BOOK REVIEW: How Paris survived occupation
By John M. Taylor
The Washington Times
3:20 p.m., Sunday, January 2, 2011
AND THE SHOW WENT ON: CULTURAL LIFE IN NAZI- OCCUPIED PARIS
By Alan Riding
Knopf, $28.95, 399 pages, illustrated
On June 13, 1940, following a series of stunning military defeats at the hands of Hitler's army, the government of France declared its capital an open city; German forces entered Paris the next day. The city had lost more than half of its prewar population, and the only vehicles on the road were German.
The five years of German occupation that followed are described in riveting detail by Alan Riding, a resident of Paris and a longtime correspondent for the New York Times. "In the face of defeat and occupation," Mr. Riding observes, "the French responded successively with anger, despair, resignation and accommodation."
They also responded, on occasion, with resistance.
It was a time for questioning. While Hitler rebuilt Germany, France had struggled with the effects of the Depression and had gone through no fewer than 34 governments. Even before Paris fell, leftist writer Jean-Paul Sartre asked rhetorically why France was fighting. "To defend democracy? There is no such thing anymore. To preserve things as they were before the war? But it was the most complete disorder ... social discontent everywhere."
What were the objectives of the German occupiers? Militarily, they had achieved the objective denied to them in World War I: capture of the enemy's capital. But as occupiers, the Germans were conflicted. Notwithstanding their military might, the Nazis felt vaguely uneasy about their relationship with the city that epitomized European culture. "Germanic culture had produced its share of great artists, writers, and, above all, musicians," Mr. Riding notes, "yet it was Paris - not London, not Rome, not Vienna and certainly not Berlin - that defined style and taste for the region."
There was soon a consensus for a revival of the city's cultural life. "For musicians, dancers and actors, it was a matter of necessity. They needed to work and saw no reason not to. They bore no responsibility for the country's disaster, and they had no power to redress the situation." The Germans were amenable. The collaborationist government they established in Vichy to administer France's unoccupied south was eager to showcase French culture.
But anti-Semitism, never far below the surface in France, would flourish during the occupation years. Since Hitler's rise to power, thousands of Jewish intellectuals had relocated to Paris. Overall, France's Jewish population had tripled in four decades to a total of 300,000.
In October 1940, the Vichy government implemented a Statute on Jews, designed to exclude Jews from the government, the press and other professions. What interested Germans the most, however, was the great art collections in the hands of those Jewish collectors who had not already fled. To facilitate the pillaging of those collections, the Germans promulgated an order that all art was to be "safeguarded" pending a formal peace treaty. For whatever reason, the Parisian art market took off under the occupation. In the author's words, "Parisians began selling off paintings and art objects as never before."
With a few exceptions, French writers were eager to continue publishing, even though their work was subject to censorship. Most of the Paris press served as outlets for German propaganda in return for financial support from the occupiers.
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