I like to read history works that tie in with my current fiction reads. I was very grateful when Harvard University Press offered me a review copy of Paris at War 1939 to 1944 by David Drake, thinking this will cross illuminate with my readings of the great set in Paris novels of Iréne Némirovsky.
I already had a basic understanding of the era but Drake did a first rate job of putting the period together. Even though I knew how the "story" would go and how it would end, Drake is such a skilled narrator that I was somehow kept eager to read on to see what happens next, just as one might in a fine novel.
There were several matters on which I expanded even changed my old ideas. The popular image of a French collaborator is a woman sleeping with German soldiers for food and security. There was a lot of that but collaboration and the reasons behind it were multifarious. Many French believed the Germans were unbeatable so why fight a force you cannot beat. They felt it was only common sense to accept the new reality. Many did not really like the British. Many had families they had to feed. There was also a large number of Parisians who were very anti-Semetic and welcomed the eventual attempt to eradicate French Jews, many were cynical about governments in general and had no great admiration for the French authorities. The German soldiers were initially ordered to be polite and that helped. I learned a good bit about how Vichy France fitted in with the occupied zone.
Drake takes us through a series of changes where we see life get worse and worse for the Parisians, food and heating material get very short. Those with money could still eat well. There was a flourishing black market. The German occupying forces are draining the French economic structure. Soon there is resistance to the Germans, partially inspired by radio broadcasts from London by Charles de Gaulle. The Germans take reprisals and begin to send Jews to concentration camps. I will never forgive the Germans for what they did to the Jews of Europe, personified in France for me by the murder of Iréne Némirovsky.
The description of the liberation of Paris after all the misery of the prior chapters was just a tremendous pleasure to read. Drake describes the day Free French Troops and Americans liberated Paris as one of the most joyous days in history with two million people in the streets.
Paris at War 1939 to 1944 by David Drake is a very well written and organized book any one with an interest in the subject will, I think, enjoy.
David Drake has taught at universities in London and Paris and has published widely on French intellectual and cultural history. - from Harvard University Press webpage