 1943—with titles of the major clandestine papers: Combat, Défense de la France, Le Franc-Tireur, L’Insurgé, Résistance, Valmy, Libération Nord and Libération Sud.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →