Paris at War 1939 to 1944 by David Drake is a perfect accompaniment to literary works about Paris during the Nazi occupation such as Suite Francais by Irene Nemirovsky and The Occupation Trilogy by Patrick Modiano. Even though I knew how things would turn out, Drake fashioned an exciting story.
Drake focuses on telling the story of the lives of ordinary Parisians from France's entry into World War Two in September to 1939 up to liberation of Paris in August 1944, prompting a joyous celebration, one I was very ready for when it came.
Drake does a very good job detailing the panic that overtook Paris as the Germans hung banners on the Eiffel Tower. Huge numbers fled the city. Those with country relatives or the rich with second homes were lucky.
The Germans were initially ordered not to molest obedient to the rule Parisians. Drake explains the political dynamics between Vichy France and the occupied region. We learn of De Gaulle's efforts by radio broadcasts from London to inspire hope and resistance. The French did not for a long time know who would win the war, some wanted to be on the winning side. Drake spends a lot of time talking about collaboration with the Nazis and the slow growth of resistance.
Drake lets us understand the infighting between the force of the Gaullists and the allies lead by General Eisenhower. The American lead allies at first wanted to by pass Paris and march into Germany but eventually the free French brigade and an American division entered the city. Hitler had ordered the city be totally destroyed but the German general in charge saw the pointlessness of this and surrendered.
We learn of the extreme hardships brought on by food and other shortages, how the Parisians coped.
Much of the story is based on diaries and reminiscences to which Drake had access. He details very clearly the fate of Jews in Paris.
Paris at War 1939 to 1944 is a very well written fully accessible by non academics history.
I received a review copy of this book. At $19.95 I would not be a buyer of the digital edition.
David Drake has taught at universities in London and Paris and has published widely on French intellectual and cultural history.