The shameful peace

The shameful peace: how French artists and intellectuals survived the Nazi occupation by Frederic Spotts It is a period that French people don’t want to talk about very often, or rather, avoid talking about it. 

It is a period that still brings embarrassment and humiliation for the generation now, still feel shameful. 

1940, Europe was divided and in a great war. Nazi Germany advanced and invaded half of the world. Vichy government did nothing to resist Germans take over. After all, this government itself had no hesitation to get rid of Jews, Freemasons, and communists whatever the cost. 

A nation which had given birth to so many thinkers, artists, and intellectuals, a nation which inspired so many cultures, France now faced a wrenching challenge. From 1940-1945, artists and intellectuals, must come up with a choice. Some of them chose to escape, some barely survived, some became heroes but some, willingly, became collaborators.  

The propaganda machine had been on long before the armistice. The main aim was simple, to destroy French culture and to bring in a superiority of German culture over French culture. Paris became a city where one festival by another. Leading German musicians played Mozart, Wagner, and Beethoven. In 1942 and 1943, there were seventy one concerts orchestrated by German musicians. The author pointed out, ‘never in peacetime, much less in wartime, had there been such a massive cultural assault’. (p. 43.)

It was just one of the examples of cultural invasion.  While artists, even prominent like Jean Cocteau, became a heartless collabo, Andre Gide, and others, joined resistance or refused to write any word under censorship of German or Vichy. However, it was shameful that so many intellectuals were happy to fit in. Artists salons were flourish at the time. Paris was in a festival mood with new fashion and many publications that didn’t lack prominent artists and writers.  

The book is very well researched and is full of anecdotes and facts. It reminds everyone that in history, there were times that when war might not destroy innocent souls, then culture could.