Fleeing Hitler: France 1940
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Fleeing Hitler: France 1940

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by Hanna Diamond
     
 

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Wednesday 12th June 1940. The Times reported 'thousands upon thousands of Parisians leaving the capital by every possible means, preferring to abandon home and property rather than risk even temporary Nazi domination'. As Hitler's victorious armies approached Paris, the French government abandoned the city and its people, leaving behind them an atmosphere of panic.

Overview

Wednesday 12th June 1940. The Times reported 'thousands upon thousands of Parisians leaving the capital by every possible means, preferring to abandon home and property rather than risk even temporary Nazi domination'. As Hitler's victorious armies approached Paris, the French government abandoned the city and its people, leaving behind them an atmosphere of panic. Roads heading south filled with ordinary people fleeing for their lives with whatever personal possessions they could carry, often with no particular destination in mind. During the long, hard journey, this mass exodus of predominantly women, children, and the elderly, would face constant bombings, machine gun attacks, and even starvation. Using eyewitness accounts, memoirs, and diaries, Hanna Diamond shows how the disruption this exodus brought to the lives of civilians and soldiers alike made it a defining experience of the war for the French people. As traumatized populations returned home, preoccupied by the desire for safety and bewildered by the unexpected turn of events, they put their faith in Marshall Pétain who was able to establish his collaborative Vichy regime largely unopposed, while the Germans consolidated their occupation. Watching events unfold on the other side of the channel, British ministers looked on with increasing horror, terrified that Britain could be next.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"Parts of the film are tremendously funny...But some of the cheap laughs to which the picture stoops will give you the blues."
Kirkus Reviews
For many French people in 1940, the arrival of the German army meant "the collapse of civilization." Seven decades later, the specifics of that collapse are largely forgotten; this book is a remedy. When the Wehrmacht crossed the Maginot Line in May 1940, most Parisians, remembering the Marne a generation before, assumed that the theoretically superior French army would turn the invaders back. "The confidence in victory that the media and the government had projected until the very last minute," writes Diamond (French History/Univ. of Bath), "meant that when they finally realized that the Germans were likely to reach Paris, people had a very long way to fall." Some four million persons in the Paris region abandoned the city and its suburbs, choking every road out of the capital and blocking necessary military traffic. The situation was much the same throughout what would be called Occupied France, leaving the population of Vichy burdened with millions of refugees. The Germans, writes Diamond, urged these people to return: Not only did their absence make the German occupiers look bad, but the missing French also constituted a needed labor force in the grand plan to integrate France's economy into that of the Reich. Diamond recounts the terror and confusion of the first days of this mass migration, considers contemporary social movements and conventions (for instance, many refugees refused to flee to the colonies in North Africa, she writes, because these were considered places for those "who had committed some kind of indiscretion"), and looks at the complexities involved in the German campaign to organize repatriation, which was ultimately successful. Interestingly, Diamond also assessesthe lessons of that mass flight, which the British government studied closely as an example of what not to do when their turn came. "How can we remember what we do not know?" asks one French scholar. Diamond's book ably addresses these long-ago events, which merit remembrance.
From the Publisher
"Gives new insight into the significance of the trauma of 1940 for French people and makes plain the political fallout of rapid military defeat plain." H-France

"Diamond's book is an important resource."—Journal of Modern History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780191622991
Publisher:
OUP Oxford
Publication date:
09/25/2008
Series:
France 1940
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
5 MB

Meet the Author

Hanna Diamond is Senior Lecturer in French History in the Department of European Studies at the University of Bath. She lived and taught in Paris for many years and has spent her career researching into the lives of the French people during the twentieth century. Her previous book, Women and the Second World War in France 1939-48: choices and constraints is also based on personal narratives and oral history. It was the first to explore the range of women's experiences of the war. She is currently working on a micro history of a mining community in southern France.

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Fleeing Hitler: France 1940 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'd always wondered why the French seem so different, politically--and especially in their reactions to issues involving the military--from Americans. Little had I realized how devastating the Nazi occupation had been. This book lays out the events of that period clearly and uses terrific eyewitness material. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to understand our differences today.