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Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation

by Charles Glass

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59420-242-1
Publisher: Penguin Press

Well-traveled journalist Glass (The Tribes Triumphant, 2006, etc.) reckons with a handful of intrepid Americans who stuck it out in Paris during the Nazi occupation.

Of the 30,000 Americans who lived in Paris before World War II, the author estimates that about 5,000 stayed after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, despite warnings to leave by American Ambassador William Bullitt. When the Nazis marched triumphantly through Paris in June 1940, the French premier had fled, essentially leaving Bullitt, who helped convince the Nazis not to bomb the city, in charge. Americans did not have cause to fear the Germans, as the United States would not declare war on Germany for another two years. Jews and blacks, however, were most often deported to camps. The remaining Americans were able to move rather fluidly between the French and German sides, and sometimes their loyalties grew murky and questionable. In alternating chapters that delineate the daily tension of four years in Occupied Paris, Glass pursues some of the notable American characters who congregated at the protected American sites, including Countess Clara Longworth de Chambrun, a Cincinnati heiress married to a French banker (and descendent of the Marquis de Lafayette), who was steadfast in keeping the American Library running during the Occupation; millionaire industrialist Charles Bedaux, who opened his country estate to marvelous collaborationist parties and later faced charges of treason; stalwart Yankee doctor Sumner Jackson, who tended prisoners and wounded at the American Hospital in Neuilly; and Sylvia Beach, American bookseller and publisher of James Joyce, who eventually had to close her seminal Shakespeare and Company store under Nazi threat of confiscation. “Everybody we knew was for resistance,” she declared righteously.

Most of Glass’s tales aren’t quite so clear-cut, but they illuminate a dark, fascinating period in World War II history.