–By Michael Pierce
LES PARISIENNES: HOW THE WOMEN OF PARIS LIVED, LOVED, AND DIED UNDER NAZI OCCUPATION by Anne Sebba
St. Martin’s Press, 2016
“Indignation can move mountains. France in 1940 was unbelievable. There were no men left. It was women who started the Resistance. Women didn’t have the vote, they didn’t have bank accounts, they didn’t have jobs. Yet we women were capable of resisting.” – Germaine Tillion, Resistante and Camp Survivor.
Simply put, this book is phenomenal.
The story begins before the beginning of World War Two. Sebba takes her reader on a journey into the lives of the famous, the not so famous, and the infamous. Readers will meet all of the women whose stories will be told as they go about their daily lives, aware that a storm is brewing in Germany. Everything changed on September1, 1939 when Hitler’s troops invaded Poland; it changed even more for these women two days later, when Britain and France declared war on Germany.
Les Parisiennes is filled with stories of life, death, and survival. Sebba outlines the lives of Collaborators and Resisters, and how things can become quite blurred during wartime. Collaboration and resistance can often be combined, such as when some of these women voluntarily worked in German munitions plants while purposely making inferior bullets, bombs, and small arms. Resistance took many forms, from actions such as building those inferior items, to thumbing one’s nose at their Nazi occupiers by telling them exactly how they felt about them, to armed resistance.
There are stories of spies recruited by the British and parachuted behind enemy lines, often never seen or heard from again. There are also stories of young women whose bodies were mutilated by Nazi doctors, cut open and mutilated in the name of research, who were crippled for the rest of their lives. Friends and family members turned on friends and family, all in the name of survival.
This book is also a story of misogyny. Sebba details how, at the end of the war when men were struggling to re-assert their manhood, female collaborators were punished by men who, in the opinions of the storytellers, were nothing more than cowards who had abandoned France when the war began. Actual and alleged collaborators had their heads shaved, were often branded with Swastikas, and were declared to be non-persons by the French government.
Whether you’re interested in history, the war, or women’s history, you need to buy this book.