The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation

Paperback (Print)
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 39%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $9.37
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 57%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (17) from $9.37   
  • New (6) from $10.40   
  • Used (11) from $9.37   


The swift and unexpected defeat of the French Army in 1940 shocked the nation. Two million soldiers were taken prisoner, six million civilians fled from the German army’s advance to join convoys of confused and terrified refugees, and only a few managed to escape the country. The vast majority of French people were condemned to years of subjugation under Nazi and Vichy rule. This compelling book investigates the impact of the occupation on the people of France and dispels any lingering notion that somehow, under the collaborating government of Marshal Pétain, life was quite tolerable for most French citizens.

Richard Vinen describes the inescapable fear and the moral quandaries that permeated life in German-controlled France. Focusing on the experiences of the least privileged, he shows how chronic shortages, desperate compromises, fear of displacement, racism, and sadistic violence defined their lives. Virtually all adult males festered in POW camps or were sent to work in the Reich. With numerous enthralling anecdotes and a variety of maps and evocative photographs, The Unfree French makes it possible for the first time to understand how average people in France really lived from 1940 to 1945, why their experiences differed from region to region and among various groups, and why they made the choices they did during the occupation.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Foreign Affairs
This excellent book is principally a history of the French duringthe "dark years" of Vichy and the German occupation, although it also offers shrewd portraits of Vichy officials and of life in the sad spa town of Vichy itself. Vinen seems to have read a huge number of memoirs and reports documenting, and sometimes distorting, what happened to individuals and families. Some of this has been studied before (for instance, the treatment of the Jews and the purges after the liberation). But Vinen adds new depth on matters such as relations between Frenchwomen and Germans and the lives of French prisoners of war. As a survivor of that period (who fled Paris a day before its occupation and lived for four years in Nice and the Languedoc), this reviewer can only confirm one of Vinen's main points: in a period when traditional social and political controls had either broken into pieces or disappeared, the varieties of individual behavior were almost infinite, and for most people the hardships of daily life (especially of finding food and securing personal safety) eclipsed all other collective concerns.
Library Journal
This book makes an important contribution to a full understanding of World War II France. Taking a social as opposed to a political perspective, it aims to re-create life under German occupation as it was experienced by ordinary French citizens, especially women, Jews, prisoners of war, refugees, and young men drafted to work in Germany. Vinen (history, King's Coll., Univ. of London) relies on archival sources and published, retrospective accounts, especially autobiographies, to show that life for most of the French from 1940 through 1944 was miserable. Misery, he explains, came to include not only material shortages, physical discomfort, and geographical relocations but also fear, social dislocation, and societal breakdown. Debunking the myth of wartime France as the united home of patriotic resistance fighters, he asserts that particular experiences were shaped by class, geography, occupation, and personal circumstance. He is especially sensitive to class, using case studies and brief biographical vignettes to illustrate his themes. For example, those French women most likely to have relations and relationships with German men came from the most underprivileged parts of society: they were young, poor, and not well educated. Vinen amplifies our understanding of this era. Recommended for academic libraries and specialists in the field. Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Robert Wohl
"Even well-informed readers will come away from Vinen's social history with a deeper knowledge of what it was like to live in France during the German occupation. It turns out in his wide-ranging account that it was much bleaker than what we had supposed."—Robert Wohl, author of The Spectacle of Flight: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1920-1950.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300126013
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/7/2007
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 1,129,666
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Vinen is on the faculty of the Department of History, Kings College, University of London.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

The unfree French : introduction 1
1 Summer 1940 14
2 Vichy 45
3 Living with the enemy 99
4 Jews, Germans and French 133
5 Frenchwomen and the Germans 157
6 Captivity : French prisoners of war, 1940-1942 183
7 Survival 215
8 Stolen youth : service du travail obligatoire 247
9 The French in Germany, 1943-1945 281
10 Sunset of blood : the liberation 313
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)