Fleeing Hitler: France 1940 / Edition 1

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In June 1940, as Hitler's armies advanced on Paris, the French people became refugees in their own country. This is the story of their tragic flight.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780192806185
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/19/2007
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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 is also based on personal narratives and oral history. It was the first to explore the range of women's experiences of the war.

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Table of Contents

Part One: Flight
1. Towards Disaster
2. On the Road
Part Two: Alternatives
3. The Government's Alternatives
4. The People's Alternatives
Part Three: Returning Home
5. Summer-Autumn 1940
6. 'Home' again?
Conclusions: Remembering and Forgetting the Exodus

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2007

    excellent information

    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.

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