In Shadow and Blood: The Occupation of France
The Charlie Hebdo murders provoked the largest street demonstration in Paris since the Liberation of 1944. Now, in the aftermath of the November massacre of Parisian civilians, it is instructive to remember the resilience (and indeed the confusion) of a people in dark times . . .
This is the period of the l’Occupation (1940-44) of collaboration, circumspection ( attentisme) and la Résistance, a time as richly atmospheric in retrospect as an Alan Furst novel. In reality, though, it seems to have been a drab time of deprivation, suspicion and rumour, punctuated by violence. The ‘dark years’ have been the abrasive subject of many French movies and novels ( Army of Shadows, Lacombe Lucien, Lucy Aubrac, The Army of Crime, among them) and, most uncomfortably, ‘The Sorrow and the Pity’ ( Le Chagrin et la Pitié), Max Ophul’s 1969 documentary of collaboration under Vichy. Since 2009 the Occupation has rerun as TV drama in Un village français and in 2014 the French novelist Patrick Modiano was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, for novels that explore the seamy side of what one of his characters calls that ‘murky chapter’ of history.
This is hardly surprising for, according to the French historian, Henry Rousso, the Occupation, ‘left a profound mark on the whole of French society, with the result that it survives as an essential point of reference in the collective imagination, in political debates, and on the cultural and intellectual scene’. It also shaped post-war attitudes to the French on the part of Europe and America.
Controversy surrounds a period that began with France’s lightning military collapse in 1940, and the willingness of a great part of a country of forty