Soldiers of the Night

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

The legend of the French resistance to the German occupation of the country during World War II has often been close to providing the national myth for France in the postwar years. Only in the last decade has that myth come under close scrutiny, examination, and debunking. David Schoenbrun, a journalist, television correspondent, and lecturer, brings a passion for and close association with a number of the figures of the Resistance to this book. He is not writing to discredit, but rather he essentially glorifies the movement and its partisans. For those who seek a fast-paced version of this episode in human history, and who are willing to accept Schoenbrun’s posture of advocacy and rather simplistic explanations of motivation, the book will surely satisfy.

To some readers acquainted with and attuned to historical writing and argumentation, Schoenbrun’s over-reliance on source material gleaned from personal interviews will seem suspect. Schoenbrun knows personally a large number of the survivors of the Resistance—a fact that he will not let the reader forget. The focus of the book is frequently distorted by the inclusion of insignificant memorabilia and descriptive phrases, all of which appear to be a kind of historical name-dropping. The story of the Resistance (and the intertwined theme of collaboration) is a very complex and morally torturous one, and Schoenbrun might have better served his public had he attained a greater objectivity toward his subject.

Resistants of every stripe and color are to be found between the covers of Soldiers of the Night—from Communists to right-wing French patriots, from Marie-Madeleine Fourcade to Boris Vilde, from Charles de Gaulle to Duclos. No reader or commentator can fault Schoenbrun on his attempt at thoroughness, nor for his lack of imagination in moving back and forth from scene to scene and place to place trying to reconstruct a movement which was really dozens of movements, fraught with a variety of both personal and ideological factors.

Soldiers of the Night depicts a resistance movement which grew from many disparate elements, and which through the course of the war (and even into the years immediately following it) reflected the tensions, workings at cross-purposes, envy, and jealousy inherent in this fact. Schoenbrun merits high marks for attempting to cover the full range of resistance activities and attitudes, but his accounting for the emotional and psychological burdens of the tensions between the various resistance elements is questionable.

In accounting for the fall of France in 1940, Schoenbrun offers a straightforward and primarily anecdotal description of the atmosphere in Paris, hardly looking beneath the surface. He may here sell himself short by ignoring the tensions and discordances of French society in the late 1930’s which clearly led to the debacle. In the long run, by failing to account in the very beginning for these problems, he later fails to tie to their proper historical antecedents the tensions which reemerged in France on the heels of its liberation.

In the first section of Soldiers of the Night, the chapter...

(The entire section is 1301 words.)