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When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 Paperback – March 17, 2015
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"A riveting account of one of the most resonant hostage-takings in history: the 1,500 days when a swastika flew from the Eiffel Tower. Ronald Rosbottom illuminates every corner of a darkened, heartsick city, exploring the oddities, capturing the grisly humor, and weighing the prices of resistance, accommodation, collaboration. The result is an intimate, sweeping narrative, astute in its insight and chilling in its rich detail."―Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra, A Great Improvisation, and Véra
"When Paris Went Dark recounts, through countless compelling stories, how Nazi occupation drained the light from Paris and how many of its residents resisted in ways large and small. This is a rich work of history, a brilliant recounting of how hope can still flourish in the rituals of daily life."―Scott Turow, author of Identical
"Ronald Rosbottom has recreated the Parisian world during the dark days of the German occupation like no previous writer I know. His secret is two-fold: first, exhaustive research that allows him to recover what we might call the importance of the ordinary; and second, a shrewd grasp of how memory works, often in strange ways."―Joseph J. Ellis, Ford Foundation Professor Emeritus at Mount Holyoke College, author of Founding Brothers, American Sphinx, and Revolutionary Summer
"Rosbottom explains the interactions of the French and their occupiers in a way that illuminates their separate miseries. He makes us see that we can never judge those who lived during the occupation just because we know the outcome....The author attentively includes German and French letters and journals that explain the loneliness, desperation, and the very French way of getting by....A profound historical portrait of Paris for anyone who loves the city."―-Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Ronald C. Rosbottom is the Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities and Professor of French and European Studies at Amherst College. Previously, he was the Dean of the Faculty at Amherst, Chair of the Romance Languages Department at The Ohio State University, and taught at the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Top customer reviews
One particularly interesting theme of the book is the whole concept of what was meant by "collaboration" and "resistance". These terms turn out to be far more ambiguous than they appear at first glance. Was a waiter who served tea to a German officer at a cafe a collaborator or merely someone trying to get by? What about a French prostitute who sold her services to German soldiers? Or a Vichy minister motivated by patriotic impulses to serve in the Petain government, like future President Francois Mitterrand? Resistance turns out to be equally difficult to define. It's one thing to describe someone who shot a German soldier on a Parisian street as a resister, but what about a man who refused to speak to the German officer billeted in his home? As the book makes clear this is a question that troubles France to this day.
I really can't recommend this book highly enough. The writing is fluid and highly readable. The author makes use of a variety of sources and uses many anecdotes to humanize the topic. Even the footnotes are interesting. I learned a lot that I didn't previously know despite having read quite a bit about France during the war. For instance, the Parisians didn't really seem to mind the occupation very much during the first year or so, although they wished for a swift British capitulation in the hopes that this would persuade the Germans to leave. Also, Paris had a mini-civil war in the months just following the liberation, with many dying in the process. I never knew this. It's hard to believe that at this late date there is still more to learn about World War II but this book proves it for me.
Der Fuhrer's respect and admiration for Paris before and during the occupation is well covered. However, as the Nazis begin their retreat from the allied forces in 1944, he demands from his generals that Paris be burned to the ground, a command that, fortunately, was not carried out. There is much detail about the French collaboration with Germans in sending the Jews to the concentration camps and the fraternization of French women with the Germans.
This book brings to the surface the shame and embarrassment the French people must feel regarding this sad and humiliating period in their history. However, it's a story that is important to tell, and Ronald Rosbottom's has done an excellent job in doing that. This is a must read for those wanting to learn about this bleak and depressing time in the history of a revered capital city of a great nation.