Comprehensive – And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-occupied Paris

There are 3 recent excellent books on life in occupied Paris-

1. And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris (Vintage) by Alan Riding (Oct 4, 2011)

2. The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation Frederic Spotts (March 30, 2010)

3. Americans in Paris: Life and Death under Nazi Occupation 1940-44 by Charles Glass (4 Feb 2010)

Riding’s book covers a wider ground compared to the two other books.

He starts with the entry of the Nazis into Paris on 14 June 1940. He surveyed how life was like for the writers, artists and cultural elite in occupied Paris. One will find interesting nuggets like the American Varian Fry who was sent by the Emergency Rescue Committee based in New York to help writers and artists flee to the United States in Aug 1940.

Despite opposition even from his own American embassy and the State Department, Fry and his team managed to bring out around 2000 refugees. Sadly, according to this book, it was only in 1967, just months before Fry’s death, that one of those he saved Dina Vierny persuaded France’s Culture Minister to name Fry as a chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur. (P 89 Vintage 2001 ed).

Equally sadly, Riding sets out how the Jewish novelist Irene Nemirovsky who was planning a five-part epic called Suite Francaise, inspired by War and Peace, could only finish the first two volumes before she was taken by French gendarmes and sent to the Nazi camp in Auschwitz where she died. The unfinished manuscript of Suite Francaise was kept by her 2 children who were hidden by the locals and only published 62 years later. (P 137). I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in how the cultural elites coped with living and working in Occupied Paris. This is no easy story. It is not so clear-cut as either working for or against the Nazis. Riding has pointed out the many complexities and shades of ambiguities of resistance and collaboration in Occupied France as well as Vichy France.

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