John Murray, £25. Order at £22.50 inc. p&p from the Independent Bookshop

When Paris Went Dark, The City of Light under German Occupation, 1940-44 by Ronald Rosbottom, book review

Remembering Paris's passive acceptance of Nazi occupation

My parents, who lived through the blitz, used to divide the nations of Europe into two categories – those who had fought "a good war" and those who had not. In the first camp were the Russians, Greeks, the Yugoslavs and ourselves. Heading the latter were the French. A tad simplistic, I thought at the time, but after reading Rosbottom's account of the German occupation of Paris, I wonder if they weren't right after all.

It is well known that the Germans virtually strolled into Paris in June 1940 without firing a shot. I didn't know some Parisians lined up to wave, impressed by the German soldiers' "correctness" and blond good-looks. Nor did I know that the Parisians snitched on each other over the following four years with quite such dedication.

Rosbottom devotes considerable space to Hitler's personal take on Paris, which is important because Germany's kid-glove approach to the City of Light – for the first two years of the occupation – was not a policy that evolved on site. The line came directly from the Führer. On 28 June, Hitler staged a personal visit to the French capital, to which he came not so much as conqueror as tourist. He stopped at the Opera and the Sacré-Coeur, paused to be snapped near the Eiffel tower and also allowed himself to be photographed staring reverently at Napoleon's tomb in Les Invalides. The tone of the visit sent out a message: Paris was not to be treated like other occupied cities. It was "one of the jewels of Europe", Hitler had declared, and it was to act as a showcase for what other countries in Europe could expect if they played their cards right.

The Parisians certainly did that. The city scarcely missed a beat. The police continued their patrols, schools continued teaching, artists dabbled away in their ateliers and the film studios continued to churn out movies.

The brothels did sterling business, helped by the fact that German soldiers on the Eastern front were encouraged to take time off in Paris, not to loot or kill, but to have fun. They were equipped with a little guide, which provided tips on how to navigate the metro and not get up the Parisians' noses.

Most Parisians, Rosbottom suggests, responded in kind. Crowds flocked to see a major anti-Semitic exhibition, "Le Juif et la France". They snitched like fury. When the Germans urged them to start informing on their neighbours, the result was information overload: Parisians deluged them with so much stuff that they felt overwhelmed. The police, loyal to the French collaborationist government, based in Vichy, were zealous in the performance of their duties. It was the Vichy police who rounded up Jews as young as two in a lightning raid known as Le Grand Rafle in 1942. It was they who herded them into a sports stadium, the Vélodrome d'Hiver, held them there in hellish conditions and then packed them off to their deaths in Germany. Rosbottom searches for evidence that some French police disobeyed orders, but in vain.

Inevitably, the most heart-breaking chapter is about the Jews. Two-thirds of French Jews lived in Paris and while some newer arrivals were poor, religious and kept themselves apart, many were prosperous and so assimilated that they were barely aware of their origins. Rosbottom quotes the diary of a schoolgirl, Annette Muller, who felt shocked on being told to wear a yellow star. "I was ashamed," she wrote. "I wanted so much to be like the others, good people, clean and proper."

Inevitably, those who set such store on being "good people" were easy targets. Many clung to a pathetic belief that their "correct" behaviour towards the Germans and the Vichy police would save them. They queued obediently for the dreaded stars and went equally passively to their deaths, waiting in their apartments for the doorbell to ring and for the police to take them away. Gerard Caspary, a survivor, recalled "the shrill sound of the bell – ringing, ringing, ringing", on the morning when they came for his parents. As Rosbottom notes, the strange entente between the Parisians and the Germans only broke down as the occupation went on and on – as the pretence faded that the Germans were only there as temporary visitors. But the impression gained from the book is that tempers only frayed seriously once the food began to run out.

Marcus Tanner's latest book, 'Albania's Mountain Queen', is published by I.B.Tauris

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?