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Unique microperspective on Nimes during Occupied France, however author generalizes certain groups13 Mar. 2009
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Nimes at War by Robert Zaretsky provides a unique perspective of the role that religion and politics have played in France during World War II. Nimes At War provides a micro perspective by focusing on one city. The city that Zaretsky focuses on is Nimes, which is an industrialist city made up of mostly Catholics with some Protestants and Jews (4). For the most part of the book, this case study focuses on the relationships between these groups and the role that religion and politics plays between them.
After France was defeated by Germany in World War II, some groups of people were looking for somebody to blame. The majority of Catholics, as well as some Protestants, blamed the "Popular Front" for the defeat of France. Many religious conservatives blamed the "Popular Front" because they believed that it was their ideas of secularism, which lowered the birth rate, thus weakening the potential size of the military. Some church leaders saw the defeat of France as an opportunity to remake the country. For example, Bishop Girbeau stated, "[the] necessity, after the war, [is] to remake a Christian France" (35). For the most part, "Christian France" meant a Catholic France. Both Protestants and Jews were seen as outsiders with different ideologies. The author believes that Protestants were more outspoken than Catholics against anti-semitism, and the Protestants had an interest in helping the Jews because they were viewed as "outsiders" (27). For example, Marc Boegner, a Protestant Pastor, encouraged other Protestants to help Jews while Catholic leaders ignored the suffering of the Jews (121). Zarestsky also argues that Protestants, similar to the Jews, were not seen as French (123). Catholics refused to promote Protestants in youth camps along with excluding them from being allowed to enter Catholic churches (98 and 99). Catholics were also more supportive of Philippe Petain and opposed resistance. For example, Bishop Girbeau encouraged Catholics to support Petain in his sermons and referred to resistance members as terrorists (247). Girbeau also believed that "Petain was sent by the same hand that sent Joan of Arch" (97). Catholics saw France completely different than Protestants and Jews.
In conclusion, Zarestsky provides a unique perspective to the Vichy France genre by providing an interesting case study on Nimes. Nimes at War is a detailed account about religious group conflict, which the author blames Catholics as being overwhelmingly xenophobic and ethnocentric. Because of this generalization, the author appears to have some bias because this was a more extremist faction of Catholics. Overall, Nimes at War provides an interesting perspective on the role religion played in Vichy France.