How is it that France, the cradle of European liberty and birthplace of the Declaration of Human Rights, fell so swiftly to German domination in World War II? How is it that so many French willingly collaborated with the occupiers, participating in the murder of Jews and other so-called undesirables? Philippe Burrin, professor of history at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, confronts these troubling questions, looking beyond the usual motivations of "material self-interest" and "ideological convictions or connivance" to paint a complex portrait of French behavior under German rule. Hitler, Burrin writes, chose to allow the French government a certain degree of autonomy under the Vichy state, largely for strategic reasons: by allowing that measure of self-rule, he could free more soldiers for the war against the Soviet Union. For their part, the French leadership reasoned that a compromised self- rule was better than outright submission to the conqueror, even if it meant complying with disagreeable edicts. Some in the government and citizenry even viewed collaboration as an instrument of postwar advantage; as one French report of 1941 put it, "People continue to be delighted that both the Germans and the Russians are suffering heavy losses. They are hoping that eventually France will act as an intermediary for a compromise peace." France emerged from the war less powerful than the collaborationists had hoped, and today soul-searching questions about the nation's behavior during the Hitler years exercise the attention of historians and public intellectuals. Burrin's book is a solid contribution to the literature arising from this ongoing debate. --Gregory McNamee
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Burrin, a professor of international history at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, argues that the options faced by the French during the German occupation of WWII were not just between the extremes of collaboration and resistance. Although the Vichy government set the official example by collaborating with the Nazis, most French citizens chose the expedient (and sometimes profitable) path of passive accommodation. The first third of this detailed study traces the history of Vichy France during the first years of the occupation. The rest of the book deals with how the French people (not their government) either accommodated or collaborated. Those who actively resisted the occupiers seem to have been such an insignificant group that they are barely touched on here. According to Burrin, the French found German soldiers cleaner and more polite than they expected. The Germans found the French anti-British, anti-American and anti-Semitic. The major portion of this scholarly study shows how various groups came to terms with the Germans: labor unions, the church, the banks, the military, businessmen, prostitutes, small-time entrepreneurs, petty crooks, the intelligentsia. Also covered is the German propaganda machine and the use it made of regional separatism within France. The artistic community, Burrin suggests, was never as brave in standing up to the occupiers as it liked to pretend, largely because the Germans were quite permissive, except on the subject of the Jews. As for the Jews, his most damning charge is that when the Nazis demanded that adult Jews be shipped east to the camps, the French insisted that the children had to go with them. This is not easy reading, but in its unhurried, academic pace, it packs a punch.
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