In Shadow and Blood: The Oc­cu­pa­tion of France

The London Magazine - - TONY ROBERTS -

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

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