This very readable book presents an excellent survey of art and performance in Paris during the German occupation, June 1940 to August, 1944.
Who were the artists? Who stayed and who left? What did they do, produce or perform? What were the contacts with the Germans, and the resistance? Who was arrested and had to be released through appeals to the Germans?
The book eventually breaks into specific medium, and each art is discussed. Of course of all the artists writers proved the most problematic. Painting and sculpture may be too avant-guards but what does it mean? Poetry can mean nothing, even to the poet. Music can be dissonant or advanced twelve-tone stuff, but what’s its meaning? Dance retained it classical roots; opera of the fantasy kind always drew German crowds; drama was widely performed but suffered by the departure of the best playwrights. But writing has to mean something.
The Germans were onto writers, and after the War writers were as harshly treated as anyone except politicians – more than Renault who made money assembling tanks for the Germans. Mostly the French were civilized. Afterwar declamations and stinks seemed not to last long. There was disgrace and discomfort but by 1950 most recriminations had fallen but the way side.
Two problems arise from this survey. First there are references to parody, analogy and metaphor within specific art forms revealing disapproval, nasty anti-German messages. Admittedly a more complete exposition of these points would lengthen the book. The bibliography and few end notes may help – they are arranged by chapter. [An example of this criticism: The American broadcaster William L. Shirer reported from completely censored reports from Berlin. The Germans were happy until they learned Shirer had changing the meaning with intonation, inflection and inference inherent in English but not German. Shirer was close to arrest when he left Germany in December 1940.]
Second, there is no exposition of the mindset of the French people to culture especially before the War – what the French considered and what they disregarded. An understanding of a nation’s acceptance of culture and entertainment goes a long way to explaining how the French survived and why the Germans failed in their attempts to reduce French culture. E.g. An example of a cultural expectancy in the United States today a primary component of culture and entertainment is expediency.
One misstatement of fact, p. 313, Chapter 15, the American Army was in Paris a day before the French Army marched in in August 1944. See Andy Rooney who wrote about it for Stars and Stripes, and discussed the fact on Sixty Minutes.