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The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation [Paperback]

Frederic Spotts
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Feb 2010
The German occupation of France from 1940 to 1945 presented wrenching challenges for the nation's artists and intellectuals. Some were able to flee the country; those who remained, including Gide and Celine, Picasso and Matisse, Cortot and Messiaen, and Cocteau and Gabin, responded in various ways. This fascinating book is the first to provide a full account of how France's artistic leaders coped under the crushing German presence. Some became heroes, others villains; most were simply survivors. Filled with anecdotes about the artists, composers, writers, filmmakers, and actors who lived through the years of occupation, the book illuminates the disconcerting experience of life and work within a cultural prison. Frederic Spotts uncovers Hitler's plan to pacify the French through an active cultural life, and examines the unexpected vibrancy of opera, ballet, painting, theatre, and film in both the Occupied and Vichy Zones. In view of the longer-term goal to supplant French with German culture, Spotts offers moving insight into the predicament of French artists as they fought to preserve their country's cultural and national identity.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (2 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300163991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300163995
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 659,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'A fascinating account of how famous writers, artists, and intellectuals living in France during the war survived the Nazi occupation; a whole spectrum from heroes to collaborators.' Marcel Berlins, Guardian G2. 'In this elegantly written, coolly intelligent book Spotts refrains from judgment.' Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Sunday Telegraph. 'Admirably forensic and entertaining... What Spotts brings to the story is a set of refreshing opinions on familiar figures such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and the rest of the crowd clustered around the cafes of Saint-Germaindes Pres... Spotts has written an excellent book.' Andrew Hussey, New Statesman. --'The Guardian G2', 'Sunday Telegraph', 'New Statesman'


"'What should you do?' asks Frederic Spotts ... In this elegantly written, coolly intelligent book [Spotts] refrains from judgment." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars France's Darkest Hour 7 Mar 2009
Spotts is right to call his book The Shameful Peace. The four years of German occupation remain the darkest years in modern French history. Spotts stresses that France's `greatest psychological need in the wake of the ignominious debacle was to regain a measure of self-respect - the very honneur and gloire that de Gaulle invoked in his broadcasts from London - and that the French cultural heritage was all there was to provide it.' Hitler, the artist manqué, understood that maintaining an active French cultural life was a good a way to drug France while bleeding her dry. So the Germans encouraged a rich artistic life in France, boasting `that no victor had ever treated a defeated nation so leniently.'
Hitler also wanted to make France acknowledge German cultural, as well as military, superiority. The result was a profusion of German institutes, lectures, concerts and exhibitions, culminating in the grotesque show by Arno Breker, Hitler's favourite sculptor, in May 1942 in the Louvre Orangerie. French people visited such shows for many reasons - curiosity, opportunism, simply to keep warm. But in doing so they laid themselves open to the charge of collaborating.
What made someone a collaborator? Spotts examines this crucial question carefully and sympathetically. Obviously artists like Vlaminck and Despiau, who visited Germany as the Nazis' guests in 1941, were collaborators, and both suffered for it after the war. But what of the publishers of books and magazines, or of playwrights like Sartre, who needed to `collaborate' to work at all? What of people running businesses of any kind?
Spotts provides a very good synoptic overview of occupied France, glancing at life in Marseilles and Lyons if focusing, inevitably, on Paris.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and an eye opener 9 May 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
for the artists writers and poets of France collaboration in WWII was a fine line and a constant battle this book details the daily struggle that many who collaborated and those that did not faced, well written and informative its well worth the money and a very good read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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This is a widely-researched and fascinating account of the moral compasses and behaviour of artists, writers and musicians at the time of the German Occupation, from the pacifists and the Left Bank intellectuals who would have nothing to do with the Germans or the Vichy regime, to the out-and-out collaborators.
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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Overview of French Cultural Life During the Occupation 4 Jan 2009
By I. Martinez-Ybor - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Culture matters. It mattered centrally to the Germans as they sought to establish a New Europe under German-Nazi hegemony. It mattered to the Vichy government as it sought to rid France of any vestiges of the Third Republic, to create a nationalistic, conservative society, and to ingratiate itself with the occupier with a policy of deliberate collaboration. It mattered because Paris was the center of Western Culture until 1940. Culture matters because it is what brings all the strands of society together and, in one way or another, reveals society to itself.

The overwhelming majority of works dealing with the German occupation of France and the Vichy regime, deal with the political and military aspects of that difficult period, though some do focus on how ordinary citizens behaved during those years. What has been missing has been a thorough analysis of the "culture" community as it related to the Germans. This void is what Mr. Spotts' "Shameful Peace" seeks to fill and mostly succeeds. This is not an exhaustive listing of who did what to whom during those years; not everybody who was anybody then is worth the memory. Spotts takes each of the elements of what we usually regard as "culture": literature, painting, sculpture, music, popular entertainement, publishing, theatre, film and, selecting representative figures, analyses their behavior, i.e., answers the question did they collaborate or not, what form did collaboration, resistance, abstention, or flight take, what were the ramifications of their actions, how they fit within the German and Vichy schemes, and what was their respective aftermath with the Liberation. This is well structured analysis and narrative, a pleasure to read that becomes something of a page turner. The moral terrain is challenging as it dwells on choices people made, people with whose work one is familiar and of unquestionable merit to this day. The surprises come in the details as, in general, one is already aware, in many of the cases, about who collaborated and who did not. When discussing painters (Picasso, Matisse, etc.), it is interesting to also see dealers discussed, and how several (even "protected" Jewish ones) were more than willing to procure for Goering, Goebbels and Hitler the "old masters" they so craved. The Paris art market flourished during the occupation.

In the summing up of the period, when discussing trials during the "depuration", after the liberation, Spotts frames the underlying questions clearly: "In a country where ideas have always been more important than facts, the question was whether the accused should be judged for their opinions as well as their deeds. That led to further question whether opinions could become deeds when they called for action - such as arrest, assassination, or deportation. And behind this lay the still broader issue of the responsibility of artists and intellectuals to society." Indeed, these are the questions that underly the text. Indeed such were the times that accepting a dinner invitation from the occupier could be construed as a demoralizing factor to the resister. Had not the Spanish established a strong, universal operating principle during the Napoleonic invasion that the primary and most legitimate responsibility during an "occupation" is to resist it?

I recommend in tandem a more specific analysis of the film industry during the occupation, Evelyn Ehrlich's Cinema of Paradox: French Filmaking under the German Occupation and Alice Kaplan's work about Brasillach, The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach.

The book contains interesting illustrations. It is not footnoted. However, sources for each chapter are detailed in a separate section at the end.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting but rather superficial gallery of portraits 12 April 2009
By Reich Claude - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a Frenchman interested in the gray attitude of the French during WWII, I was eagerly anticipating the publication of this book and was somewhat disppointed when I read it. It is basically a gallery of portraits of important intellectual figures of the time, from Sartre to Galtier-Boissière, from Gide to Guéhenno, from Drieu to Céline, from Picasso to Matisse,etc. However, those portraits I found rather superficial (very light on Rebatet or Brasillach, more consistant on Drieu or Céline), the author sometimes reaching outright conclusions, condemning the opinions of some of the characters involved, when a more nuanced judgement would have been more appropriate (especially on Ernst Jünger or Colette, the latter erroneously appearing in a list of collaborationist writers on page 238). Also, the author often taps well-known sources (such as the war-time diaries by Gide, Guéhenno, Fabre-Luce or Jünger)and therefore brings forth very few revelations to an attentive student of the period. Nothing new is written about Céline, Drieu or Brasillach, as well as on Gide or Sartre, which is rather frustrating. I also expected a more in-depth account of the nefarious deeds of the notoriously influential collaborationist newspaper "Je Suis Partout" or the literary publication "Comoedia", both of which the book scantily broaches.

This book may be satisfactory to the layman as an introduction, but left me very frustrated and wanting to know more than I already knew. A book on the same topic is available in France,"Le Voyage d'Automne", which describes the attitude of such writers as Jouhandeau or Giraudoux (nearly absent here), Drieu, Brasillach, in much more precise details. If there is an English translation, I strongly recommend it, as well as the catalogue for the current exhibition held at the NY Public Library until July 25, 2009, curated by Robert A. Paxton, which tackles precisely the same subject.

Note: My version also needs some editing. Heydrich's first name, for example, was not "Reinhold" (page 50)...
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read 18 Mar 2009
By A. Thiele - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a well-researched, well-written account of French intellectuals' behavior during the Occupation and its immediate aftermath. I was familiar with the topic before I read the book, and I can wholeheartedly say the author is accurate in what he depicts. I don't understand the poor ratings the book has received on this website - maybe they're due to the fact that collaboration remains a touchy topic in some circles.

There wasn't any big revelation for me in the book - yes, Drieu la Rochelle and Brasillach were "collabos", Beauvoir stayed in Paris but tried to keep her hands clean, Guehenno was a Resistant, etc. What I think is the strength of the book is that it gathers vignettes of all the major French intellectuals' behavior in one place. In addition, it introduces shades of gray in their behavior and makes the reader about what constitutes collaboration. Some cases were obviously clear-cut, but others not as much. It raises interesting moral issues.

The book also arouses outrage regarding collabos' attitude and the wide differences in treatment they received after the war. This is no small achievement from the author, given that the facts described occurred almost 70 years ago. He makes us feel the injustice of it all anew (especially when collabos got off almost scot-free).

Certainly, the "epuration" was severe immediately after the Liberation, but sentences were often drastically reduced after a few years when some French decided they preferred to move on - often but not always, as is clear with the case of Germaine Lubin, whose behavior was not nearly as reprehensible as others who got punished much more lightly. Also, some newspapers were shut down, but "collabo" publishers like Gallimard were allowed to continue their business unimpeded.

Again, many of the facts described in the book are well-known, and there's a bibliography for each chapter at the end of the book. I don't understand the negative reviews. The book is thorough and well-documented. There are a couple of annoying typos but not many. The biggest flaw of the book is to sometimes quote expressions in French without providing translations, but it only happened a handful of times.

The first few chapters of the book are quite general, describing Germans' efforts to control French culture after they occupied Paris. Later, each chapter of the book covers a different category of intellectuals; for instance, "Artful Dodgers" is about painters and "Enigma Variations" about musicians.

This book has many of the characteristics of "Artists in Exile" by Joseph Horowitz, with its vignettes on a broad spectrum of people. It should become a reference for anyone interested in this period in French history.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars poor scholarly apparatus 3 Mar 2009
By Dafydd G. Wood - Published on
While The Shameful Peace provides much information, is well written, and focuses on an important aspect of the history of 20th C. culture in a readable and accessible medium, the book's scholarship is an embarrassment to Yale Press with the absence of notes and an acceptable bibliography. He provides an essayistic account of his sources. For example he states that Jean Cocteau and Arno Breker were lovers in the 20's. However, he provides no source for this illuminating piece of information. Perhaps this can be explained by Spotts' career as an "independent scholar," but that is no excuse for Yale letting him release a book with so unaccountable a scholarly apparatus. Perhaps such "bibliographical essays" are becoming a trend. Peter Gay published one in Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (2007). This is a trend that should not be indulged. For Gay's part, as a scholar who has written extensively and already earned his laurels, it is a more forgivable mistake. While Spotts' book is clearly directed at a wider audience than the typical scholarly tome, this is no excuse for stating that Steegmuller's biography of Cocteau was of no help for the period, and then paraphrasing pp. 437-440 of the biography at the beginning of Spotts' ninth chapter. In short, good for a read but if your interests are beyond that and are looking for something useful for your own scholarship, it is tantalizing but frustrating.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very detailed study which helped changed my perspective of those who stayed during the Occupation 2 Jan 2014
By Caroline Lim - Published on
There's been little written about artists, musicians, writers and intellectuals who lived in Paris at the time of the Nazi Occupation. Given how many books have been written about regular residents of Paris, of Occupied and Unoccupied zones in the city, the lack of written material about the individuals who had been very much a part of the cultural identity of Paris, is glaringly sparse.

Hitler himself, recognized the importance of culture and encouraged an artistic life among those in Occupied France, but an artistic life dictated by his belief in German cultural supremacy, and one subject to censorship.

After the war, the artists and members of the social elite who were known to not only have lived, traded with, entertained or partied with the Occupiers, were denounced as collaborators and held more responsible for France's defeat than her military and political figures.

But how does one define collaboration?
"Was it accepting German hospitality to visit or perform in Germany, attending a reception hosted by a German official or even just seeking German approval to publish a book, perform a play or exhibit a painting?"

And how is resistance defined?
"-fleeing the country, refusing to publish, to exhibit or to perform? Or was it just the opposite - staying to fling French culture into the face of the Occupier?"

This is a detailed study of cultural icons such as Matisse, Picasso, Henri Jeansson, Serge Lifar, Jean Cocteau, Marc Chagall and Simone de Beauvoir, and what they did to survive during this period of history, as well as a study of the strategies adopted by the Nazis to encourage if not compel cooperation by the French.
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