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And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

by Alan Riding

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On June 14, 1940, German tanks rolled into a silent and deserted Paris. Eight days later, a humbled France accepted defeat along with foreign occupation. While the swastika now flew over Paris, the City of Light was undamaged, and soon a peculiar kind of normalcy returned as theaters, opera houses, movie theaters, and nightclubs reopened for business. Shedding


On June 14, 1940, German tanks rolled into a silent and deserted Paris. Eight days later, a humbled France accepted defeat along with foreign occupation. While the swastika now flew over Paris, the City of Light was undamaged, and soon a peculiar kind of normalcy returned as theaters, opera houses, movie theaters, and nightclubs reopened for business. Shedding light on this critical moment of twentieth-century European cultural history, And the Show Went On focuses anew on whether artists and writers have a special duty to show moral leadership in moments of national trauma.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Gripping. . . . We’ll always have Paris, but we may not feel quite the same about it after reading And the Show Went On.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Riding paints a riveting portrait of how Paris’s glittering, politically diverse cultural elite . . . worked and played during the dark days of the Nazis’ occupation.”
Vanity Fair

“Meticulously researched. . . . Riding’s book is an impressively comprehensive survey of the occupation years.”
The Economist
“An arresting and detailed account. . . . A big story and insidiously troubling.”
Los Angeles Times
“Evocative. . . . A carefully constructed and sympathetic account. . . . Riding is very good at pointing to the complexities and ambiguities of the situation.”
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Review of Books

“Certainly one of the finest works of serious popular history since the heyday of Barbara Tuchman. . . . Riding’s triumph lies in refusing to affirm any simplistic answers. Instead, he plunges the reader into the French cultural scene of the 1930s and ‘40s and shows us how real men and real women dealt with the devil.”
The Washington Post
“Lively. . . . Compelling and complex. . . . Most interesting are the complicated stories of artists who were neither heroes nor traitors, who made decisions about how to live and work during the occupation.”
The Boston Globe
“The world of the arts in Nazi-occupied Paris is brought to life in this meticulous chronicle. . . . [Riding] provides vivid character sketches and narratives.”
The New Yorker
“Broad-ranging. . . . Riding’s detailed and well-researched account is sure to appeal to Francophiles, admirers of French culture and readers seeking to heighten their understanding of an emotionally charged and morally complex aspect of World War II. More than that, it offers insights into the ethical dilemma that many of France’s luminaries faced during a critical time in their nation’s history and the different ways in which they chose to respond.”
—The Associated Press
“A book of transcendent relevance. . . . Splendidly informed.”
—Fritz Stern, author of Gold and Iron
“[A] monumentally researched, vividly written and troubling account of how the cultured citizens of Paris behaved while the Nazi swastika fluttered above the Eiffel Tower.”
Newark Star-Ledger
“Full-blooded and meticulously researched.”
Financial Times
“In this highly readable book, Alan Riding presents a thorough, balanced account of the ways French artists and writers responded to Nazi occupation, ranging from active resistance to enthusiastic collaboration. . . . Riding marshals details with the verve and care of a great reporter.”
—Susan Suleiman, C. Douglas Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France and Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard University
“Riveting. . . . This fine book reminds the reader of the many shades of collaboration in an occupied country.”
The Washington Times
“A tale of betrayal and resistance, patriotism, and bold opportunism—and in the end, vengeance and forgetfulness.”
The Jewish Exponent
“A superb account of intellectuals under pressure. . . . Alan Riding, deeply versed in French politics and culture, is the ideal guide to Parisian life under the Nazis. He has written a wonderful book.”
—Ward Just, author of An Unfinished Season and Echo House
“A remarkable cultural history of the City of Lights at its darkest hour. . . . A work of intellectual history in its purest form.”
Jewish Journal
“This book raises many questions about degrees of guilt, unjust accusations, and changing sides. It successfully shows that, for many, the occupation was rarely black and white.”
Sacramento Book Review
“Only someone as deeply versed in French culture as is Alan Riding, and as completely in command of his subject, could have written this magisterial account. . . . It is star-studded and makes fascinating reading.”
—David Fromkin, author of A Peace to End All Peace

Geoffrey Wheatcroft
Thirty years ago, while reporting on Latin America…Alan Riding began wondering how artists and writers responded to brutal dictatorships. He then went to live in Paris and realized that not so long before, the French intellectual and cultural elite had provided an answer, in often unlovely ways. And the Show Went On describes this history in gripping and painful detail…We'll always have Paris, but we may not feel quite the same about it after reading…[Riding's] enthralling and disturbing book…
—The New York Times
Michael Dirda
Riding's triumph lies in refusing to affirm any simplistic answers. Instead, he plunges the reader into the French cultural scene of the 1930s and '40s and shows us how real men and real women dealt with the devil.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Riding, a former European cultural correspondent for the New York Times, recounts Parisian life under the Nazi swastika and the forced compromises of French writers, artists, and performers under Hitler's rule. Riding's clear-eyed account lifts the veil on the moral and artistic choices for those who stayed and were forced to decide whether to resist, collaborate, or compromise somewhere in between. Publisher Gaston Gallimard let a German-selected editor run his prestigious Nouvelle Revue Française; in turn, he was able to publish books by authors unsympathetic to the Nazis. While the American government lobbied for emergency visas for gifted refugees who didn't flee to Switzerland or North Africa, some artists and performers hid or performed in cabarets or clubs with non-Aryan restrictions. Maurice Chevalier traveled to Germany to perform for French POWs and was seen by some as a collaborator worthy of death. Among the best examinations of occupied life under the Third Reich, Riding's (Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans) eloquent book speaks of the swift executions of traitors and the women disgraced by having their heads shaved, but admits that the French embraced the myth of national resistance and pushed the Occupation out of their minds. 16 pages of photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Riding (former European cultural correspondent, New York Times) frames his narrative within a larger philosophical context: the role of the artist in troubled times. Interested in the question of how artists react to repression, he focuses on German-occupied Paris during World War II. With exhaustive research, including personal interviews with many who experienced these years and stories from heralded figures like Edith Piaf, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, André Malraux, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, he examines the cultural life of Paris before, during, and after the occupation. Riding also explains the competing goals of the Vichy government, which sought to show that the French were not defeated culturally, and the German occupiers, who aimed to break French domination of international cultural life while shaping French culture to Nazi dictates. Thus, for different reasons, French culture survived. The occupiers wanted to be entertained and Parisians wanted to be distracted. In pondering the legacy of the period, Riding concludes that those who escaped and those who died left room for new talent to replace them, albeit in a postwar world in which cultural predominance shifted away from Paris. VERDICT This engrossing work, rich in detail, should appeal to French historians and serious readers interested in 20th-century cultural history.—Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
Kirkus Reviews

FormerNew York Times European cultural correspondent Riding (Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans, 1984) explores a troubling issue in modern history: the behavior of French artists, performers and writers during the Nazi occupation of Paris.

The author begins in June 1940, when "the German army drove into Paris unopposed," then provides a quick explanation of how Paris became a magnet for artists and intellectuals in the aftermath of World War I—and how the unstable French governments softened the soil for fascism. Returning to the Nazis, Riding describes how the French scrambled to hide, sometimes successfully, their art treasures from the invaders. He notes how Joseph Goebbels and others believed that keeping Parisian culture alive would help pacify the French—and he proved prescient. Throughout the occupation, plays, operas and concerts continued; poets and novelists and journalists wrote; painters painted; dancers danced; filmmakers filmed—all with a deadly difference, however. Jews were erased, anti-fascists were arrested, and sometimes executed, and publications and productions had to submit to Nazi censorship. As Riding demonstrates in this startling cultural history, many writers and artists sold their services to the fascists for reasons ranging from simple survival to solidarity with the Germans (after the war, the French dealt harshly with most of the latter). He examines a plethora of individual cases, including Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Josephine Baker, Chevalier, Piaf, Cocteau, Sartre, Genet, Camus, Saint-Exupéry and the collaborating Céline. The author also retells the heroic story of American Varian Fry, who struggled to save French artists; examines underground publications; and reveals that the resistance was never as pervasive as postwar mythology maintained.

A stark account of how we act when evil enters our door.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

· c h a p t e r  1 ·
Everyone on Stage
ON JUNE 14, 1940, the German army drove into Paris unopposed. Within weeks, the remnants of French democracy were quietly buried and the Third Reich settled in for an indefinite occupation of France. Who was to blame? With the country on its knees, many in France now saw this as a defeat foretold, a debacle that had been in the making since France emerged from World War I, victorious in name but shattered in spirit. In the bloody and muddy trenches of theWestern Front, 1.4 million Frenchmen died, representing 3.5 percent of the population and almost 10 percent of working-age men. Further, the 1 million Frenchmen who were left badly maimed, those ever-present mutilés de guerre, made it impossible to forget the past. With France already alarmed by its low prewar birthrate, this slaughter ofmen and future fathers meant that it was not until 1931 that the country exceeded its 1911 population of 41.4 million—and, even then, this was in large part thanks to immigration.
At the same time, the country was being let down by its political class. The Third Republic, founded in 1870 after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, was plagued by instability and consumed by political bickering. Although the economy fared relatively well in the 1920s, postwar reconstruction lagged far behind. Then, in the 1930s, confronted by the twin threats of the Great Depression and the spread of extremist ideologies across Europe, France’s rulers chose to ignore both. In a country that had long boasted the originality of its political ideas, a string of dysfunctional governments eroded public faith in democracy and boosted the appeal of the Nazi, Fascist and Communist alternatives. Most critically, with the Great War spawning a nation of pacifists, the French preferred to ignore mounting evidence that the country would soon again be at war with Germany. And when war became inevitable, they chose to believe official propaganda boasting that their army was invincible. This monumental self-delusion only compounded the shock at what followed. When Hitler’s army swept across western Europe in the spring of 1940, French defenses crumbled in a matter of weeks. Neither 1870 nor 1914 had been this bad.

Yet even in the deepening gloom of the interwar years, as artistic and intellectual freedoms were being extinguished across Europe, Paris continued to shine as a cultural beacon. The majority of Parisians were poor, but they had long since been evicted from the elegant heart of Paris by Baron Haussmann’s drastic urban redesign a half century earlier. This “new” Paris was the favored arena of elitist divertimento, drawing minor royalty, aristocrats and millionaires to buy art, to race their horses in the Bois de Boulogne, to hear Richard Strauss conduct Der Rosenkavalier at the Paris Opera, to party in the latest Chanel and Schiaparelli designs.

Painters, writers, musicians and dancers also flocked there from across Europe and the Americas, in some cases seeking sexual freedom, in others fleeing dictatorships, in many hoping for inspiration and recognition. Embracing everything from the literary solemnity of the Académie Française through the avant-garde of Surrealism to the high kicks of the Moulin Rouge, Paris offered both enlightenment and entertainment. And wandering across its pages and stages like eloquent courtesans were intellectuals, artists and performers. Whether admired for their ideas, their imagination or simply their Bohemian lifestyle, they enjoyed the trappings of a privileged caste. “The prestige of the writer was something peculiarly French, I believe,” the astute essayist Jean Guéhenno later wrote. “In no other country of the world was the writer treated with such reverence by the people. Each bourgeois family might fear that its son would become an artist, but the French bourgeoisie as a group was in agreement in giving the artist and the writer an almost sacred preeminence.” Put differently, culture had become inseparable from France’s very image of itself. And the rest of Europe recognized this. But with the swastika now flying over Paris, how would French culture— its artists, writers and intellectuals, as well as its great institutions— respond? Again, the answer lay in the turmoil of the interwar years.

Nowhere was French cultural leadership greater than in the visual arts. Between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I alone, art movements born in France— Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Les Nabis, Fauvism and Cubism— succeeded one another in what came to resemble a permanent revolution. The 1914–18 conflict did little to disrupt this. While German artists like Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann addressed the nightmare of trench warfare, artists in France paid little heed to a war being fought barely a hundred miles north of Paris. When it was over, those  nineteenth-century giants Renoir, Monet and Rodin were still alive, while the influence of Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp and Henri Matisse continued to grow. Many artists with prewar reputations, men like Georges Braque, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Kees van Dongen, Pierre Bonnard and Aristide Maillol, also remained faithful to their prewar styles. Fernand Léger was a rare exception. After he spent two years on the front, his art was transformed, with his sketches of artillery and planes anticipating his tubular “mechanical” paintings of the 1920s. Bonnard avoided the trenches, serving briefly as a war artist and painting just one scene of desolation, Un Village en ruines près du Ham. But he quickly returned to his cherished themes of nudes and interior scenes.

For European artists, Paris was the place to meet great artists and to aspire to become great oneself. And it helped that the city was an important art market. From the late 1890s, the legendary dealer Ambroise Vollard carried the names of Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh abroad and, in 1901, he gave Picasso his first exhibition in Paris. In the interwar years, it was the turn of other dealers, notably Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and the Rosenberg brothers, Léonce and Paul, to keep European and American collectors supplied with the new art from Paris. For foreign artists, the city’s energy, bubbling away in the studios and cafés of the Left Bank, was as appealing as any specific art movement. True, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Joan Miró embraced Surrealism, but other foreigners went their own ways, among them Constantin Brancusi, Chaïm Soutine, Piet Mondrian, Amedeo Modigliani and Alberto Giacometti. The list of prominent French artists in Paris at that time was even longer. And to these could be added the architects and designers who created Art Deco as a style that would define the 1930s. Probably at no time since the Italian Renaissance had one city boasted such a remarkable concentration of artistic brilliance.

In the performing arts, change came from abroad, with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes leading a revolution in dance that would influence ballet for much of the twentieth century. In 1912, the troupe’s star dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, shocked Paris with his erotic interpretation of Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après- midi d’un faune. The following year, the dancer was at the center of a riot in the Théâtre des Champs- Élysées during the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, when some spectators mutinied against Nijinsky’s unorthodox choreography and the music’s disturbingly primitive rhythm.

Diaghilev’s role as a promoter and organizer of talent was still more important. Among choreographers, he recruited Michel Fokine, already a major figure in Russian dance, and he made the names of Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska (the dancer’s sister) and George Balanchine. Among dancers, along with the inimitable Nijinsky, he turned the English-born Alicia Markova and the Russians Tamara Karsavina and Serge Lifar into international stars (Lifar later also ran the Paris Opera Ballet). A strong believer in the “total art” that Wagner had called Gesamtkunstwerk, Diaghilev also pulled different art forms together as never before. He invited Derain, Rouault and Picasso, as well as the Russian artists Léon Bakst and Alexandre Benois, to design his stage sets. And while his favorite composer was Stravinsky, who also wrote The Firebird, Petrouchka, Les Noces and Apollo for the company, Diaghilev commissioned ballets from Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Strauss. One memorable example of “total art” was Parade, a ballet that was conceived by the artist-poet Jean Cocteau and combined music by Erik Satie, choreography by Massine, scenario by Cocteau himself, set, curtain and costumes by Picasso and program notes by Guillaume Apollinaire. First performed at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on May 18, 1917, it, too, caused a scandal.

Diaghilev never returned to Russia. By the time of his death, in 1929, other Russian artists and writers— among them the painters Marc Chagall and Natalia Goncharova— had fled the Bolshevik Revolution for the safety of Paris. After Hitler took power in 1933, it was the turn of more artists and intellectuals, many of them Jews, to seek refuge in France; these included the abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky and the composer Arnold Schönberg, as well as the writers Joseph Roth, Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin.

Other foreigners found a different kind of liberty in Paris. When the novelist Edith Wharton settled in France shortly before World War I, the experimental writer Gertrude Stein was already receiving the likes of Picasso and Matisse in her Left Bank apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus, where she lived with her lesbian partner, Alice B. Toklas. In the 1920s and1930s, Stein became a kind of eccentric matron to the “lost generation” of American writers, notably Ernest Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Henry Miller moved in a different— and more impecunious— circle, but he, too, enjoyed a freedom that, he later noted, “I never knew in America.” Little wonder, since three of his 1930s novels, Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring and Tropic of Capricorn, were banned in the United States as obscene. One gathering point for both American and French writers was Shakespeare & Company, the Left Bank bookstore that Sylvia Beach had opened at 12 rue de l’Odéon, across the street from La Maison des Amis des Livres, run by her friend and lover, Adrienne Monnier. Beach also came to the rescue of James Joyce, who had moved to Paris in 1920; with American and British publishers shying away from Joyce, fearing charges of obscenity, she dared to publish his monumental Ulysses in 1922. In the late 1930s, Samuel Beckett followed Joyce to Paris, equally determined to escape the suffocating strictures of deeply Catholic Ireland. Their relationship became strained only when Joyce’s troubled daughter, Lucia, fell for Beckett— and Beckett did not reciprocate.

Josephine Baker, the black American dancer and singer, was another who flourished in the artistic melting pot of interwar Paris. Happy to escape racial discrimination in the United States, she arrived in Paris in 1925 to perform La Revue nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées with a black American dance troupe; almost immediately, she was hired away by Les Folies Bergère. There, she became a star, winning over Parisians with her erotic and funny cabaret shows, which included her love song to Paris, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris,” and her trademark “Danse sauvage” performed bare breasted and wearing just a skirt of artificial bananas. Soon she was also exploiting her exotic image in French movies like Zou- Zou and Princesse Tam Tam, where she played a Tunisian shepherdess–turned–Parisian princess in true Pygmalion style. In 1934, she even sang the title role in Offenbach’s operetta La Créole. It helped that, at a time when the French were becoming increasingly xenophobic, black American culture was all the rage in Paris. Above all, jazz and swing brought by black Americans was enthusiastically adopted by French musicians, none more brilliant than the Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Hot Club de France. La Baker, as she was known, was not the only cabaret diva. Music halls and cabarets were by far the most popular entertainment in Paris and, by the time Édith Piaf joined Josephine on the scene in 1935, Léo Marjane and particularly Mistinguett— La Miss— had long been queens of the night. Press speculation that La Miss and La Baker were feuding only helped to pull in the crowds. Male crooners like Maurice Chevalier and Tino Rossi and bandleaders like Ray Ventura were no less admired.

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From the Publisher
"A stark account of how we act when evil enters our door." —-Kirkus

Meet the Author

For twelve years, Alan Riding was the European cultural correspondent for The New York Times. He was previously bureau chief for the Times in Paris, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Mexico City. Riding is the author of Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans. He continues to live in Paris with his wife, Marlise Simons, a writer for the Times.

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