Paris in the Third Reich

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

The German occupation of Paris, which began in June, 1940, and ended in August, 1944, is an event that has fascinated historians because of the insight it offers in understanding human nature under extreme stress. Several books have appeared since the war concentrating on the German occupation and the collaboration of the Vichy government, of which the most important are Henry Amoroux’s La Vie des Français sous l’occupation and La Grande Histoire des Français sous l’occupation, and Robert Aron’s Histoire de Vichy and Histoire de l’occupation. These works and others have demonstrated that the claim by thousands of Parisians immediately following the war that they had participated in the resistance is unfounded. Indeed, the two basic human drives of survival and ambition led most Parisians either to acquiescence to German authority or to open collaboration with the Germans and their goals. Many, especially the native Fascist parties jockeying for power, were even more enthusiastic than the occupying forces themselves in realizing Nazi objectives. Unfortunately the general reader outside France has had little opportunity to learn about the occupation because most accounts have not been translated from the French. An exception to this is Marcel Ophüls’ documentary film masterpiece, The Sorrow and the Pity, an ambitious undertaking similar in structure to the book under review. The length of the film (it runs almost four-and-a-half hours) and its lack of broad commercial appeal, however, limit its showings to large cities and major university communities. This void has fortunately been filled with the publication of David Pryce-Jones’s Paris in the Third Reich: A History of the German Occupation, 1940-1944, with Michael Rand as Picture Editor.

David Pryce-Jones is a young historian and novelist of great productivity. He has written two books on the Middle East, Next Generation: Travels in Israel (1964) and The Face of Defeat (1973); a book on the Hungarian Revolution; a biography of Unity Mitford; and seven novels. Although his purpose for writing Paris in the Third Reich is never explicitly stated, it appears to be threefold. A primary reason is the obvious: to provide a balanced account of what happened in Paris during this four-year period and how the French and Germans responded. Second, by including an epilogue on the 1979 trial for war crimes of three Germans involved in the deportation of French Jews to Auschwitz, Pryce-Jones argues forcefully for the moral necessity of attempting, perhaps futilely, to expose and bring to justice those who committed horrendous crimes against their fellowmen in the name of bureaucratic efficiency. A third reason, a personal one, is related to the author’s own experiences during the period of the occupation. In May, 1940, Pryce-Jones was at the home of his mother’s family about thirty kilometers north of Paris. The family fled to the south and the child spent some memorable time in the Vichy zone. Thus he has retained a lifelong fascination with events that transpired during those impressionable childhood years.

Paris in the Third Reich is not Pryce-Jones’s achievement alone. Of near equal importance is that of the picture editor, Michael Rand, for the volume contains more than a hundred contemporary photographs, many in color, which re-create almost every aspect of Parisian life during this period. The photographs are the work of two men, Roger Schall and André Zucca. Before World War II Schall was a fashion photographer and a frequent contributor to many German and French fashion periodicals. In 1938, he traveled to Nuremberg to cover the Nazi Party rally for Paris-Match. When the Germans occupied Paris, he was immediately contacted and given free-lance assignments in black and white, mainly in the fields of fashion and entertainment. Shortly after the Liberation he published a selection of his wartime photographs in A Paris sous la botte des Nazis. Schall, now retired, continues to live in Paris. André Zucca worked for Paris-Soir and Paris-Match before the war. With the occupation, the Germans took over the Paris-Match printing works and began the publication of their own magazine, Signal. Zucca was hired to work for this publication. A friend of several Nazi sympathizers or collaborators, Zucca went into hiding after the departure of the Germans because of his fear of reprisals. He died in 1973. Zucca was best-known for his color photographs, many of which have not been published previously. The photographs of Schall and Zucca, expertly chosen and arranged by Michael Rand, immeasurably enhance the text and are most evocative to those familiar with Paris.

Paris in the Third Reich is divided into three parts of unequal length. Approximately two-thirds of the book is given to the twelve-chapter section entitled “The Occupation,” which contains Pryce-Jones’s description of conditions in Paris between 1940 and 1944. Most of the remaining third of the book is devoted to interviews with some of the Germans and French survivors of the occupation which corroborate the author’s argument that life in Paris remained surprisingly normal throughout most of the occupation. The text concludes with a brief epilogue. To aid the reader in following the complex course of events and the large cast of characters in Paris during this period, a glossary precedes the text. In it is included a list of the abbreviations widely used by the author and of the main personnel in the major German organizations operating in Paris. To assist the scholar in further study of the problem of the occupation, a brief bibliographical essay and a lengthy section of footnotes are also included.

One of the most remarkable features of the German occupation of Paris, which began on June 13, 1940, was the ease with which it was accomplished. When the blitzkrieg in the West had begun only a month earlier, hardly anyone believed that continental Europe’s major city was within a few weeks of the loss of its independence. The German advance was so rapid that resistance melted away and flight from Paris and northern France became epidemic. Those who remained were soon faced...

(The entire section is 2568 words.)