AN UNCERTAIN HOUR: The French, the Germans, the Jews, the Barbie Trial, and the City of Lyon, 1940-1945 by Ted Morgan

AN UNCERTAIN HOUR: The French, the Germans, the Jews, the Barbie Trial, and the City of Lyon, 1940-1945

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It is probably impossible to have been a French citizen during the Nazi era and not carry a natural curiosity into adulthood concerning the collaboration of Vichy. Morgan (n‚ de Gramont--his chosen name is a modified anagram), who has written biographies of FDR, Churchill, Maugham, and William Burroughs, here gives play to his own curiosity, using the recent trial of Klaus Barbie--""the Butcher of Lyon""--to penetrate that doleful era. Morgan details well the many aspects of the Barbie affair: Lyon (""more Swiss than French in its bourgeois virtues. . . Paris wore its diamonds; Lyon kept them in a safe deposit box""); the French (such as Minister of Justice Robert Badinter, who abolished the guillotine, thus ironically saving Barbie, the murderer of Badinter's own father, from its justice); the Germans (who had, in overrunning the Maginot line, repeated the history of 1870 and 1914). There are also the French Jews (25,000 of whom were sent to death camps despite a deal struck by the Vichy regime to deport only ""foreign"" Jews); and Barbie himself (facing off one of his accusers with cool aplomb, he told the judge, ""This lady has been to the movies and is telling you the plot of a movie she saw""). The aging Barbie is not the focus of Morgan's narrative, however. Rather, the author uses the documents released at Barbie's trial to re-create the five years of Lyon's misery under Barbie and his Nazi henchmen, swaggering around town swinging night sticks at citizens' genitals, collecting 5,000 francs per Jew rounded up (when a bounty-hunter's victim killed himself rather than be taken, Morgan reports, the bounty hunter thought, ""There goes five thousand francs""). A vivid and chilling look at how the ordinary citizen suffered under extraordinary evil.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1989
Publisher: Arbor House/Morrow