Monday, October 10, 2005

Ambiguities

...In other respects, however, German cultural policy in occupied Paris was comparatively relaxed. The Germans pursued the bread and circuses principle that cultural distractions would keep the population happy. Behind this pragmatism, their real attitude to French culture was a schizophrenic mixture of jealousy and contempt: jealousy of France's cultural predominance; contempt at French artistic decadence. Hitler who visited Paris only once, on 23 June 1940, was so in awe of the city, especially the Opera, that he sometimes mused about razing it to the ground. In the end, he decided that the new Berlin would dwarf Paris in magnificence: Paris could be spared because Germany would do better. The Propaganda-Abteilung's long-term objective was to break French cultural hegemony, but this did not mean imposing Nazi cultural norms in France or revealing to France `the secrets of Germany's cultural renaissance': Nazi values were not for export. In Nazi eyes, there was no contradiction between permitting France some cultural freedom and wanting to destroy French cultural hegemony. `What does the spiritual health of the French people matter to us?', Hitler told Speer; `Let them degenerate!'

Allowing the French to choke on their culture suited those Germans in Paris who admired French culture and were keen for the opportunity to choke on it themselves. These cultural Francophiles were mostly employed at the Embassy, but there were also some, like Heller, working for the Propaganda-Abteilung. In artfully selective account must be taken with a pinch of salt. Most Germans who displayed a marked affinity for the French were usually noticed and suffered for it by being sent to the eastern front (as happened to Bremer in 1942), or at least recalled to Berlin (as happened to Epting from June 1942 to January 1943). Heller's feat of lasting the entire war in Paris suggests he had not taken that many risks. Certainly he was zealous in applying the anti-Semitic instructions to literature.

Germans like Heller or the writer Ernst Jünger did certainly see themselves as Francophile, but as we have already observed in the cases of Abetz and Siegburg, German `Francophilia' was often double-edged. It could coexist with an attitude of superiority bordering on contempt: precisely those aspects of France which made her so attractive - her refinement and
douceur de vie - also condemned her to the second rank." But many French intellectuals were so relieved by the urbanity and admiration displayed by their conquerors (or some of them) that they failed to detect what lay beneath it. German Francophilia salved uneasy French consciences and lulled the unwary. Joliot felt reassured by the presence of his colleague Gentner. Jean Cocteau had a clearer conscience for being able to write in his diary that the Germans he met were people with a `profound French culture."' Even Claude Mauriac, who felt only antipathy to the Germans and avoided their company, was witness on one occasion to the spell cast by Heller. In February 1943 he found himself unexpectedly at a social gathering where the other guests included two Germans: Heller and a German playwright. Although `stupefied to be shaking hands with one of those officers whose contact I find so repugnant on the metro', he could not deny the irresistible charm' of Heller, `laughing and smiling, witty and friendly'. Heller told him such encounters showed that this `horrible war hasn't stifled every trace of civilization and humanism'. On the next morning Mauriac noted his sense of shame: `The champagne and the atmosphere of sympathy and youth made everything too easy. I should not have been there.' He reassured himself with the thought that since the Germans were obviously going to lose the war, his presence could not be interpreted as toadying to them whereas a year earlier he would have left such a gathering as soon as he had seen who was present. Noneth1ess, despite his guilt, Mauriac still felt that those present had represented a `small island of honest men'.

Julian Jackson: France - the Dark Years 1940-1944 (2000)
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