City of Light, City of Darkness

I’ve long been interested in cities under military occupation, and in particular in the ways in which armies spatialise the city in order to securitise it.  I still have a detailed presentation on the French occupation of Cairo at the end of the eighteenth century – for Edward Said the formative and diagnostic moment in the formation of a distinctively modern Orientalsim – and the US occupation of Baghdad at the beginning of the twenty-first.  The parallels are as striking as the differences, and one of these days I know I have to find the time to convert the image-stream into a word-stream.

So this explains why a new book on Paris under German occupation in the Second World War caught my eye.

DRAKE Paris at warDavid Drake‘s Paris at War, 1939-1945 from Harvard/Belknap was published last month:

Paris at War chronicles the lives of ordinary Parisians during World War II, from September 1939 when France went to war with Nazi Germany to liberation in August 1944. Readers will relive the fearful exodus from the city as the German army neared the capital, the relief and disgust felt when the armistice was signed, and the hardships and deprivations under Occupation. David Drake contrasts the plight of working-class Parisians with the comparative comfort of the rich, exposes the activities of collaborationists, and traces the growth of the Resistance from producing leaflets to gunning down German soldiers. He details the intrigues and brutality of the occupying forces, and life in the notorious transit camp at nearby Drancy, along with three other less well known Jewish work camps within the city.

The book gains its vitality from the diaries and reminiscences of people who endured these tumultuous years. Drake’s cast of characters comes from all walks of life and represents a diversity of political views and social attitudes. We hear from a retired schoolteacher, a celebrated economist, a Catholic teenager who wears a yellow star in solidarity with Parisian Jews, as well as Resistance fighters, collaborators, and many other witnesses.

Drake enriches his account with details from police records, newspapers, radio broadcasts, and newsreels. From his chronology emerge the broad rhythms and shifting moods of the city. Above all, he explores the contingent lives of the people of Paris, who, unlike us, could not know how the story would end.

Here is the Contents list:

Prologue
Introduction: The Road to War: September 1938–September 1939
1. The Phoney War: September 3, 1939–May 10, 1940
2. Blitzkrieg and Exodus: May 10, 1940–June 14, 1940
3. Parisians and Germans, Germans and Parisians
4. Paris, German Capital of France
5. Unemployment, Rationing, Vichy against Jews, Montoire
6. From Mass Street Protest to the “Führer’s Generous Gesture”
7. Protests, Pillaging, “V” for Victory, the First Roundup of Jews
8. Resistance and Repression
9. Resistance, Punishment, Allied Bombs, and Deportation
10. SS Seizure of Security, the Yellow Star, the Vél’d’hiv’ Roundup, La Relève
11. Denunciations, Distractions, Deprivations
12. Labour Conscription, Resistance, the French Gestapo
13. Anti-Bolshevism, Black Market, More Bombs, Drancy
14. A Serial Killer on the Run, Pétain in Paris, the Milice on the Rampage, the Allies on Their Way
15. The Liberation of Paris
Conclusion

For a principled contemporary account, incidentally, and one that reverberates with the power of the literary sensibility that was so repugnant to the Nazis, it’s hard to beat Jean Guéhenno‘s Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris.

2 thoughts on “City of Light, City of Darkness

  1. I obviously wasn’t as clear as I should have been – the presentation is mine, but my interest in the French occupation of Cairo (other than the stark parallels with the US occupation of Baghdad) also arose because, for Edward Said writing in Orientalism, Napoleon’s bloody ‘moment in the sun’ marked the inauguration of a specifically modern form of Orientalism. I’ve written about this in ‘DisOrdering the Orient’ (DOWNLOADS) but the original presentation on Cairo/Baghdad would take some work before I could post it here.

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