And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris


By Alan Riding



The Washington Post




Review: Alan Riding's 'And the Show Went On'

By Michael Dirda


Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 9:31 PM


AND THE SHOW WENT ON: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

By Alan Riding.

Knopf. 399 pp. $28.95


Alan Riding is an esteemed journalist, long a European cultural correspondent for the New York Times and, before that, the author of what is still the best modern introduction to Mexico, "Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans." Since 1985 the book has sold nearly half a million copies. "And the Show Went On" deserves a comparable success. It is certainly one of the finest works of serious popular history since the heyday of Barbara Tuchman. If you're a Francophile or a Francophobe, this is the holiday present you should have received.

Like Tuchman's "The Proud Tower" and "The Guns of August" - her portraits of European society and politics in the years leading up to World War I - Riding's account of "cultural life in Nazi-occupied Paris" is actually larger than its announced subject. As he writes in his preface, "How, I wondered, had artists and intellectuals addressed the city's worst political moment of the twentieth century? Did talent and status impose a greater moral responsibility? Was it possible for culture to flourish without political freedom?" Riding's triumph lies in refusing to affirm any simplistic answers. Instead, he plunges the reader into the French cultural scene of the 1930s and '40s and shows us how real men and real women dealt with the devil.

"On June 14, 1940, the German army drove into Paris unopposed. Within weeks, the remnants of French democracy were quietly buried and the Third Reich settled in for an indefinite occupation of France." Many French fascists and anti-Semites, including the important novelists Cline and Robert Brasillach and public intellectual Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, welcomed the Nazis. A few writers and artists elected silence (essayist Jean Guehenno), exile (surrealist Andre Breton) or cunning (Picasso). But most chose various forms of accommodation. Where, though, did accommodation leave off and collaboration begin?

Despite the Wehrmacht uniforms on many members of their audiences, French artists still wanted to make movies and music, mount plays and ballets, publish poems and novels. Between 1940 and 1945, Albert Camus brought out "The Stranger," Colette created "Gigi," Jean-Paul Sartre presented "The Flies" and "No Exit," and Marcel Carne directed his epic film "Les Enfants du Paradis." Was it not, after all, essential to maintain French cultural institutions at such a dark hour? Or was it simply that, as Guehenno acidly observed in his journal, the Parisian man of letters was "incapable of surviving for long in hiding, he would sell his soul to see his name in print. . . . 'French literature must continue.' He believes that he is French literature and thought and that they will die without him."

Marshal Philippe Petain similarly justified the Vichy regime, in which the southern half of France was permitted limited autonomy in return for pledging loyalty to her conqueror: Thus, Gallic culture and traditions would survive, perhaps even be reinvigorated. The Nazis, of course, simply wanted the French pacified or co-opted: It made ruling them all that much easier. As Hitler once told Albert Speer: "Let's let them degenerate. All the better for us."

Then, again, even Aryan warriors need occasional R & R. So the Reich also wanted Paris to remain Paris - the world's favorite playground. Educated Germans, like the novelist Ernst Juenger, could enjoy its salons, theaters and dining at Maxim's. Gerhard Heller, who oversaw cultural activities for the Propaganda Staffel, soon counted distinguished novelists, critics and editors among his new best friends. The actress Arletty and the couturier Coco Chanel took German lovers; the playwright Sacha Guitry preened for Teutonic attention; and the frivolous genius Jean Cocteau enthused about the monumental sculpture of Arno Breker, Hitler's favorite artist. Meanwhile, goose-stepping foot soldiers could visit those other high-kickers at the Folies Bergere, or shop for silk underclothes for girlfriends back home. And not all of these were back home. It's been estimated that "collaboration horizontale" resulted in 100,000 to 200,000 children with German fathers.

All in all, life in Paris could continue with a degree of normality - if you weren't a Jew. In short order, all Jewish businesses were Aryanized, art collections seized (Hitler liked Old Masters), and innumerable scholars, teachers, actors, musicians, writers and intellectuals banned from working. Later came the yellow stars and the "rafles," in which undesirables were rounded up and sent to a camp at Drancy before being loaded onto cattle cars bound for Auschwitz. The government actively assisted their new masters in this loathsomeness. And yet, as Riding reminds us, "the record of the French as a whole was more heartening. Three-quarters of the Jews trapped in France in 1940 escaped deportation and . . . most survived because they were in some way protected - or at least not denounced - by their French neighbors."

Various chapters in "And the Show Went On" focus on the movie industry, publishing, the art trade, nightlife, opera and ballet, magazines and newspapers, as well as Nazi cultural events. It's nonetheless shocking to learn of the questionable performances, in all senses, of pianist Alfred Cortot, soprano Germaine Lubin, actor Maurice Chevalier and chanteuse Edith Piaf. Each had his or her reasons, and Riding seeks to understand them.

Still, there were clear heroes and heroines. Dina Vierny, a very young model for Maillol, Bonnard and Matisse, guided escapees through the mountain passes to Spain. The waspish diarist Jean Galtier-Boissiere recorded every aspect of the betrayal of the intellectuals. Jean Paulhan, the longtime editor of the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, led a Scarlet Pimpernel existence as an habitue of salons and a leader of the resistance. Rose Valland, a nondescript employee of the Jeu de Paume, risked her life to keep a secret record of the art - more than 20,000 works - looted from Jewish collections.

One entire chapter chronicles the birth of organized resistance by the long revered "Reseau du Musee de l'Homme," that is, the Museum of Man network, so called because many of its members were, believe it or not, ethnologists. Twenty-eight of them were killed by the Nazis. Riding notes that "at a time when most of the French were coming to terms with the occupation, they were almost alone in acting on their belief in the idea of resistance." That idea, however, spread. Eminent poets, including Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard, organized underground movements; Rene Char commanded an army of 2,000 maquis.

In the end, Parisians were judged by the company they kept, and sometimes saved by whom they knew. During the occupation the fascist Drieu La Rochelle told Gerhard Heller to "make sure nothing ever happens to Malraux, Paulhan, Gaston Gallimard and Aragon, no matter what allegations are brought against them." These may have been ideological enemies, but they were also friends and former classmates. In 1945, after Drieu La Rochelle committed suicide to avoid being tried for treason, nearly all of them came to his funeral.


Dirda reviews books every Thursday for The Post.



The Washington Times



Sunday, January 2, 2011


BOOK REVIEW: How Paris survived occupation


By John M. Taylor


By Alan Riding
Knopf, 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.

Classical musicians were better off. Because music is the most abstract of the arts, there was no problem with censorship. In July 1940, composer Francis Poulenc wrote an exiled colleague, "Musical life is intense, and everyone finds in it a way of forgetting the present sadness." When German bands or choirs performed outside the Paris Opera, crowds quickly gathered, drawn by the music. To some, such performances were dangerous, for they served to humanize the occupying army.

Music halls and cabarets had to clear their lyrics with German censors, but the censors employed a light hand, and songs poking fun at the occupation were approved sometimes.

Not every Frenchman could take the occupation in stride. Blue-collar workers, sometimes influenced by the communists, had little truck with the occupiers, and in August 1944, they staged an armed uprising in Paris. There were acts of quiet resistance as well. Singer Edith Piaf was so popular that she was allowed to take her show into camps for Allied POWs. There she would persuade the commandant to allow her to be photographed with some of the prisoners. The resulting photos were then used to create false documents for escapees.

One of the art world's few heroes was Rose Valland, "a frumpy-looking forty-two-year-old spinster" employed by one of Paris' great museums, the Jeu de Paume. Valland kept a record of all art entering or leaving the building, including art destined for the Hitler or Goering collections. She advised the resistance of which trains contained valuable art and therefore should not be attacked. After the war, Valland's notes assisted Allied officers seeking to track down the looted art.

After Germany's surrender, the government of Charles de Gaulle launched investigations into who had collaborated with the enemy. Defining who was a collaborator was not easy. The investigations led to a purging of books and to the jailing of many writers, one of whom complained of discrimination: "The engineers, entrepreneurs, and masons who built the Atlantic Wall walk among us undisturbed."

The trials of collaborators continued until 1951 and came to include upscale call girls who had profited from their German clients. Not all were repentant. A movie actress, Arletty, was tried for having had a very public affair with a German officer. In her defense, she testified, "My heart is French but my [body] is international."

In a footnote, Mr. Rider notes that between 100,000 and 200,000 Franco-German babies were born during the occupation. The story of the occupation has been dealt with elsewhere, but this fine book reminds the reader of the many shades of collaboration in an occupied country.


Biographer and historian John M. Taylor lives in McLean.





Sunday, December 26, 2010


'And the Show Went On,' by Alan Riding: review

David D'Arcy


And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

By Alan Riding

(Alfred A. Knopf; 400 pages; $27.95)


The Nazi leader Hermann Goering is said to have declared, "When I hear the word 'culture,' I reach for my revolver."

Goering might not have said that, but when he and the Nazi elite weren't vying with Hitler to buy paintings that the French helped Germans loot from Jews in Occupied Paris, Nazi officers were being entertained by mostly compliant French performers.

France's surrender to the Nazis and its conduct under the German occupation from 1940 to 1944 are acts by which the French are still judged.

To France's chagrin, this moral measuring is the country's myth of Sisyphus. Historians are still exhuming the stories of Nazi victims and exposing the long list of compatriots who took the Germans' side or just stood by as Jews were fired from jobs and shipped off to camps from which few returned. Films set in the period keep finding anguished situations to dissect.

French artists don't look better than anyone else in "And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris," by Alan Riding, a New York Times reporter who covers the Paris cultural scene.

Riding's reach is broad as he finds the roots for French fascism in long-standing anti-Semitism and in a violent nationalist fringe in the 1930s that went right to work for the Germans after France's capitulation in 1940.

Collaborators like Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and Robert Brasillach wrote for official pro-Nazi newspapers. (So did Simone de Beauvoir and others who needed money.) Louis-Ferdinand Céline turned anti-Semitism into a sulfurous stream of consciousness. Vain social creatures like Sacha Guitry and Jean Cocteau had plays performed (as did Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus), and dined with Nazis, as did much of Paris' glitterati. Singers sang for them. The actress Arletty ("Children of Paradise," filmed in 1944) was one of thousands who slept with them. "In my bed there are no uniforms," she said.

There was a resistance, Riding notes, although it didn't surge until later in the occupation, and writers and artists weren't leading it. And there were prominent victims - historian Marc Bloch, poet Max Jacob, novelist Irène Némirovsky.

Riding's survey puts the French cultural world under a reality lens that has been focused since 1971, when Marcel Ophuls' epic documentary "The Sorrow and the Pity" reminded the public that collaboration, not resistance, was the norm.

The foulness didn't come just from writers and artists. Heading France's meek Vichy government was Marshal Philippe Pétain, the womanizing World War I hero who promised to be the father of a "National Revolution" built on Catholic piety and big families. The French Catholic hierarchy also served the Nazis, celebrating grand funerals for fascists killed by the resistance and almost never denouncing the killings of Jews.

The worst villains of those dark years are known, as are most of the mountain of details in "And the Show Went On," which reads, not like an investigation, but a compendium of drama, intrigue and lots of gossip. There's even a madcap heiress: Florence Gould, a gold-digger born to French parents in San Francisco who married an older U.S. railroad magnate (Frank J. Gould) and spent the war years hosting salons and dinners for Nazi officers, collaborators and mainstream writers like Colette and Cocteau.

Was Florence Gould doing anything worse than feeding and inebriating hungry, bored folk who couldn't afford black-market foie gras? She probably slept with a prominent Nazi (maybe more), and broke her leg, screwball comedy-style, on one of many visits to the Jew-hating Céline. Gould even invested in a Nazi bank - all to save her Presbyterian husband with a Jewish-sounding name from arrest, she said.

No one shaved her head in the postwar purge of women who had German lovers, and French courts acquitted her of wartime crimes - a judgment sealed by postwar philanthropy in Franco-American cultural relations. Yet as far as history goes, Riding stresses, the jury is still out.

The Gould story implicates that broad swath of the cultural crowd who weren't active collaborators, but swayed with the prevailing winds as they navigated through Nazi censorship and curfews. While not heroes, they were more opportunistic than evil, but their weakness recalls a trenchant cartoon from San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum's extraordinary "Notre Combat" exhibition on the legacy of "Mein Kampf" last spring. Onstage at an awards ceremony, Hitler tells the crowd, "I could not have done this without help from all of you."


David D'Arcy is a correspondent for the Art Newspaper, a London monthly.





 Published: Dec 26, 2010


Riding examines life in Paris under the Nazis




By Alan Riding; Knopf, 399 pp.


Anthony Eden, who served beside Winston Churchill during World War II as Great Britain’s foreign minister, once warned, “If one hasn’t been through the horrors of an occupation by a foreign power, you have no right to pronounce upon what a country does which has been through all that.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, existentialist philosopher and novelist who won but refused the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, rejoined, “Every French person had the free choice to be part of the resistance, in their heads anyway, even if they actually did nothing, or to be an enemy.”

And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris, by Alan Riding, longtime European correspondent for the New York Times, explores the degrees of resistance and collaboration adopted by French writers, artists and performers in the wake of France’s defeat by Adolf Hitler’s Germany in 1940. How were they to survive without continuing to work? But if “the show went on,” this restoration of normality might well aid the Germans in maintaining order and could be exploited by them as proof of French submission.

The music halls never closed, and such stars as Tino Rossi, Charles Trenet, Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf not only took the stage but performed in Germany.

By contrast, the American sensation, Josephine Baker, immediately cast her lot with the Free French of Charles de Gaulle. Concert pianist Alfred Cortot and ballet star Serge Lifar were arch-collaborators, but at the Paris Opéra, almost everyone frustrated German wishes.

Among the artists, the greatest, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, went to ground, but several of the “Fauves,” above all Maurice de Vlaminck and André Derain, hobnobbed with Nazi admirers. Hitler and Hermann Goering planned to despoil French museums and galleries, but Jacques Jaujard and Rose Valland of the Louvre worked tirelessly in secret to prevent them.

Some of the lesser lights of French literary life, Robert Brasillach, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, and Henry de Montherlant openly collaborated. The greatest figures, Roger Martin du Gard, Nobel Laureate in 1937, and André Gide, Nobel Laureate to be in 1947, took refuge in silence. Younger men would act to resist. René Char built up an effective armed resistance band in the southwest. André Malraux joined the Free French army and fought in the Liberation. Albert Camus wrote and edited the Resistance newspaper Combat. Sartre, barely five feet tall and with only one good eye, distributed clandestine propaganda and contributed to Jean Paulan’s Les Lettres françaises, the underground journal of the intelligentsia.

On the Paris stage, Jean Anouilh’s Antigone and Sartre’s Les Mouches adapted classical Greek tragedy from Sophocles and Aeschylus to raise the issues of freedom, coercion, obedience and order.

In response to any who might question the utility of mere cultural resistance, Paulan explained, “You can squeeze a bee in your hand until it suffocates. It won’t suffocate without stinging you. That’s precious little, you will say. But if it didn’t sting you, bees would have been extinct a long time ago.”

After the Liberation, cultural figures thought to have betrayed France were purged, the worst of them executed. The film actress Arletty (Léonie Bathiat) was accused of “horizontal collaboration” for taking German lovers. Once again, Sartre had a reply, “Our job was to tell all the French, we will not be ruled by Germans.”


Benjamin Franklin Martin is Price Professor of History at LSU. His most recent book is France in 1938 (2005)




Los Angeles Times


December 12, 2010


Book review: 'And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris' by Alan Riding

A journalist examines the complexities of the arts scene in France during World War II.

By Richard Eder


And The Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

Alan Riding

Alfred A. Knopf: 400 pp.


A lot has been written about the political, social and moral aspects of France under German occupation in World War II. Alan Riding, the former longtime New York Times cultural correspondent in Europe, now provides an arresting and detailed account of the French arts scene at the time.

"And The Show Went On" is a big story and insidiously troubling. Big because, in 1940, France was the world's art capital; unquestionably in painting, and to a large extent in film, music and literature. Troubling as a reflection of what was happening in the country as a whole. The German triumph was not just a defeat; it caused a collapse.

Ever since the revolution, France had been torn, sometimes bloodily, between rival ideas of herself: right against left or, with more nuance, traditional versus progressive. Marshal Pétain, who surrendered the army to the Germans and took over as their increasingly controlled proxy, belonged to the anti-Republican right; so did his supporters.

Pétain's initial acceptance by most of the French was a result of war weariness and the evidence that their politics as well as their army had miserably failed. More than anything, though, it was from the hope that Pétain and his Vichy establishment could put a French stamp on the German presence, acting in some sense as an intermediary; and that life, even humiliated, would go on (except for the Jews, that is). Increasingly, as the Resistance took hold, and the Germans waged savage reprisals and occupied the rest of France, the hope proved vain and the old marshal a malevolent dodderer.

In the world of the arts, things were much the same. There were a small number of active collaborators along with a few right-wing fanatics: among them such writers as Céline, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and Robert Brasillach. There were valiant holdouts: the conductor Paul Paray who quit his orchestra to protest the purging of Jewish players, and Josephine Baker who, almost alone among nightclub entertainers, stopped performing and eventually joined the Resistance (smuggling messages in her underwear). René Char not only stopped writing; he went south to lead a large Maquis (rural resistance) detachment. Most, though, occupied the life-must-go-on middle ground.

Riding's most valuable achievement is in exploring this middle ground. He is rarely judgmental as he writes of the accommodations many made: What he does is shine a humane light upon the complexity of their choices. Music hall performers and classical musicians did not stop playing because German soldiers thronged the theaters; neither did actors at the Comédie-Française. Going to Germany, as Maurice Chevalier and Charles Trenet did was another matter, even though both did their performing for French POWs.

Accustomed to being invited to brilliant society parties, many stars — actors, writers, musicians — kept on going even when the guests included high-ranking Germans. The film actress Arletty not only went to the parties; she took trips with her German officer lover. "My heart is French," she announced defiantly to a post-liberation trial, "but my ass is international."

An additional complexity was that although Joseph Goebbels demanded that France's arts be subordinated to Germany's, many of the Germans in Paris as enforcers and censors were cultivated men who greatly admired French culture. The German ambassador to Vichy, Otto Abetz, would sometimes intervene to help artists in trouble with the authorities. When German officials banned the singing of "La Marseillaise" in one of his plays, Sacha Guitry appealed to a ranking German general. Not only did the general revoke the ban; he and his aides attended the performance and rose for the singing. German officers would visit Picasso's studio even though some of his paintings were being burned as decadent. A much-told story has one officer holding up a "Guernica" reproduction and asking: "Did you do this?" Picasso, polite but scrupulously aloof, replied: "No, you did."

Riding, with his journalist's background, can sometimes cram in a fact too many, but his weighing of the complexities of the time is splendidly shrewd. And the sections dealing with writers are a triumph (granted, they provide better quotes). The post-liberation writers' purge committee, sniffing out evidence of collaboration, rebuked some for publishing in the Vichy-controlled press. It was the only press around. André Gide and Paul Valéry, without a collaborationist bone in their bodies, briefly wrote for the Nouvelle Revue Française even after Gallimard turned it over to a pro-Vichy editor. Sartre and Camus both published. The brilliantly waspish columnist Jean Galtier-Boissière denounced the holier-than-thou attitude of the purgers (some of whom had also published): "One forgets that some of them had only their pen with which to feed their family and wrote only anodyne pieces. Does one reproach the workers at Renault for making tanks for the Wehrmacht?"

The essayist Jean Guéhenno, refusing to publish, was equally waspish in denouncing those who did:

"The species of the man of letters is not one of the greatest of human species. Incapable of surviving for long in hiding, he would sell his soul to see his name in print. He can stand it no longer. He quarrels only about his importance, the size of the print in which his name appears, its ranking in the table of contents. It goes without saying that he is full of good reasons."

Disputation is France's oxygen, and Riding breathes it exuberantly.

Eder, a former Times book critic, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1987.






DECEMBER 11, 2010

When Marianne Met Fritz

In occupied Paris, the violent imaginings of French artists and intellectuals were tested by a violent reality.



And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

By Alan Riding

Knopf, 400 pages, $28.95


We are now more than 65 years away from the end of World War II, but that global conflict and its precursor, the so-called Great War of 1914-18, continue to fascinate and torment us, even as the veterans who fought in them retreat to another realm. What is striking about the current spate of books and movies about these conflicts is that for many in the West, they no longer seem to represent the unequivocal victory of good over evil, right over wrong, liberty over tyranny. A plethora of historical reassessments of the aerial campaigns against German and Japanese cities question not only the moral but also the political validity of the carpet-bombing of civilians. In his recent film, "Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino turned all tables when he had Jews behaving like Nazis, and in the massive HBO mini-series "The Pacific" a Marine's reference to "yellow monkeys" reverberates through the entire series.

All wars, but these two in particular, with their mass effort and mass death—the first great democratic wars of history—are now freighted with the toxic irony that came to pervade the 20th century and continues to afflict us still. If today we question traditional narratives, no longer trust our leaders and have lost all faith in grand ideas, the gnarled roots of such skepticism lead back through the World Wars of the last century.

In "And the Show Went On," Alan Riding, former Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, tracks a period of particular moral murkiness. He focuses on French writers and artists—the whole lot might, in an act of leveling, be called artistes—and their response to the German invasion of France in 1940. Mr. Riding is less interested, though, in the broader historical implications of his theme than in the human stories that emerge when the imagination is confronted by a violent reality.

For the French the defeat in 1940, and the next four years of German occupation, remain the most sensitive and sensational of all historical topics. Before his execution in February 1945, the openly collaborationist yet highly talented writer Robert Brasillach remarked: "Whatever their outlook, during these years the French have all more or less been to bed with Germany." But, as recently as May 2008, French president Nicolas Sarkozy continued to claim the high ground: "The true France," he asserted, "never collaborated." A nation that has always cherished its intellectuals, that rightly prides itself on its cultivation of the arts, is still tortured by the notion that the thoughtful, sensitive and most intelligent "Marianne" ever slept with the arrogant and brutal "Fritz." Mr. Riding shows that she did, and with considerable relish at that. As the vivacious actress Arletty put it so unforgettably in pondering her predicament during the occupation: "My heart is French but my ass is international."

For most of us, Mr. Riding's conclusion is hardly news, certainly not the headline stuff it was in the early 1970s when the historian Robert O. Paxton of Columbia University exploded the myth of a broad French opposition to the occupying Germans—and a broad refusal to collaborate. Until Mr. Paxton's research was published, the French had lived under the comfortable illusion that the true France, as President Sarkozy would have it, had been intrepid members of the Resistance, supporters of Charles de Gaulle and the Free French and anti-German through and through. The can of worms that Mr. Paxton opened has been spoiling the air at the elegant Deux Magots café on the Boulevard Saint-Germain ever since.

But what constituted collaboration or resistance? Any attempt to define those terms conjures up all the fundamental problems of our modern and postmodern world, a world not of fixity but of fluidity. Where do we put the philosopher-playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, who continued to publish during the occupation and later reinvented himself as a great résistant? Or the remarkable novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline, an avowed anti-Semite who nevertheless insisted that he hated the Germans just as much? Or that artistic provocateur, Jean Cocteau, who was at the very center of social life in occupied Paris but later felt abused by the accusation that he had collaborated, claiming ingenuously that "People are always thrusting me into scandals." Notoriety or flattery often seemed more appealing to this group than truth. And what about those world-renowned entertainers Édith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Sacha Guitry, who clearly needed the bright lights as much for psychological as economic reasons? Piaf's subsequent signature song "Non, je ne regrette rien" ("No, I regret nothing") reverberated with double meaning. Where, too, should we slot a pan-European like Alfred Fabre-Luce, whose dream was a united Europe and who saw in German conquest, faute de mieux, a step toward that dream?

Mr. Riding is very good at pointing to the complexities and ambiguities of the situation. He retraces much of the ground that Frederic Spotts covered in 2008 in "The Shameful Peace," but the two authors, while both expatriate residents of France, take opposed positions. Mr. Spotts has nothing but scorn for those who compromised between 1940 and 1944, whatever the reason. Mr. Riding, by contrast, finds the behavior of most French thinkers, painters and performers all too human. Many vacillated. Many were concerned merely with survival. Many who joined the Resistance later had been quick to cooperate earlier. The entertainment industry hardly skipped a beat. More plays and movies were produced in those four years than in any comparable four-year period in the French past. The Germans were delighted; such frenetic activity was exactly what they wanted, and they probably exercised less control in France than in any other territory they occupied.

Contradiction would be the offspring of fear and confusion. The writers Ramon Fernandez and Marguerite Duras—the one a convinced collaborationist, the other a member of the Resistance—were neighbors on the Rue Saint-Benoît. While sharing the same cleaning woman, they would intentionally ignore each other's social gatherings, be they of noisy fascists or furtive résistants. In comparable fashion, the writers Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and André Malraux, while political foes, remained personal friends. After a visit to Germany in 1935, Drieu had embraced Nazism, whereas Malraux supported the anti-fascist Popular Front in France. These differences notwithstanding, Drieu would become godfather to one of Malraux's children, and Malraux would seek to protect Drieu after the liberation in 1944.

Unlike Mr. Spotts, Mr. Riding refuses to judge. Instead he cites Anthony Eden, Britain's wartime foreign secretary: "If one hasn't been through the horrors of an occupation by a foreign power, you have no right to pronounce upon what a country does which has been through all that." The logical extension of Mr. Riding's carefully constructed and sympathetic account would be a similar retelling of the other stories of Europe, without the usual polemical and self-righteous tone. In Eastern Europe, where the only choice was between two totalitarian options, communist or fascist, the dilemma was even more horrific than in France. It was easiest not to think about it and just play according to the rules in force that day.

For some the most fascinating chapter in Mr. Riding's evocative book will be the one on Florence Gould, whose tale highlights the moral conundrums of the time. Born in San Francisco of French parents in 1895, she married the enormously wealthy Frank Jay Gould, heir to a railroad fortune and owner of a consortium of hotels and casinos on the Riviera. The Goulds remained in France during the war: he in the south, she principally in Paris, where she ran a vibrant and sumptuous "literary" salon, visited by all sides in the conflict.

In a city where shortages were the norm, her gatherings never lacked for Dom Pérignon or petits fours. Ernst Jünger, the brilliant German soldier and writer, was one of her closest companions (though Mr. Riding rejects the widespread assumption that they were lovers). Florence—even the name evoked angels of mercy and an identity beyond borders—represents, some might say, the more modern Marianne, so feminine, so attractive, yet so cosmopolitan. "I may not know much about literature," she said, "but I know a lot about writers." While Mr. Spotts dismisses her as little more than a spoiled and vulgar tramp, Mr. Riding imbues her with considerable charm. Her long career as hostess and patron, both during and again after the war, lends credence to the latter judgment.

Engrossed in the immediacy of his story, Mr. Riding rarely pans to the wider view. If he had done so, he might have noted that at the heart of the 20th-century tragedy, pumping the blood of Modernism as a broadly based cultural mode and mood, was not Paris or France; it was Berlin and Germany. Many of the impulses for creative destruction—industrial, technological, scientific and intellectual—emanated from this heartland of the European continent. But at the same time the violence that the French were inclined to blame exclusively on the alien intruder, le Boche, had a powerful resonance within.

If Friedrich Nietzsche postulated, with some reason, that he was dynamite, Louis Aragon, the French poet and novelist, gave this abstraction a more practical dimension when he said that he could imagine nothing more beautiful than the "splendid and chaotic heap" produced by a cathedral and some dynamite. In the Second Surrealist Manifesto, in 1929, André Breton stated: "The simplest Surrealist act consists in going down into the street, guns in hand, and shooting at random, for as long as possible, into the crowd." This violent motif, this rage against tradition, deeply embedded in French painterly and literary imaginings, predated 1914, let alone 1940. The whole aim of artistic and literary modernism since the tail end of the 19th century had been to break down boundaries, definitions, laws and categories. Artists and intellectuals—the advance guard—were at war with the status quo before the military started fighting in either war.

Correspondingly, the appeal of Hitler and the Third Reich to some of the French and indeed European intelligentsia was based on this anger, resentment and craving for change. But the appeal was fortified by the importance Nazism assigned to the arts. On his only visit to Paris, on June 23, 1940, Hitler asked to see the Garnier opera house before any other building and admitted, according to the sculptor Arno Breker who accompanied him, that he wanted to be "surrounded by artists." With this emphasis on artists and aesthetic considerations, what Nazism did was to accelerate a process whereby politics would be turned into spectacle, an art form for the masses, and art in turn would become inseparable from politics. As reluctant as we may be to admit it, Hitler helped usher in our world.


—Mr. Eksteins is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toronto. His forthcoming book, "Solar Dance," deals with the posthumous success of Vincent van Gogh.



Reading About the Occupation


The divide in France on the painful subject of the German occupation during World War II is in part generational and in part political. Because of the difficulty of defining collaboration and resistance, the two sides have found little common ground. Robert O. Paxton initiated the French debate with his landmark "Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-44" (1972). Among more recent books, the British historian Julian Jackson's "The Fall of France" (2003) and "France: The Dark Years, 1940-44" (2001) are exceptional for their industry and integrity.

Irène Némirovsky's enormously successful novel "Suite Française" (first published in English in 2006) gives one a poignant sense of the ambiguities inherent in the situation after June 1940: "Their conversation," she wrote of her characters, "was pessimistic, almost despairing, but their voices light-hearted."

Because it is so troubling, very little of the remarkable work of Ernst Jünger, who accompanied the German occupiers of Paris, has been trans lated into English. The French, however, have always been fascinated by him—his diary for the years of occupation is available en français—and upon his death in February 1998, at age 102, Le Monde titled its obituary "Le Siècle de Jünger," identifying the 20th century with him.

Jean Galtier-Boissière may have kept the most readable French diary during those dark years. Alas, this too has not been translated into English. A brilliant editor, he had founded the satirical monthly Le Crapouillot during the Great War. In its issue of January 1931, devoted to Berlin, the journal announced that, by comparison with the German capital, Paris was tame and chaste—countering the impression that both Alan Riding and Frederic Spotts wish to leave.

On the aesthetics of Nazism, the most intriguing recent contribution is Roger Griffin's "Modernism and Fascism" (2007), which takes the analysis of Nazism far beyond Frederic Spotts's more narrowly focused study "Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics" (2002). Albert Speer's memoir, "Inside the Third Reich" (1970), remains invaluable, as do the various translated volumes of Joseph Goebbels's diaries. Goebbels was of course the Nazi "minister of enlightenment." The sculptor Arno Breker, whose massive show at the Orangerie in Paris in 1942 attracted much attention, is the subject of a fascinating section in Jonathan Petropoulos's "The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany " (2000).

Film has probably been a more suitable medium for delving into the anguish and complexity of the Nazi occupation than the written word. Alain Resnais's "Night and Fog" (1955), Marcel Ophüls's "The Sorrow and the Pity" (1969), Louis Malle's "Lacombe, Lucien" (1974) and Joseph Losey's "Monsieur Klein" (1976) are a few of the outstanding cinematic contributions.


Modris Eksteins






And the Show Went On, by Alan Riding (Knopf).


The world of the arts in Nazi-occupied Paris is brought to life in this meticulous chronicle of writers, dancers, filmmakers, theatrical producers, and others. Riding persuasively analyzes the themes of Jean Anouilh's "Antigone" from both a resistance and a collaborationist perspective, and provides vivid character sketches and narratives, such as the story of Rose Valland, who took extraordinary risks to save works of art being looted by the Nazis. Writers like Camus, Sartre, and Céline (at his very worst) get plenty of well-deserved space, but so, too, do heroes like Varian Fry, a young American who came to Paris with a list of two hundred cultural figures he wanted to ferry out of France, and who ended up helping two thousand escape.



November 26, 2010

Path of Least Resistance




Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

By Alan Riding

Illustrated. 399 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $28.95


One of my favorite songs is “Les Chemins de l’Amour” by Francis Poulenc, a great composer who could turn his hand to anything from high operatic tragedy in “Dialogues of the Carmelites” to a boulevard ballad like this one, and when I used to cover the Tour de France, I would play the original recording by the adorable Yvonne Printemps as I pottered along one route nationale or another. Then one day I glanced at the liner notes and saw when and where it was made: Paris, November 1940. While my parents’ generation in London nightly awaited the air-raid sirens, across the Channel, the bands still played.

Thirty years ago, while reporting on Latin America for The New York Times, Alan Riding began wondering how artists and writers responded to brutal dictatorships. He then went to live in Paris and realized that not so long before, the French intellectual and cultural elite had provided an answer, in often unlovely ways. “And the Show Went On” describes this history in gripping and painful detail.

His story begins on June 14, 1940, when the Wehrmacht entered an undefended Paris — or does it begin much earlier? France had been a deeply divided society since the Revolution, and the fissures opened up all over again in the interwar years. Even now, the collapse of the French Army in 1940 is something of a mystery. The French generals were pretty useless, but they reflected a malaise that had undermined national spirit.

At the time, Jean-Paul Sartre was an army meteorologist, spending his days when not observing the weather making notes for what became “Being and Nothingness,” published (please note) in 1943. In characteristically obtuse words, he said later that France was corrupt and run by the rich. “No one wanted to die for that, until, well, until we understood that the Nazis were worse.”

By no means all the French understood that, even after the defeat. With the Germans occupying much of the country, and a subordinate regime at Vichy, the meaning became clear by November 1940, when all teachers had to swear that they weren’t Jewish. “I thought it repugnant to sign,” Simone de Beauvoir odiously said, but “there was no way of doing otherwise.”

Some needed no encouragement at all. Drieu La Rochelle, Céline and Brasillach were all gifted writers, and all were vehemently anti-Semitic fascist sympathizers. Brasillach edited the Jew-baiting weekly Je Suis Partout before the war, and continued to do so enthusiastically under the ­occupation.

Other writers and artists simply carried on as if nothing had happened. German musicians visited Paris, French musicians toured Germany, and French artists too, Derain and Vlaminck among others. Picasso’s record was fairly contemptible throughout, though he got away with it afterward. And musical life was vigorous; as Poulenc himself said, “everyone finds in it a way of forgetting the present ­sadness.”

Those who could not forget were Jews, or at least the poorer ones. The first large-scale rafle, or roundup, in Paris was in May 1941, followed by more, when victims were herded into a cycling stadium, before leaving for Auschwitz. These rafles were carried out dutifully by the French police, a truth it has taken the French state and nation a long time to come to terms with.

Some of the story Riding tells so vividly has been told before. Two other good recent books are “The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation,” by Frederic Spotts, and “Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation, 1940-44,” by Charles Glass. Riding himself wanders off his Parisian track with lengthy discursions. The admirable young Harvard graduate Varian Fry ran his own underground railroad from Marseille, providing visas for innumerable refugees, some famous artists, some obscure, which he did with no official encouragement at all: the United States maintained diplomatic relations with Vichy until Pearl Harbor, and the American consul in Marseille strongly disapproved of Fry.

Back in Paris, theaters and nightclubs did a roaring trade, eager to amuse the large contingent of German soldiers. The list of writers and artists who did their bit for cultural fraternization is a roster of French culture and popular entertainment at the time, from Jean Cocteau and Jean Giraudoux to Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Django Reinhardt. The ardor with which some actively collaborated is almost less chilling than the sheer cynicism and amorality of many more.

Once Russia entered the war, the French Communists, as passive as any until then, took up violent resistance, with grim consequences. When a German naval cadet was assassinated at a Métro station in August 1941, Hitler demanded ruthless reprisals. Within nine months, 471 hostages had been shot, and so it went, until the savagery of 1944, when whole villages were massacred by the retreating Germans.

No one should dismiss the French as a nation of cowards or appeasers. One Englishman who worked in the Special Operations Executive, sending agents into France, put it well when he said later that most French people were objective collaborators, in the sense that they accepted the occupation, and also objective résistants, in that they wanted to be rid of it. And Riding quotes the wise words of Anthony Eden, a brave infantry officer in the First World War and Churchill’s foreign secretary in the Second: those who have never experienced the horrors of an occupation “have no right to pronounce upon what a country does which has been through all that.”

But that cuts two ways. Although not many Frenchmen were really in a strong position to pronounce upon others, they did so: with the liberation came the reckoning, in the form of the épuration, or purge, after many a sharp about-turn. Riding captures with nice irony the way that “newspaper stands selling Je Suis Partout and Au Pilori one day were offering Combat and Libération the next.”

Women accused of sleeping with Germans had their heads shaved and were sometimes paraded naked through baying crowds, and many thousands of people were shot, among them a number of journalists. They included Brasillach, despite pleas for clemency from the tender-hearted François Mauriac.

In the English phrase, Albert Camus had a good war — an authentic resister (unlike Sartre, who carefully rewrote his wartime résumé). At first he criticized Mauriac’s misplaced call for mercy, but quite soon Camus came to think that Mauriac had been right, and added his name to the unsuccessful petition for Brasillach.

Though Charles de Gaulle insisted on the execution of Pierre Laval, the Vichy prime minister, he said he did not want vengeance on those who were merely “misled.” And yet de Gaulle bears indirect blame. He above all people purveyed the healing notion that the French had been united in their resistance except for a few traitors and weaklings. This helped make possible the creation of a new democracy, but it was preposterous all the same.

We’ll always have Paris, but we may not feel quite the same about it after reading “And the Show Went On.” Brasillach isn’t someone I would normally want to quote, and Riding doesn’t mention this story, but when I put down his enthralling and disturbing book my feelings were expressed by Brasillach’s last words before the firing squad: “Vive la France, quand même.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s books include “Le Tour: A History of the Tour de France,” “The Strange Death of Tory England” and “Yo, Blair!”












Paris under the Nazis

Flying the flag

A world of collaborators, resistors, speculators and “attentistes”

Nov 18th 2010


And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris. By Alan Riding. Knopf; 416 pages; $28.95. To be published in Britain by Duckworth in March 2011; £20.


“DURING the occupation”, declared Jean-Paul Sartre, “we had two choices: collaborate or resist.” But France’s iconic intellectual, speaking some three decades after Hitler’s tanks rolled into Paris, was rewriting history. As Alan Riding points out, in this meticulously researched history of French culture during the second world war, there was another option—attentisme, or wait and see—and the divisions between them were easily blurred. Sartre himself was certainly never a collaborator, but his image as a résistant was burnished rather late in the day. Mr Riding notes that “although his involvement in the intellectual resistance had been minimal, after the liberation he had suddenly appeared as the chronicler of France’s calvary.”

Much of this book, notably the flight to America of artists such as Marc Chagall and Marcel Duchamp, or the collaboration of the narcissistic Jean Cocteau, will be familiar to those who have read Frederic Spotts’s 2008 book, “The Shameful Peace”. Mr Riding used to write about European culture for the New York Times and was based in Paris. Where he adds value is in his analysis of the subtle challenges of the Nazi occupation for the various sectors of the arts. If escape and exile were not the chosen option, actors needed to tread the boards, singers needed the music halls, musicians needed the concert hall. How could they avoid giving succour to the enemy, given the many Germans in the audience?

Most chose a degree of compromise, some larger than others. Edith Piaf, who said in 1940 that “my real job is to sing, to sing no matter what happens”, was willing to perform twice in Stalag III-D, a camp for French prisoners-of-war outside Berlin—but on her first visit cleverly encouraged the camp commander to allow photographs to be taken of her with him and the POWs. The photos were then cropped so that each POW’s image could be attached to counterfeit documents identifying him as a French worker in Germany. On Piaf’s next visit to the camp, the documents were secretly delivered. If a POW escaped, he had a protective German ID card. As Piaf put it, “I was not in the Resistance, but I helped my soldiers.”

By contrast, Jean Guéhenno, an essayist, refused absolutely to write for any outlet approved by the Germans. Instead, his opinions were pseudonymously confined to an underground newspaper, Les Lettres Françaises, and an equally clandestine publishing house, Éditions de Minuit. “Writers should not be seeking the glory of the byline,” he noted in his “Journal des Années Noires”, which was published just after the war. “Now is the time to write for nothing, for pleasure.” Well said—but then Guéhenno did have the financial security of a teaching job at the Lycée Henri IV.

Mr Riding’s book is an impressively comprehensive survey of the occupation years: the relentless persecution of France’s Jews, especially the foreign-born, by the Vichy authorities as well as the Germans; Goebbels’s expropriation of Jewish-owned art; the fascism of some French intellectuals, and the attraction of Stalin’s communism for others. One irony is that French cinema, so enriched by Jewish directors, actors and producers before the war, nonetheless flourished after their expulsion thanks to an influx of new talent. Mr Riding particularly praises Marcel Carné’s “Les Enfants du Paradis”.

But if the French arts, from the chansons of Maurice Chevalier to the ballet of the collaborationist, Serge Lifar, survived the Nazis, how lasting was their victory? Mr Riding saves his best for last, with a discomfiting portrayal of the post-Liberation épuration—the “purge” of collaborators—and a clear-headed judgment of Paris’s subsequent cultural status.

Simply put, between 1918 and 1939 the French capital was also the cultural capital of the world. Yet, by the late 1940s “culturally the city was no longer a magnet for artists and writers from around the world.” Perhaps that was for the better. Mr Riding notes that French intellectuals have “propagated doctrines—monarchism, Fascism, anti-Semitism, Communism, even Maoism—that offered explanations and solutions for everything.” With these doctrines having failed to bring Utopia, “politically speaking, artists and writers may now be less prominent, but they are also less dangerous.”










And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris.

By Alan Riding (Knopf).



For four years, as the hobnailed boots of Wehrmacht soldiers marched through the streets, Paris learned to live as an occupied city. Food was strictly rationed and curfews deadened the late nights. Yet, as Alan Riding shows in And the Show Went On, cultural life somehow survived. The writers kept writing, the painters kept painting, and the Nazis left them mostly alone.

Some of France’s great cultural contributions of the twentieth century, in fact, were born in Occupied Paris, like Albert Camus’s L’Etranger and the film Les Enfants du Paradis. Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit saw its first performance 10 days before the Allied invasion of Normandy. Even popular culture stayed alive in the music halls and clubs, as long as the texts and lyrics of anything on stage were approved by German censors.

With two decades experience chronicling European cultural life for the New York Times, Riding is in an ideal position to document those four years of Gross Paris, as the Nazi command called it.

He gives several reasons why the Nazis might not have been as harsh on Paris as they were in other occupied territories. One was the relative autonomy that France had earned through its collaborationist government in Vichy. Another is that censorship stayed fairly lax — as long as things stayed away from the topic of the Reich — because most of the army did not understand much French. And in a bizarre way, the Nazis had a great deal of respect for French culture, as well as the city itself. (Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins showed just how deep it ran as they showed German generals ignoring Hitler’s orders to demolish the city in Is Paris Burning?)

The artists, however, remained conflicted. Was continuing to ply their trades peacefully, without any form of political commitment, not a tacit acceptance of their German overlords? This is what the Communists and writers of the Résistance were there to hammer home. France had always had a place for the “engaged intellectuals,” respecting them more than politicians as moral guides. They believed that there should be no choice between art and politics because they could — they had to — go hand in hand. Anything less amounted to collaboration, a breach of trust.

Ultimately, Riding argues, Paris was left scarred by more than the pockmarks of bombs and bullets. The creative energy that had made it the center of European literature before the war was dampened. Those who still ran to it for inspiration and artistic freedom were mostly Americans escaping McCarthyism — James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Wright. The Europeans went in the other direction. To New York.


Joshua Robinson, Contributor



October 24, 2010


By Barbara Fisher


AND THE SHOW WENT ON: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris
By Alan Riding
Knopf, 416 pp.


This fascinating study recounts the careers of a huge number of artists during the German occupation of Paris. Most interesting are the complicated stories of artists who were neither heroes nor traitors, who made decisions about how to live and work during the occupation. Collaboration or resistance were not the only two options. Most surprising is the speed with which Parisian artistic life resumed after the fall of Paris. In only weeks after the occupation began, theaters, operas, and music halls were reopened, movies continued filming, artists resumed painting, composers composing, writers writing.

Many artists fled to the south and remained there for the duration, while many more returned to Paris, having made their own compromises, adjustments, or resolutions. Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf, and Danielle Darrieux performed at home and traveled to entertain French prisoners in Germany. Dufy, Rouault, Bonnard, and Matisse continued to paint in the south, while Picasso remained in Paris. Vlaminck, Derain, and Van Dongen traveled to Germany as guests of the Nazis. While Jews were expelled from the film industry, the theater remained intact. French classics by Corneille and Moliere were performed as well as work by Sartre, Camus, and Anouilh. Publishers, authorized by Germany, printed new work by Fascist writers but also by anti-Fascists Aragon, Eluard, Colette, De Beauvoir, and Duras.

This compelling and complex book includes lively chapters on Varian Fry, an unlikely American hero who helped hundreds escape to America and Switzerland; Gerhard Heller, a cultured and sensitive German who protected many artists; and Florence Gould, a wealthy American who entertained the French and German elite with black market champagne.





June 15, 2011


The artistic life of occupied Paris

How did the "undisputed European beacon of cultural freedom" deal with the Occupation?


David Drake


Alan Riding
Cultural life in Nazi-occupied Paris
399pp. Duckworth. £20.
978 0 7156 4067 8 US: Knopf.
978 0 307 26897 6


Paris was already recognized as the birthplace of the committed intellectual when, during the interwar years, it established itself also as the undisputed European beacon of cultural freedom. Not since the Italian Renaissance, notes Alan Riding in And the Show Went On, had any city boasted such a remarkable concentration of artistic brilliance. The question of how its artists and writers behaved after the German army rolled into the city in June 1940 is the subject of his book.

Riding’s comprehensive scrutiny of the worlds of Paris music hall and cabaret, theatre, painting, music, cinema, publishing and writing during the Occupation is presented clearly and confidently and is underpinned by meticulous research, including interviews with witnesses of these “dark years”. It reintroduces us to those such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Colette, Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Maurice Chevalier, whose actions – or inaction – have already been examined elsewhere. But we also encounter lesser-known figures like Raymond Deiss, the publisher of leading French composers who, from October 1940, put out sixteen issues of a clandestine pro- de Gaulle publication before his arrest and deportation to Germany, where he was subsequently decapitated.

In one chapter, Riding moves away from Paris to Marseille to recount the exploits of the Harvard graduate Varian Fry who was responsible for spiriting many writers and artists out of France. Riding devotes another chapter to Florence Gould, the Franco- American anti-Semitic social hostess renowned for her sumptuous Paris soirées, which were attended by what Riding calls “moderate collaborators”, as well as attentistes and a handful of German officers, including Ernst Jünger and Gerhard Heller.

Riding firmly rejects the Gaullist myth that during the Occupation everybody, apart from “a handful of scoundrels and unworthy wretches”, resisted. Neither does he subscribe to the view which gained currency after the death of de Gaulle in 1970 that “almost everyone collaborated”. His study is built on the premiss that intellectuals have special responsibilities, especially in difficult times, and he skilfully engages with the complexities of the period by asking, for example, if working during the Occupation necessarily constituted collaboration, or if it was right, after the Liberation, for writers to be sanctioned for their opinions. Following Anthony Eden’s dictum that “If one hasn’t been through the horrors of an occupation by a foreign power, you have no right to pronounce upon what a country does which has been through all that”, Riding neither falls into moral relativism nor indulges in accusatory finger-pointing, but instead allows his subjects’ words and deeds to speak for themselves.

Although some writers and artists are revealed as fervent collaborators and others as committed résistants, things were not always as clear-cut as they appeared. For example, Camus’s reputation as a résistant is well deserved, but this did not stop him agreeing to drop all references to Kafka, because he was Jewish, from his text of The Myth of Sisyphus before publishing it under German censorship. The actor/playwright Sacha Guitry regularly socialized with members of the German elite and was head of the theatre section of Vichy’s entertainment organizing committee. Nonetheless, he cancelled his staged tribute to French culture rather than bow to German demands to remove from his show his homage to Sarah Bernhardt, the legendary French Jewish actress. Nor is the issue of patriotism as simple as is sometimes assumed. In March 1941, an established author, critic and playwright of the interwar years sent an article to Paris from his POW camp entitled “VIVE LA FRANCE! The passionate cry of the prisoner”. The author was Robert Brasillach, one of the most notorious anti-Semitic collaborators of the war who was executed in February 1945.

The Occupation marked a re-emergence of the fault-lines that had divided cultural Paris at the time of the Dreyfus Affair. Most of the writers and artists who supported Vichy for ideological reasons defended a view of France which echoed that of anti-Dreyfusard intellectuals like Maurice Barrès, namely a France built on order, authority, anti-individualism and tradition, from which “undesirables” like Jews and foreigners would be excluded. Even those, such as Brasillach, who came to reject Pétain’s “National Revolution” as too tame and timid, saw in the Nazi regime a model which would “save” France. The early intellectual resisters, like the members of the Musée de l’Homme network were, as Riding illustrates, driven by an implacable refusal to accept foreign occupation, but they were also risking their lives, in the words of Boris Vildé, one of the group’s leading members, “to see a pure and free France reborn”. The Dreyfusard/republican values of justice, reason, universalism and individual rights run through much of the discourse of the intellectual resistance and, as Riding reports, as early as 1940 another resister, Agnès Humbert, was already talking of a “Fourth Republic”.

David Drake is an independent scholar and former president of the UK Sartre Society. He is the author of French Intellectuals and Politics from the Dreyfus Affair to the Occupation, 2005, and is writing a book on life in Paris during the Second World War.




February 24, 2011


Who Did Not Collaborate?


Ian Buruma

Read this article here or here