The Right Coast

August 02, 2004
Paris Diary II
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Historical amnesia, or at least selective recall, is alive and well in France. Two examples from walking the streets of Paris this past week. (1) The French Senate has mounted an enormous photo exhibit on the subject of the Liberation of Paris in 1944 -- this year is the sixtieth anniversary -- on the railings around the Luxembourg Palace and Luxembourg Gardens in central Paris. (The Palais du Luxembourg is the Senate building.) There are scores of photos, blown up to super-poster size, and the exhibit seems to be drawing a lot of viewers, at least judging by the two afternoons that I was there. The photos are almost exclusively of de Gaulle's Free French (and Resistance) forces. Many of the photos also show ecstatic French crowds greeting them. Practically the only photo of allied forces shows three bedraggled British soldiers sitting on their arses resting by the side of the road.

Anyone innocently seeing this exhibit might conclude that de Gaulle's forces were huge, crucial to the liberation of France from the Nazis (or even that de Gaulle and the French Resistance were practically the only forces that fought the Germans in France), and that they enjoyed the active and mobilized support of a vast number of the French people. All false, helas.

(2) Since 2002, small black plaques have been installed on the fronts of many public schools in Paris commemorating "the pupils from this school who, because they were born Jews, were arrested and deported with the active complicity of the Vichy government and murdered in the Nazi camps 1940 -1945". Even these plaques are misleading, at least by omission. The Vichy government never governed Paris. The capital was part of the northern and western half of France that was directly occupied by the Germans. The fact is that the Paris police, who had nothing to do with Vichy, were also "actively complicit" collaborators. The post-war myth in France was (and evidently is) that collaboration with the Nazis was mostly the doing of the Vichy government, and that French men and women not associated with that administration were innocent of it. False, helas.

On the other hand the Luxembourg Gardens are elegantly manicured, and truly more beautiful than ever.