On the strong recommendation of David Foster, the Daughter-Unit and I began to watch: A French Village, that seven-season long miniseries which follows five years of German occupation and a bit of the aftermath as it affects the lives of a handful of characters in a small town in eastern France close to the Swiss border – from the day that the German invaders arrive, to the aftermath of the occupation, in a fractured peace, when all was said and done. (It’s available through Amazon Prime.) A good few of the occupants of that village did not really welcome liberation and had damn good reasons – guilty consciences, mostly, for having collaborated with the Germans with varying degrees of enthusiasm. (A benefit is that this series stars actors of whom we have never heard, in French with English subtitles. Given how the establishment American entertainment media has gone all noisily woke, anti-Trump and abusive towards us conservative residents of Flyoverlandia, this is a darned good thing. Seriously, for years and years I used to only personally boycott Jane Fonda and Cat Stevens, now my list of ‘oh, hell NEVER! actors and personalities is well into the scores.)
By the outbreak of the Second World War, France and Germany had been in a love-hate relationship for a good few decades, if not at least a century. France had the style, the dash, the verve, the command of fashion and culture for decades, while Germany had a lock on scientific and medical talent, military efficiency, and a not inconsiderable sideline in mad musical skilz. In that last, and in elevated artistic and philosophical discourse they were about neck and neck. France and Germany also seem – from the point of view of an American looking backwards at that period – to also have been neck and neck when it comes to virulent anti-Antisemitism. France also contained a notable number of Communists, who were die-hard opponents of Nazism throughout the 1930s, then cynically allied with them through the medium of the Nazi-Soviet Pact … and then the Commies did another U-turn upon the Nazi invasion of Mother Russia, from whence the major support for international Communism had originated, by design and intent. (This series of disconcerting U-turns disillusioned a good few international anti-Fascist sympathizers of a more independent intellectual bent, although American Commie-symps like Lillian Hellman, Howard Zinn and Pete Seeger obediently followed where the Soviet Master Party led, throughout every violent U-turn. No doubt they each came up with a comforting reason for this ‘ally today, enemy tomorrow’ route through the political landscape.)
This whole German occupation of France turned out to be a bit more complicated than contemporary movies, and movies made shortly afterwards had it, although at this late date, anyone or any institution with a reputation to lose over how they conducted themselves during the Occupation has already done damage control or died of old age. There is a bitter joke to the effect that the French Resistance had more members enrolled post-war than during it. Understandable; once the emergency is past, every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or a Resistant. A French citizen who was a Resistant from the moment of occupation by Nazi Germany was a rare creature indeed; likely a social misanthrope with no family or employment to be endangered, a die-hard political hard-liner, or bearing anti-German resentments left over from twenty years previously, when French and German armies had slaughtered each other in job-lots of millions in the trenches of the Western Front. Later, when the hardships imposed by the German Occupation began to bite, apprehensions over just what was happening to the Jews transported east, and it began to look as if the Nazis just might possibly lose – this did wonders for recruiting to various Resistant groups.
How the Occupation affected ordinary people is vividly reflected in A French Village. Most characters are just trying to get by, living an ordinary, unspectacular life; earning a living, running a profitable business, maintaining a professional career arc, taking care of their families, friends, patients and students, having a little fun, and making do. This tracks with what I have read in various histories and memoirs and from what I understand of basic human nature. Damn few of us wake up in the morning and decide to be Joan of Arc, going down (or up) in flames. We have things to do, our ordinary uncinematic life to live … even when the choice presents itself to us, naked and unashamed.
Although in certain situations, many of us do choose the right thing on the spot: to reach out and succor, provide a lifeline of rescue from an inhumanly brutal situation. There was an account and listing of the various Righteous Gentiles who took a part in rescuing Jews from the Nazis across Occupied Europe; a good number acted on an initial decent impulse, upon appeal from friends, neighbors, and sometimes total strangers. Those people took it upon themselves – and they were ordinary, human, perhaps otherwise self-centered people – a risk; of death by work camp, firing squad, or whatever painful fate the local Nazi occupying authority had decreed. This is where, I think, most of the later Resistants came from: something personal tripped their trigger and from that moment on, they were all-in.
There is one more element, and this insight I came to as a result of reading a couple of memoirs and histories. One of them was an account of the life of Anne Frank; after the arrest and internment of her family and friends. Long afterwards a good number of the near neighbors to the House Behind said that basically, yeah, they knew there was something going on; likely Jews hiding in the outbuildings to Otto Frank’s business. They suspected that something was going on but chose to turn a blind eye. Another was an account of a doctor and his wife running a safe house catering to escaping soldiers and shot-down aircrew in the south of France – this in an apartment block which was a base for the doctor’s practice and residence. They took every precaution, laying every imaginable precaution on their guests; walking in stocking feet, no flushing of the toilet, speaking above a whisper during business hours – but still, I am pretty certain that in spite of all that, the neighbors knew very well that something was going on – all those suspiciously fit young men without any knowledge of the French language appearing at all hours, even if briefly?
The final evidence for a conviction that a large element of Resistance success depended on ordinary citizens keeping quiet about local and specific observances came from a talk with a survivor of the B-17 crew, of which my uncle James Menaul had been a member. Uncle Jimmy’s B-17 was shot down over France, upon return from the massive and disastrous attack on the Schweinfurt ball-bearing factories. My uncle and several of his crew were fatalities in that raid, but six of his comrades survived. One was captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW, but the other five had the good fortune to be collected by French Resistants and smuggled to Switzerland.
That survivor related to me an episode of being on a crowded French train, escorted by an older lady who had papers from the Red Cross attesting to her good citizenship and permission to travel freely, and a teenage boy who was below the age where he could be pressed into forced labor. He and his comrade, another evading aircrew member, were fitted out with French clothing and suitable false papers – but he said that he wasn’t assured that the clothing and papers convinced anyone in the least, save the Germans. (1943, France: young and obviously fit men, with good teeth, innocent of subtle cultural markers? Yeah, they would have stood out, as if marked with fluorescent paint…When I passed through Greece and to Spain in 1985, I could always pick out other Americans in a crowd. Imagine how it would have been forty years and plus earlier.) At some point in the train journey, according to my contact, German authorities entered the passenger car, and began working their way through it, checking everyone’s papers and tickets. At that moment, and almost simultaneously without any apparent advance coordination, every single one of the other passengers in that railway car began doing random, spontaneous stuff… talking loudly, dropping things, getting up out of their seats – doing everything possible to distract attention away from the pair of American airmen. A small thing – but vital. Did it contribute to their eventual escape to Switzerland? No notion, and it’s not a matter that can be tested. But there you have it. My interviewee believed it did, and that it was spontaneous, among a random group of railway travelers in a French train in late 1943.
Sometimes, resistance takes the form of committed actions. And sometimes – that milder form of turning away and deliberately not seeing what you have seen and noted, and keeping your mouth shut about it.
28 thoughts on “Occupation – A French Village”
The first part of this was on the local PBS station Thursday night:
Of course to leftists the attitude that you should keep your head down and just try to survive such times is “false consciousness” and is deserving of death, in general, and “reeducation” if they’re feeling generous.
I don’t think we Americans can really comprehend what Europeans went through in the early 20th century. There are still living people who lived under the Nazis. Sure, many of the Euro politicians are just basically “nice” commies, but there are also those who are honestly motivated to make sure such traumas can’t ever happen again.
I don’t think we Americans can really comprehend what Europeans went through in the early 20th century. There are still living people who lived under the Nazis.
I knew some Iron Curtain refugees in my hometown: a woman from Estonia who was 8 years old when the Soviets invaded, and a couple from Ukraine, who had gotten out courtesy of being sent to Germany during WW2 as “guest workers.” They were reluctant to speak about their experiences, so I didn’t press the issue. The woman from Estonia once said to me that atheists ran the same risk in the US that Christians did in the Soviet Union. As I was an atheist at the time, and had written an essay in 8th grade on my atheism in an essay contest on The Moral Code of Youth, I knew this wasn’t the case, but I didn’t press the issue. I did incur a slight penalty- one of the essay judges told a friend that there was no way an atheist would win the essay contest, but that was a minor penalty.As of last year, I knew the woman from Estonia was still alive, from a mutual friend/acquaintance.
An earlier film treatment of the occupation in France was The Sorrow and the Pity. I believe I saw it at a Friday night film series on campus.
I also want to make sure it’s clear I’m not minimizing Commie atrocities by mentioning Nazis. I doubt there was a worse place to live in all of human history than Ukraine/Poland in the 30s and 40s. The fact that there is a “serious” national political figure who honeymooned in the USSR and basically has never had a bad thing to say about them is disgraceful and disturbing.
When I passed through Greece and to Spain in 1985, I could always pick out other Americans in a crowd.
When I worked in Argentina, it was easy to pick me out as an American. Jeans instead of black or navy dress pants. Colorful shirts or t-shirts w some slogan or picture instead of white or blue dress shirts. One reason I didn’t try to hide being an American was that most people liked to talk to Americans. I found it an advantage to be an American in Latin America- contrary to the lefty meme that most people down there hated the imperialist Yanquis/Gringos.
One consequence of being seen as an American was that on occasion a local would come up to me to denounce the military regime. In Spanish, of course. Contrary to what Bernie Sanders believed about Cuba, those who rely on translators in despotic regimes will not get candid opinions. Those who denounced the military were traditional Peronistas, not supporters of the left-wing guerrillas.
(Of the left-wing guerrillas and the military in Argentina, I am reminded about what Truman said about Nazis invading the Soviet Union, and Kissinger about the Iran/Iraq war- I hope they both lose. Which is pretty much what happened.)
The US today has quite a few collaborators, and we’re not even occupied!
Collaborators with Chinese imperialism are particularly visible at the moment, but there have been also plenty of collaborators and enabler of radical and violent Islam.
One factor that ought to be considered is the demoralizing effect of the 1940 defeat. It wasn’t just defeat, it was an epochal humiliation. THe French thought they could fight; then they got run over like a speed bump. After that, it didn’t seem like there was any point to fighting. That included most of France’s national leadership.
I think the reaction in minor countries like Norway or Belgium was different. They never had any expectation of beating Germany on their own, so getting run over wasn’t a morale-breaking surprise. And with Britain, and then the USSR and US coming in, they could see they were on a side that could win.
The story about the French in the railroad car is remarkable. Solidarity means a lot.
Here’s a related story. Major Vladmir Peniakoff (better known as “Popski”) operated for several months in 1942 as a British agent in Axis-occupied Libya. He worked with the Senussi Arabs of eastern Libya, who hated their Italian overlords (and their German allies).
In June, the Axis captured Tobruk, with tens of thousands of Allied prisoners. Many were kept in a poorly guarded stockade in the town of Derna. Popski arranged for men who got out to be collected by his Arab collaborators. Soon he had a camp of over 100 escapees in the desert not more than 20 miles away from Derna, who incidentally had to be fed and housed by the Arabs.
At this point, one Arab, a twit offended by Popski’s “disrespect” of him, tried to inform the Italians about the operation. At first they just laughed at him. Then they called in the leading sheiks of the area, who all said they had seen no British agents for months. Still, the Italians sent a couple of motorized patrols to look around.
Popski, with over 100 men on foot, in flat, barren country, played hide-and-seek for several days, till the Italians gave up. (Which of course required Arab assistance.) The escapees were later evacuated to Egypt by the LRDG. Popski wrote later that in all the time he spent in Libya, no operation was ever compromised by any leak through the Arabs.
No doubt they each came up with a comforting reason for this ‘ally today, enemy tomorrow’ route through the political landscape.)
My own personal observation of liberals is that, along with other defining qualities, any sort of demand for internal consistency is close to nonexistent. Something in what makes them liberals also renders them capable of believing both “A” and “Not A” simultaneously. It’s like two different parts of their brain are operational, and ne’er the two shall meet.
“My own personal observation of liberals is that, along with other defining qualities, any sort of demand for internal consistency is close to nonexistent.”
To be fair, this is a human feature, not just a liberal feature.
But I am amazed at the brazenness with which this phenomenon is playing out regarding Syria right now–Democrats/liberals are suddenly incredibly concerned with the Kurds in Syria, when they firmly held that there was nothing we could do as Syria (and Iran and Russia) murdered hundreds of thousands of people while Obama was president, and they supported complete and total withdrawal from Iraq, no matter the consequences (IIRC Obama himself said in 2008 that we should withdraw even if it led to genocide, but it’s possible that was a different Dem). So their meltdown right now is totally preposterous.
I’m still not at all sure how the Dems are going to respond next year when a major part of Trump’s campaign is going to be that he is the first president since I don’t even know who not to start any foreign wars. Do they really think that “Trump abandoned the Kurds” is somehow going to win votes when the response will be “The Democrats wanted to start a war with Turkey”? Do they honestly think any serious voting bloc exists who wants to intervene in the centuries (millenia?) old fight between the Turks and the Kurds? I guess it shows why they’re all in on impeachment because they’ve got nothing else. All they have is OrangeManBad.
One consequence of being seen as an American was that on occasion a local would come up to me to denounce the military regime. In Spanish, of course.
If any of you have read Mark Bowden’s “Guests of the Ayatollah, in his description of visiting the former embassy, the guards as he was leaving said “George Bush!” and gave him a thumbs up. That, of course, was during the Iraq invasion, about the time Gaddafi mistakenly gave up his nukes.
Any disillusionment with the US as ally came with Hillary and Barry Soetero.
My middle daughter, who is fluent in Spanish, visited Cuba when she was about 18. She was a lefty and told a girlfriend that she “wanted to see if Socialism worked.” Through her fluency, she quickly learned it is a prison.
My middle daughter, who is fluent in Spanish, visited Cuba when she was about 18. She was a lefty and told a girlfriend that she “wanted to see if Socialism worked.” Through her fluency, she quickly learned it is a prison.
Knowing the language makes all the difference in the world. Then there is Bernie Sanders, who considers himself an authority on all things Castro, bringing enlightenment to the ignorant proles. Bernie made a trip to Cuba in 1989. Upon his return,he gave an interview in the Burlington Free Press (April 1,1989. page 6), which was later quoted in The Daily Beast:When Bernie Sanders thought Castro and the Sandinistas Could Teach America a Lesson.
Bernie learned about that “almost religious affection” through a translator. Any inhabitant of a totalitarian state like Cuba, upon being introduced to a foreigner with a translator, will conclude that the translator is a government employee who will report any dissenting opinions to the proper authorities. It was extremely naive on Bernie’s part to assume that all or even most of those opinions of “almost religious affection” for Fearless Leader were truthful opinions, rather than what the speaker figured the government wanted to hear.
Also note Bernie’s “revolution in human values.” Rather like Lenin’s New Soviet Man, a.k.a. Che’s New Man, a.k.a. Hugo Chavez’s New Man. If Bernie ain’t a Commie, then why does he parrot Commie propaganda?
My previous anonymous comment.
Rather like Lenin’s New Soviet Man, a.k.a. Che’s New Man, a.k.a. Hugo Chavez’s New Man
It all goes back to the “Blank Slate” of Stephen Jay Gould and his disciples. They are still very strong on the left.
Stephen Pinker seems an unlikely right winger but he demolishes the left’s “new man.”
Do they really think that “Trump abandoned the Kurds” is somehow going to win votes when the response will be “The Democrats wanted to start a war with Turkey”?
Does any honest observer have the slightest doubt that five minutes after Trump intervened militarily the entire left, as one man, would be screaming that he was a war-monger, holding candlelight vigils, blubbing about “giving peace a chance,” and demanding that our “children” be brought home immediately?
If Trump were to intervene, the Reds would think that all their … well, not Christmases, but May Days, maybe – had arrived at once.
It all goes back to the “Blank Slate” of Stephen Jay Gould and his disciples.
Such a piercing intellect he was. He invented the “blank slate,” which is totally different from the “tabula rasa” that’s been around for a century or two.
When I read of modern-day apologists for Socialism and Communism, I am reminded, once again, of the fatal flaw in this present generation: namely, they have not truly witnessed the sheer brutality meted out by those who were on the ‘winning’ side in what amounted to a Communist dictatorship.
At the age of seventy-nine, I can look back upon a lifetime spent in freedom; the freedoms which we take for granted; of the freedom to marry, to raise a family, to work, to relax and to participate, however small that participation may have been, in the continuation of Democracy.
But I digress: I remember a time, when, much younger, I was an Engineer Officer in the British Merchant Navy. I served on board a vessel which ran from England through the Med., and on to Greece, Istanbul in Turkey: then through the Bosphorus into the Black sea ports of Bulgaria and Romania. I wrote about this on my own site, but would copy a few sentences from this post to give modern day readers some idea of what the Socialist Paradise actually ‘lived’ like.
I would like to tell you about a small occurrence in Constanta, during my last trip there in 1963, to demonstrate what it was actually like living in a Socialist paradise! The whole port area was cordoned off, with barbed wire everywhere, uniformed gun-carrying guards everywhere, and access was strictly controlled. The harbour itself was protected by a harbour wall, upon which fishermen used to sit or stand for hours, hoping to increase their meagre rations by the free bounty of the sea. Access and egress was controlled by heavily-guarded gates, through which the fishermen had to pass when leaving the dockside. The rule was that every fisherman was allowed three fish free through, but any caught over that number had to be offered to the gate guards. If they didn’t want the excess, or they had already confiscated enough, the fishermen were allowed through with their extra fish, but; I stress, the fish had to be declared! We, as filthy capitalists, were allowed into the city, but only after being issued with special passes which were suspiciously scrutinised by the gate guards, and as you can imagine, in a labour-intensive place like a port, there were massive queues come knocking-off time! We headed out into town round about six in the evening, but there was still a substantial queue in the locals’ queue, which we were able to by-pass, being filthy-rich capitalists, you understand; so it was from an an almost empty gate lane that we saw the true face of Communism in action!
A fisherman had caught seven fish, and had shown the required three, and had declared a further two, but had slung the other two fish from twine down his back, under his coat. Because of the long queues, the slime and blood from the fish had started to leak, and had run down his back onto his trousers. He had in fact passed through the gate, and has started walking up the rise towards the main road, when the ‘spotter’, a guard who, presumably posted to watch for just this occasion, called out to his machine-gun toting buddies, three of whom raced out and surrounded the ‘criminal’. They pulled his coat off, took the fish and threw them on the ground; then knocked the fisherman down and commenced kicking him until he lay silent, broken and bloody on the pavement! This in full view of maybe five hundred men standing silently in the queues! As the string of workers was passed through the gates, they one by one passed the broken body by, as though he had been infected with some dread contagious disease, never stopping, never looking! In the end, after maybe fifteen had walked by, we went forward, lifted him onto our arms and carried him the hundred yards to a café. Here we paid the owner to phone for an ambulance, which arrived about twenty minutes later, and the silent but still breathing body of a man who had committed the heinous crime of trying to feed his family was slid into the rear of the vehicle, which slowly rolled away! We never were able to find out what happened, whether the man lived or died, the people who spoke English in the Port clammed up like stones when we attempted to find out his fate!
On the beaches of Mamaia the accents of the holidaymakers now come from Burnley, Glasgow and Leipzig, the beaches are still fronted by the concrete blocks, and the blood still seeps through the foundations into the soil!
On a different subject: expect some sort of major anti-Trump story with associated MSM hysteria to break Wednesday or Thursday, since supposedly the FISA abuse IG report is going to drop on Friday…
I don’t think we Americans can really comprehend what Europeans went through in the early 20th century.
Not trying to be contrarian but let me modify that a touch: I don’t think we Americans can really comprehend what Europeans brought upon themselves in the early 20th century.
Thank goodness for the Second Amendment.
On a different subject: expect some sort of major anti-Trump story with associated MSM hysteria to break Wednesday or Thursday, since supposedly the FISA abuse IG report
The Ukraine/impeachment story is already on its last legs. Schiff is now saying that maybe they don’t need to “interview” the leaker/whistleblower.
I think Biden is done and Warren is the next great leftist hope. The Kurds ! may be another attempt. Coming from the people who abandoned Vietnam, it’s not going too far.
Comparing Biden’s drugged up kid to Trump’s kids is not working too well. What next ? Notice how the China trade deal story is hidden?
Who knows. Honestly, I would not be surprised if NY announces they’re indicting Trump associates, family members, perhaps even himself. Things are going to get really, really nasty.
Seriously, I expect that any day, they will try and charge Trump with mopery, dopery and picking his nose in Poughkeepsie, it’s gotten to be this ridiculous.
Things are going to get really, really nasty.
I agree that sometime before the scheduled date of the election in 2020 that the Left will attempt to assassinate President Trump and his allies and their families. What is going to count is what happens then. I submit to the group that tolerance would not be a good or workable response.
Subotai: I actually don’t think that’s all that likely. I think we’re going to see worse–the Dems are going to try to put him, and his allies, family, etc, in prison. They’re playing with fire. Your point about the response being critical is still true. They must be stopped, brutally, or we’re finished.
Brian, I am probably more cynical than you. The enemy has a repeated history of violations of laws and physical violence that have been covered up and protected by Democrat authorities, prosecutors, and judges in jurisdictions all over the country.
I have spent a lot of time [decades] back when I was still wearing a badge dealing with and becoming an expert on criminal types, mostly violent felons. I think the violence by them is going to escalate, and become more deadly as they become more desperate.
YMMV, but I am expecting deadly force soon. We will see who is right.
I doubt there was a worse place to live in all of human history than Ukraine/Poland in the 30s and 40s.
I had a Jewish friend who did live in the Ukraine in the 1930s. She and her family were shipped off to Siberia before the Germans marched into Minsk. She spent her early teenage years in Siberia. IDK the whole situation (she recently died) but as I recall her dad was a scientist, valuable to the war effort, and Stalin wanted him out of harm’s way. They were shipped from back from Siberia to Belarus in ’47 where she got an degree in engineering and worked in a manufacturing plant as a drafter.
She was the smartest and most interesting person I’ve ever known.
Subotai: The rhetoric attacking Trump actually isn’t that unusual for the left, they’ve said pretty much the same thing about every GOP president for the past 40 years, and that’s as far back as my memory goes. The number of people who actually act on such things is thankfully pretty low (although one does have to wonder about the conspiracy theories regarding the Las Vegas shooter, and about Epstein’s “suicide”, doesn’t one?). But I do think it is new and unprecedented and dangerous for them to basically openly state that they are going to come after him through the legal system, to criminalize political differences, for the rest of his life, and probably his children’s lives.
Seems like the WWII French preferred the Nazi “visitors” who they could hold at arms length, to the “traitors” in theirown government (socialists/Communists/Marxists/internationalists/etc). The vulnerability to a German invasion in the “north” was obvious since WWI.
Looks like that battle is still going on, Yellow Vests and all.
Comments are closed.