Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Delanceyplace.com 12/04/07-Choice and Adaptation

In today's excerpt--Paris. In June 1940, a tired and unprepared Paris is overrun at the outset of World War II by Germans, who begin an occupation that lasts fifty months--the darkest period in the long history of the city. The occupation is massive and complete, and Parisians are quickly faced with the decision to cooperate or resist--with immediate economic and social consequences, and profound repercussions when the tide turns in August of 1944:

"A great many Germans found love and more among Parisians. As early as October 1943 some 85,000 illegitimate children had been fathered by Germans in France, and by the middle of the following year 80,000 Frenchwomen were claiming children's benefits from the military authorities, which French historians consider to have been 'only the tip of the iceberg.' The ordinary collabo horizontale perhaps deserves more sympathy from us now than she found at the time. The loss of two million French males sequestered in German prisoner-of-war camps or employed as slave labor represented a terrible deprivation to French womanhood; many of the occupying Wehrmacht were physically attractive and well-behaved. But most of all, as the war dragged on and life became harsher and harsher in Paris, sleeping with a German often became the only way a woman could keep her children from starvation. ...

"After all the humiliations, sorrow, dangers and deprivations of the Occupation, the three days of 24 to 26 August 1944 had provided Paris with an enormous catharsis. It would be pleasant to end the story of the Liberation on that heroic note, but its shadowy side now presented itself. In some ways what the French did to themselves after the Occupation was almost as painful as what the Germans had done to them during it. Even before the last Germans had left the city, the epuration began--in which vengeance was inextricably mixed with justice. The first victims, understandably, were the German troops themselves, often lynched or stood up against the wall when they emerged from their strongholds with hands raised. Then came the collabos--or the alleged collabos. The epuration took place all over France, but it was particularly far-reaching in Paris insofar as this was where collaboration had been more extensive and most visible. What especially struck Allied eyewitnesses was the ferocity with which women, the collabos horizontales, were treated. The shaving of heads, seen all over France, was perhaps the least indignity. Jean Cocteau records being shocked by the sight of one woman, 'completely naked,' on the Avenue de la Grande Armee: 'they tore at her, they pushed her, they pulled her, they spat on her face. Her head had been shaven. She was covered in bruises and carried around her neck a placard: 'I had my husband shot.' ' "

Alistaire Horne, Seven Ages of Paris, Pan Books, Copyright 2002 by Alistair Horne, pp. 408, 424.


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