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Nazi Paris: The History of an Occupation,…

Nazi Paris: The History of an Occupation, 1940-1944

by Allan Mitchell

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This 160 pages book is in fact 230 pages, if you add the abundant bibliography and indexes. It is therefore a scholar's work including still difficult of access sources like the Police archives at the Bibliotheque Nationale Paris.
It is the history of an occupation and for this reason describes the administration, laws, economy, culture and propaganda of the victors with an abundance of details.
It is also the chronology of an occupation, which the author divides in three distinct time periods with their corresponding changes of attitudes, leaders and fortunes of war:

Part 1: Taking Over (June 1940 - June 1941)
Part 2: Cracking Down (June 1941-November 1942)
Part 3: Holding On (November 1942 - June 1944

Part 1: details the chain of command of this part of France which was put under direct military administration, from the acronyms of its service - MBF is definetly more reader friendly than having to repeat Militarbefehhaber in Frankreich or Eisenbahntrasportabteilung or Generalbevollmachtiger fur den Arbeitseinsatz throughout the book, to petty administrative details; how should the french police salute the victors? how to regulate the brothels or control the price of Champagne (250 francs for a luxury brand).
In this chapter. the author sets clearly that such a successful occupation from the viewpoint of bringing law and order to 6. 785,000. inhabitants of "Gross Paris" would not have been achieved by 3,000. German police alone, without the Zusammenarbeit of the French police, and more specifically its criminal branch.

The author's style is accurate and to the point though not without elegance as when he describes the haphazard requisition of luxury parisian hotels by MBF:
'Personally sensitive and excitable, Stulpnagel attempted in vain to assert his primacy in Paris while others delibaretly set about to undermine it.
Still, his strenuous efforts were abetted by a dedicated bureaucratic cadre that included several outstanding military and civilian administrators. Housed on the Avenue Kleber in the sprawling Hotel Majectic, which instantly became a sort of huge ugly Vatican of the Occupation, they were divided into a military staff (Kommandostab) and a parallel administrative staff (Verwaltungsstab).
But the propaganda representations of "Der Rosenkavalier" or of "Fidelio" at the Opera were poor smoke screens to the harsh reality of what it took to "Aryanize" France: the Caqj, the sinister Drancy and the increasing use of hostages, the gathering of datas on Jewish households and businesses through the perfection of a police state.

In Part II, the author describes the hostage crisis and the use of Mont Valerien, outside Paris as killing ground, the ever increasing STO quotas of french workers deported to help the German war effort and the swift treatment of opponents by the Occupation authorities or its newly formed French milices. It also recalls the visit of Eichmann in Paris to implement the racial laws of Germany throughout France through regular weekly shipments of Jews - foreign and french - to Auschwitz via Sonderzug.

In Part III, it is narrated that Operation Torch. the landing of Americans in North Africa, brought the war back to France and altered the configuration of the occupation. Most interesting is the acceleration of a German gulag in France at the end of 1942 with its network of prisons within Paris with 120,000. persons going through jails or internment camps to be executed or deported.
As to the Jews, the last shipment left for "the East" one day before allied troops enter Paris.

The conclusion of the book deserves a mention as the authors' opinion seems to be that without the Occupation, Germans would have forever remained foreign to the French and vice versa. It is a bit of a topsy turvy conclusion. One in which the eternal enemy of yesterday becomes the reconciled economic partner of tomorrow. For the author, this occupation of Paris was a strange period which officials of both camps left on a short handshake which became a long one in front of the Reims Cathedral between the Ultra nationalist De Gaulle and Adenauer, personnifying Bonn.
The author could have mentioned that this reconciliation with Bonn is now prolonged with Berlin and that this long handshake has morphed into a warm kiss on the cheek under the Presidency of Sarkozy and the Chancellorship of Merkel...for the good of a united Europe, two strong economic engines finally Zusammen Arbeit.
Will that make Europeans Frei? But let's give back his conclusion to Mr. Mitchell:
"Under vastly different circumstances from those of the wartime Occupation in Paris, collaboration has prevailed after all..."
It would be oversimplifying complex preexisting relations to say that German Occupation benefitted the economic relations of these two countries 66 years later.
The Aristocracy of Germany in the XVIII th century looked towards France for cultural inspiration as the freemasonry of Frederick the Great and his links to Voltaire at Sans-souci or his secret military alliance with Louis XV, himself an ally of the Saxons and the Bavarians showed.

During the XIXth century and up to the fall of the IInd French Empire, Paris waltzed to the sounds of Jacques Offenbach, the son of a Koln synagogue Cantor and several thousands of Germans lived peacefully in Paris at that time up to the Franco-Prussian war started by a minority of ultra nationalists and religious fundamentalists.

Even had it facilitated later the economic integration of the two nations, the disreputable and odious means employed during this somber occupation period, such as waterboarding, random hostage shooting, deportations and even mass killings when all this ended in "queue de poisson" remember Oradour - Sur - Glane - would not justify its happy economic ending.

One can be wary of a Europe which would ignore or abandon its southern neighbors in exchange for a somewhat illusory better economic integration. ( )
  Artymedon | Sep 5, 2011 |
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Basing his extensive research into hitherto unexploited archival documentation on both sides of the Rhine, Allan Mitchell has uncovered the inner workings of the German military regime from the Wehrmacht¿?¿s triumphal entry into Paris in June 1940 to its ignominious withdrawal in August 1944. Although mindful of the French experience and the fundamental issue of collaboration, the author concentrates on the complex problems of occupying a foreign territory after a surprisingly swift conquest. By exploring in detail such topics as the regulation of public comportment, economic policy, forced labor, culture and propaganda, police activity, persecution and deportation of Jews, assassinations, executions, and torture, this study supersedes earlier attempts to investigate the German domination and exploitation of wartime France. In doing so, these findings provide an invaluable complement to the work of scholars who have viewed those dark years exclusively or mainly from the French perspective.… (more)

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