They could only party at the Germans’ behest…


Departure of French war labourers to Germany from Paris’ Gare du Nord, May 1943. Photograph via German National Archives.

From The Guardian:

So unprepared had France been for defeat that resistance had had no time to organise in these early days and those who did want to act against the Nazis didn’t know how. Moreover, Paris was a city that had been significantly “feminised” – many of its menfolk captured or killed at the front, so women often found themselves facing the occupier alone, able to rationalise the need to do deals in return for favours, the release of a husband or father in jail, for example.

At the same time, those Parisians who lived for the city’s glamour and style insisted the show must go on – telling themselves perhaps that maintaining a way of life was itself a form of resistance, even though they knew full well that they could only party at the Germans’ behest.

By 1941, with anti-Jewish propaganda intensifying in readiness for the expulsions, the abhorrent character of the occupation was becoming clear. Yet even then, as Sebba recounts in stupefying detail, many of the actresses, opera singers and cabaret artistes continued to perform before packed audiences of German officers, many even taking up Goebbels’ offer to visit Germany on propaganda tours, even as the first Jewish roundups were under way.

There were, however, many other women who by now were reacting to the German occupation very differently and the main interest in the book focuses on the personalities of those who began to say no. The true extent of resistance among women will never be known but is certainly far larger than has ever been recognised; after the war most never talked about what they’d done to resist – either because nobody asked women, whose contribution was deemed uninteresting, or because those who had not resisted didn’t want to know the stories of those who had. Moreover,, as recounted here, many female resisters were arrested and thousands ended their lives in concentration camps. As many as 10,000 French women were imprisoned in the camp for women, Ravensbrück. The stories of these returnees were, by and large, ignored too.

“Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s – review”, Sarah Helm, The Guardian