Alex Constantine - July 31, 2008
By GLENYS ROBERTS
17th July 2008
Paris in the month of May was in full aphrodisiac bloom.
The girls were swinging along the boulevards in their short, flowery skirts, their hair flowing loose behind them. On the radio, the singer Tino Rossi - France's answer to Rudolph Valentino - belted out his latest romantic favourite. But a few short weeks later, on June, 14, 1940, the German army marched into the capital and occupied it for four years.
Everyone was surprised the tall, blond invading newcomers did not set about raping the population as the French had expected. Instead, they handed out bread and tarts. Moreover, they were so handsome and so brave in comparison with the drunken French soldiers who had surrendered the fight.
Soon, every French child was crying out that he wanted to be German, while every young French girl was lusting after the newcomers as though they were allies, not enemies, offering them oranges and standing on tip-toe to look into the plush interior of their limousines.
And French housewives, deprived of companionship while their soldier husbands were held prisoner, were happily sleeping with the enemy. The French have long sought to draw a veil over these aspects of the occupation, claiming heroic acts of resistance during the period when, in fact, they were little more than collaborators.
Now, with uncharacteristic daring, Patrick Buisson, director of France's History Channel, TF1, has set the record straight by writing a book, whose titillating title - 1940-1945: The Erotic Years - shows the extent to which his fellow countrymen actually enjoyed their wartime experiences.
The revelation comes at a time when Paris is being asked to come to terms with a series of unsettling memories of the era. An exhbition of photographs on show at the city's History Library depicts Parisians enjoying themselves immensely during the occupation - and some people are finding it distinctly distasteful.
Indeed, the deputy mayor of Paris said he wanted to be sick on seeing the pictures of well-dressed citizens shopping next to a market piled high with fruit and veg, giving no inkling of the wartime hardship France usually likes to complain about.
One photograph shows punters crowding into the nightclubs. Others show women wearing bikinis frolicking in a swimming pool, or wearing fancy hats at Paris's most fashionable racecourse. Everything gives the impression that far from being a time of hunger, fear and resistance, life during the war was one big party.
And although one picture depicts two Jews wearing the obligatory yellow Star of David brought in by the Vichy government in 1941, there is no acknowledgement that the French sent 76,000 Jews to their deaths while their countrymen were making merry.