After the French government capitulates to the invading Nazis, French soldiers are ordered by their commanders to lay down their arms and turn themselves over to the German army. Among the captured men are Paul Duprey, a pragmatic lawyer; Victor Labiche, a fiercely patriotic taxi driver; wine merchant Andre Duval, who is openly sympathetic to the German cause; surgeon François Le Mair; Antonio Rodriguez, a Chilean; barber Jacques Boutroux; farmer Pierre Flandeau; and young René Marchand. Although the men have been assured that the Germans will be releasing them in France, they soon discover that they have been made prisoners of war. At their German camp, officers question the soldiers and quickly designate Duval, who speaks German, as their interpreter. Duval's willingness to help the Germans angers his fellow prisoners, Victor in particular. Later, the sadistic Sergeant Berger tosses a single loaf of bread into the men's barracks, and the starving prisoners dive for it. Although Victor finally claims the bread, he agrees to share it after Paul and Father Sebastian, an imprisoned priest, point out that the Germans want them to fight among themselves. Weeks later, Duval confesses to Paul that he, Berger and German corporal Daxer, who disguises himself in bandages, sometimes sneak illegally across the French border to buy French luxury items for Lieutenant Schmidt. Duval then asks Paul, who also speaks German, to join him, but Paul refuses. One night, the camp lights suddenly go out and the guard tower appears deserted. Suspecting a trap, the men are reluctant to flee, but Pierre volunteers to venture out and, as he is climbing the outer fence, is shot down by the Germans. Over Duval's objections, Father Sebastian says a burial service for Pierre in the camp yard and is shot and killed for violating prison rules, which forbid any religious expression. The next day, Major Bruhl, the camp's commander, orders Victor into his office and suggests that he use his leadership skills to help control his fellow Frenchmen. Victor spurns Bruhl and is sent to solitary confinement. There, a still defiant Victor spits on Berger, who in turn kicks him in the head, leaving a gash. The prisoners then threaten to hang Duval, and in his terror, Duval runs outside. After Rodriguez activates the camp alarm, Duval is shot by the Germans. Realizing that Duval was set up, Bruhl punishes all of the prisoners by ordering that every fourth man in the roll call line be singled out for execution. Ten prisoners are executed, and Paul is made the new interpreter. Although happy to be better fed and clothed, Paul is shocked when he sees Victor, his head wound festering, still in solitary confinement. Fearing that Victor will soon die from infection, Paul insists that he be taken to the infirmary, then tells attending physician Le Mair that he is devising an escape plan. After Bruhl reveals that he is allowing 150 Alsatian prisoners to return home as part of a recruitment scheme for Germany's labor battalions, he assigns Paul the task of tagging the selected men. Paul tags Rodriguez, Jacques, René and Victor, who is still recuperating from his infection, and then convinces Berger that he and Daxer should take him across the border to shop during the next day's roll call. When Victor, whose torturous experience in solitary confinement has drained him of his fight, refuses to go, however, Paul knocks him out, covers him with Daxer's bandages and slips him into the back of an ambulance. He then renders Daxer unconscious with chloroform and leaves the camp with an unsuspecting Berger, just after the other men take off for Alsace. As planned, René, Rodriguez and Jacques escape from their truck into the French countryside, while Paul drives Victor over the border. German security guards soon discover Paul's scheme, however, and pursue the ambulance. Paul throws Berger out of the racing vehicle and, after the ambulance crashes, kills the guards with Berger's gun. He and Victor are then helped by Louis, a young Resistance fighter, who leads them to Cadignan, where René, Rodriguez and Jacques have taken refuge with René's mother. Soon after the Frenchmen are reunited, German troops arrive in the village, searching for men to work in their labor camps. Paul incites the villagers to resist the Germans and is shot. Seeing his wounded friend's courage, Victor suddenly regains his own fighting spirit, and grabs a German's gun and begins firing. René, Rodriguez and Jacques join him, and soon all of the villagers begin attacking the surprised Germans. Although Rodriguez is killed, the Germans are eventually vanquished. The villagers then burn their homes and march away, while Victor, Paul, René, Louis and Jacques head off to join the Resistance.