The plight of ordinary Parisians during World War II.
With access to the diaries of everyday citizens who lived through the Nazi occupation of Paris, Drake assembles a valuable picture of “personal history, remembered conversations, the minutiae of routine, fragments of memory.” Everyone knew the war was coming; it was just a matter of when. By early September 1939, France had civil defense bolstered, men mobilized, and art treasures moved to safety. After the invasion of Poland, France and England declared war on Germany and thus began the “funny sort of war.” The Polish intrusion was a reason to declare war, but the Allies sat back and waited for Hitler to attack them, thereby giving him plenty of time to complete the destruction of Poland. It was not until May 1940 that Hitler, after pushing the British and French to Dunkirk, broke through the Ardennes and caught the French completely by surprise. By June 22, the French had capitulated, and Germany proceeded to dismember her. France was divided into two zones: the occupied zone under German control and the “free zone” led by World War I hero Philippe Pétain and the widely loathed Pierre Laval. Presenting the story chronologically, Drake creates an easily comprehensible, even exciting, narrative. The author vividly portrays the desperation of searching for food, fuel, and clothing, along with the dangers of arrest and false accusations. During the “phony war,” almost 500,000 people left Paris—those with money, a place to go, and the means to get there—only to return to rationing and severe restrictions. The passive resistance, the roundups, the collaborationists, and the young communists are all part of the lore of wartime Paris, and Drake does a solid job exploring how it all affected “Parisians of all ages.”
Students of French and World War II history will enjoy and learn from this well-written book.