"Paris in July" has returned! This terrific blog event features posts from loads of bloggers related to food, movies, books, music, travel, photos, art -- you name it! Check Tamara's site HERE for links to other participants. I tend to read and watch a lot of WWII history. It seems to be a period in time that is repeating itself all too soon in many parts of the world, but notably the United States. While I have read wonderful novels on the resistance, I'm not so familiar with the "real deal." Enter "Les Parisiennes," a non-fiction tome by Anne Sebba, which is fascinating, well written and well worth your time.
The subtitle of the book is "How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died Under Nazi Occupation." And it delivers its promise.
"Les Parisiennes" follows women who were both resistantes and collaborators during the war, even some who tried to walk that center line -- not "really" collaborating but certainly not "resisting" the attentions of the German occupiers of Paris or what they might provide.
Although Sebba doesn't address it directly, it seems that an underlying theme is "what do you need to do to survive?" And, by extension, "What would you do in the situation."
In the book we meet women of incomparable bravery, those who would deliver explosives hidden under their shirts or beneath their baby in the pram; women who hid Allied soldiers and Jewish families; others who passed notes, messages and weapons. We also meet those sympathetic to the Vichy government, "friends" who sold out others.
The women in France weren't just the French. Sebba also looks at the women of the OSE, Britain's group of women who parachuted into the country, both for the purposes of spying and for assisting in the resistance.
Stories, many first person, tell of the round-ups from apartments and homes, the looting and confiscation of not only art but household goods from the Jewish homes, and the struggles for food during the occupation. They are harrowing but powerful, to see such tragedy -- and in some cases, survival.
The book follows a number of the political prisoners to Ravensbruck, the women's concentration camp where dreadful medical experiments were done on many of the prisoners. The chapters related to the camp are quite graphic -- and they should be. We must not forget.
"Les Parisiennes" isn't your typical "summer reading." No carefree walks along the Seine, no picnics in the Tuileries. Yes, there is fashion (in fact, a good section of the book focuses on the Parisian fashion industry before and after the war). But by and large you won't turn the last page feeling cheery.
But you may well finish this well done book feeling hope -- that there were women who made a difference. And chances are, there will be women (and men) in the future who would do the same.
We must never forget them.
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