The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s
Shanghai on the Métro: Spies, Intrigue, and the French between the Wars
French Fascism: The Second Wave, 1933–1939
French Literary Fascism: Nationalism, Anti-Semitism, and the Ideology of Culture
Prison Journal 1940–1945
La France à l'heure allemande, 1940–1944
Etre juif en France pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale
Paris after the Liberation, 1944–1949
The Locust Years: The story of the Fourth French Republic, 1946–1958
In the tenth arrondissement of Paris, against the imposing façade of the Gare de l’Est, there is a large square, the Place du 11 Novembre 1918. From the south the square is approached and bisected by the Boulevard de Strasbourg; the Avenue de Verdun enters it from the east, while just to the west the Boulevard de Magenta leads away toward the Rue de Rocroy: three famous French battles and the date marking France’s victory in World War I, which saw the recovery of Alsace and its capital. Observing this evocation of the glory that was France, the casual visitor could be forgiven for failing to notice that one corner of the square and a nondescript block to the west of it are officially the “Rue du 8 Mai 1945.” Between the proud celebration of bloody national glories, with the war that ended in November 1918 the bloodiest of them all, and a modest acknowledgment of the Allied victory over Hitler the contrast is quite striking.
Despite the fact that 1945 ostensibly represented a new beginning for France, it is paradoxically the citizens of defeated nations—Germans and Austrians in particular—who celebrate the end of World War II as a liberation. For them it represented “zero hour,” the moment at which the slate was wiped clean and a new era begun. The French had no such luck. The significance of victory was clouded by the memory of defeat and by the ambiguities of occupation and collaboration. Set against the noble certainties of 1918 the meaning of 1945 was unclear.
In the first place, it was by no means obvious just what had begun and what had ended. The political authorities born of the Resistance thought it prudent to speak and act as though the Vichy government of 1940–1944 had been a brief, unhappy interlude, a sort of illegitimate interruption of republican continuity. In this, and in their claim that collaboration had been the work of a tiny minority, they echoed the mood of the country. This unity of purpose, however, was bought at the price of an incomplete confrontation with the memory and experience of the occupation years. In later decades this unfinished business would return to haunt national politics, but from the start it bequeathed to the Fourth Republic, inaugurated in 1946, a multitude of magistrates, administrators, policemen, bankers, and others who had made the transition from collaboration to postwar life unscathed. They, and the wartime regime that had employed them, clung mustily to the idea of an enduring French nation which was continuing pre-Vichy traditions.
But the Vichy regime had not come from nowhere. Just as 1944 did not signal the end of a troubled past, so 1940 had by no means marked a radical departure. Though it suited few to admit it, there was very little about Vichy that could not be found, if only embryonically, in the public life of the prewar Third Republic. To say this is not to diminish the significance, and the enormity,…
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