When Paris Went Dark

Parisians seemed to be going thought the motions of life without living at all.

Ronald Rosbottom’s When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, is a rich, detailed, account of the German Occupation of Paris during World War II.

Rosbottom drew upon an extensive collection of materials-- diaries, memoirs, essays, newspaper articles, histories, letters, films, archives interviews, photographs, maps, etc.—all of which helped him to understand Paris during the Occupation.

Much of this is well known. However, like so many other readers, my appetite for reading about World War II seems inexhaustible. Some say it was the greatest event in human history, a saga about the collision between good and evil and the remarkable courage so many displayed.

During those days in Paris, food was scarce, heat was rare, gas for automobiles was unavailable, long lines were pervasive, air raid drills were common and the presence of the Germans created a quiet, almost eerie city that was dangerous and often frightening to those who remained.

“The silence caught you by the throat, made sadness press into your thoughts."

In time, it became extremely dangerous for Jews, many of whom left the city if they could, others tried to find a place to hide, but thousands were rounded up, virtually imprisoned for days and then shipped to concentration camps where most did not survive.

In spite of the risks, the French Resistance was a constant threat to the Germans. Rosbottom writes that the German troops “were more and more demoralized as they watched safe Paris become a site for both discriminate and indiscriminate attacks against the Occupier.”

Rosbottom marvels at the fact that Paris managed to survive the War almost unscathed. Hitler had ordered its destruction when the advancing allied armies forced the Germans to leave. How this was avoided is another remarkable tale. In contrast, most of the other large cities in Europe were virtually destroyed by the destructive power of seemingly constant allied bombing.

That is what was seen. But Rosbottom notes, “What the world did not see was the economic, social, and psychological damage wrought by the Occupation, which would take years to repair.”

Eventually this would be clearly seen as the surviving Jews, political prisoners, captured soldiers and others who had hidden in the country began returning to Paris. Rosbottom says, they were unrecognizable as the trauma they had endured lasted so very long.

He concludes, “There are, in the life of a nation, moments that wound its memory as well as the idea that one has of one’s country. This was one of those moments for France and from all accounts still is, more than 70 years after the Occupation ended."


Linda said...

What a awful time it must have been. Thankfully Paris survived, at least outwardly. I am fascinated by WWII as well. My children cannot understand it, think it is a morbid interest, people give me funny looks if I talk about reading on the subject. So I keep it to myself. I think we both see that particular conflagration as a turning point in history like no other. It should be studied. I think there is a dark theme in French literature, especially in the writings and thinking of Camus, Sartre, and their post-war contemporaries, that must be is some part a result of that experience. How could it not be.

Thank you for the recommendation.

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: My interest in WWII stems in part because I lived through it when I was very young. We lived at a beach town in Los Angeles then and were worried about a Japanese invasion of the west coast. We had ration cards to use at the market and long lines at gas stations. But also the French Resistance has drawn me to WWII, even though I probably romanticize it. But I don't romanticize the courage of the Allied soldiers or the Holocaust or the moral issues of those times. I'm not a historian by any means but I've written a lot on marks in the margin about the war and in an essay in As Time Goes By. See my Amazon page for the book at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0034OHPC0 or I could email you the essay. A cost free bargain. Richard

Linda said...

Richard, I have As Time Goes By. I believe I have everything you have written.

It's time to re-read it, I am leafing through it again and I see I have tabbed various pages and started an index of quotations in the flyleaf page. What was it again that Marilynn Robinson said about the solitary life on page 24? Ah yes, I remember it now.

Why do I forget what I have read? No matter, I can re-visit this friend and it will be like discovering it anew. Going up to bed and taking it with me.

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: I can't believe you have all of my books but that's truly wonderful to hear. Do you have my last two? Essays on Literature and one before that titled Just to Be There: Summers in Italy? Oh, it's very easy to forget the books or essays that anyone writes these days. And that is especially true for a person who has read a great deal. That's why I enjoy re-reading books that I've read before or think I have read before or haven't read before only to find out I have in fact read before. Richard

Linda said...

I will have your last two in short order - thank you Amazon.com. I forgot that you were writing a memoir of your travels in Italy, did not know you had finished it. And I had no idea you were working on Essays on Literature. I can't wait to get them.

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: These two books are nothing special or nothing new. They are almost entirely essays that have been in my other books. When you run out of ideas, these are the collections you publish. They will be no more of these. I'm working on the "great big and final project" now. Richard

Linda said...

I don't care, I still want them. Sometimes just by re-reading in another context, leading or following different pieces, or simply reading and the person I am today rather than a year or two ago.

Am veeerrrrryyyy curious about the great big and final work - but don't tell me anything!

Richard Katzev said...

Linda: You don't know how much I appreciate your interest in my books. Even though I don't consider myself a "writer" every writer dreams of having one reader. Richard