In France, it is called l'exode,or "exodus": the flight from their homes of up to seven million residents before and during the German invasion of the country in May and June 1940 (events described in the bestselling novel Suite Française). Diamond, who specializes in modern French history at the University of Bath, combed dozens of memoirs and diaries about the flight for this first major study in English. She notes a number of reasons for the mass internal migration, including a belief in the "atrocity propaganda" about Germany from WWI; fears that the Germans would bomb Paris and other cities; a desire to avoid working for the Nazi war machine; and the flight of the French government itself from Paris. She captures how an initial "holiday spirit" gave way to a sense of displacement, loss and impoverishment for some and separation of families. Diamond also shows how the host communities, predominantly in France's south and west, often were overwhelmed by a doubling or tripling of their populations virtually overnight. Perhaps most important and interesting is her exploration of how Marshall Pétain exploited the exodus to discredit the government of the Third Republic. While Diamond's treatment of some topics, like fatalities during the exodus, is cursory, this is a solid work on a socially convulsive episode of WWII. 22 b&w photos. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Fleeing Hitler: France 1940by 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. 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.
"Diamond's book is an important resource."Journal of Modern History
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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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.