Simon Kitson's












This page presents some information on the subject of culture during the Vichy years. It is currently divided into the following sections, (although there are plans to develop it further over time):







Any suggestions on improvements or supplements to this page will be gratefully received at





Changes in the cultural domain:

Political interference : Censorship

 The Germans introduced censorship which targeted two elements: firstly what was considered anti-German, taking a very broad definition of the enemies of Germany and secondly, for ideological reasons, anything which was considered Jewish.  

There was a censoring of films and books. So called ‘Otto lists’ were published in September 1940 and again in 1942 and 1943 which listed books considered anti-German or anti-Nazi. These were to be destroyed. This affected many books published before the war, including not just fiction but also history text books which spoke too much about German losses. As a means of control, The Germans could cut the supply of the scarce commodity of paper to publishers who failed to conform to the regulations in force.

 Some artists and performers were banned. Political reasons also dictated that certain films, books or other cultural manifestations could not be shown at all. Many authors deliberately avoid certain types of references to allow their material to get passed the official censor.

 Some cultural output was banned for perverse reasons. Marcel Pagnol’s film ‘La fille du Puisantier’ was banned in the occupied zone in reprisal for Vichy banning a German film in the South. The Germans banned any film starring the actors Michele Morgan or Claude Dauphin because of the political stance of these artists.

Of course censorship was also aimed heavily at Jewish works or those with pro-Semitic references. Permission to perform plays written or even translated by Jews was not granted in the Nazi-occupied zone. Jewish artists were refused permission to exhibit. The theatre which bore the name of the great actress Sarah Bernhardt was renamed as the théâtre de la cité because Berhardt was Jewish. The Germans were horrified to discover that the French actor Harry Baur was actually Jewish. This caused outrage amongst Nazis because he made a film in Germany and actually met Hitler. Albert Camus’ novel Le Mythe de Sisyphe was only published in 1943 after the author agreed to remove all references to the Jew, Kafka.

 Jews were banned in most of the cultural industries not only by the Germans but also by the Vichy government which had its own inherent anti-Semitism. Professional identity cards were required of anyone working in the cinema or theatre and these were only delivered upon presentation of birth certificates. This meant that Jews could only work secretly in the culture industry and often had to rely on friends and colleagues to give them the opportunity to work behind the scenes. Some of you may have seen the Truffaut film ‘Le dernier Metro’ which deals with the question of the theatre in occupied France and the effects of occupation on Jews within the theatre.

 It was not just French works or French artists who were affected by the censorship. British films were banned and this was extended to American films after 1942. In the category of those who were considered enemies of Germany were German authors such as Sigmund Freud and Thomas Mann whose works were supposed to be destroyed. Films featuring some well known adversaries of the nazi regime were banned- for example those featuring Marlene Dietrich. On 27 May 1943, the Nazis organised a secret burning in Paris of some of the paintings of Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso and Juan Miro. The exiled Spanish painter Pablo Picasso was in France during the occupation. He was suspect in the eyes of the Nazis because one of his most famous paintings was ‘Guernica’ which depicted the bombing of this Spanish town in April 1937 by German planes serving the nationalist cause of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War.  He was no longer able to exhibit his works publicly.


Changes in the cultural domain:

Political interference: pillaging

There was also a widespread pillaging in the cultural domain by the Nazis. More than 20000 objects of art were stolen from France during the occupation and were despatched either to German museums or to the private collections of leading Nazi dignitaries. Many of these objects were stolen directly from Jewish collections. Field Marshal Hermann Göring, one of the most senior Nazis, acquired ten Renoirs and ten Monets for his private collections.


Changes in the cultural domain:

German intrusion into Cultural sphere

 To a limited extent the Germans also tried to impose their culture on the French.  

German films never found a French audience. The most famous of the German films was Le Juif Suss by Veit Harlan. This was based on a rewriting of the book by the Jewish German Lion Feuchtwanger but it was now reworked to give a strongly anti-Semitic tone telling the tale of a German whose daughter is raped by a Jew and the Jew’s failure to admit to his crime despite damning evidence. It was very crude propaganda. Initially people did go out of curiosity but fairly rapidly word spread as to how crude it was and audiences dropped dramatically. The German attempts to impose their own films were not very successful. Although 56% of the films distributed were German in 1941 this had fallen to 22% by 1943 since French audiences snubbed them. Similarly, the reactions of the public to openly biased pro-German cinema news reels consisted of laughter, boos, whistles and animal noises during the projection of these news reels with the result that the authorities insist that lights be left on during their showing so as to detect those making derogatory noises.

 German music however flourished like never before. Military concerts were given and the classical music of Beethoven enjoyed great success. The German Institute in Paris organised cultural festivals like the Mozart week in July 1941 when the Chamber Orchestra of Berlin gave concerts in Paris. 71 concerts were organised by the German institute in the 13 months running from May 1942 to July 1943. The Germans ability to attract people to these concerts was a sign of how universally popular German classical music was. Ironically the BBC world service used the first four notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony to begin their resistance broadcasts which were transmitted into occupied Europe. This was because these notes represent the morse code for the word ‘victory’, inferring of course Allied victory. Beethoven’s Fifth symphony paradoxically became a symbol of freedom against the Nazis.

 Changes in the cultural domain:

Political interference

 On occasion extreme collaborators would make their presence very felt during performances. Sometimes they would even disrupt cultural events of which they disapproved. Collaborationist gangs caused Jean Cocteau’s play ‘La Machine à Ecrire’ to be closed down in 1941 by shouting abuse at the actors. A lot of the official press criticism was in the hands of these rabid far-right wingers and that obviously had its effect on their content.  

 Changes in the cultural domain:

Material Difficulties

 Organising cultural output was very difficult because of shortages and restrictions. In the artist Picasso’s work done in Paris during the occupation the shortages are revealed in some of the materials he uses for his sculptures which include cardboard, empty cigarette cartons and match boxes.   

 In December 1940, the art workshops in Montparnasse and Montmartre stopped painting nude models. This was less because of the moral prudery of the time and more because the studios were finding it hard to find fuel for heating. 

Books need paper and this was in very short supply.

Certain locations could not be used in the making of films- for example for security reasons the Germans banned the making of films around the Atlantic coast.  

There were also shortages of staff for productions as Germans sent large sections of the French population to work in factories in Germany.

 Food rationing was the order of the day and this led to some bizarre measures in productions. Marcel Carné’s film Les Visiteurs du Soir which was made in 1942 contained a banquet scene. In order to stop the hungry film crew stealing the fruit from the set the Director injected it with carbolic acid.

Electricity problems meant that there were sometimes power cuts in cinemas and theatres. Cinemas had to reduce the number of showings. Indeed they also had to declare a day without cinema (Tuesdays).

 The increase in audience for cultural events masks the fact that it was physically difficult to attend many of these events. The Germans imposed a curfew which made it particularly difficult to attend shows. Missing the last metro in normal periods might mean having to walk home. During the occupation it could lead to your arrest.

 In the later stages of the occupation the Gestapo and the Police would sometimes organise round ups in theatres and cinemas.

 France was also subjected to very heavy Allied bombing during the Second World War. This bombing was designed to hit military installations and factories working for the Germans. But very often these targets were missed. To give you an idea of the extent of this bombing by the British and Americans around 60 000 French civilians were killed by Allied air raids. This is about the same number as the number of Britons who were killed by German bombing during the war. Allied air raids destroyed some museums, cinemas and theatres, particularly in 1944.  

 So there were material considerations which caused changes in the cultural world. But this being a Nazi occupation there were as you might expect also political intrusions in the cultural world. 

Vitality of culture during Vichy years

 Despite all the political interference and the material difficulties the years 1940-44 were in many ways years of great cultural vitality in France. There were massive increase in theatre going and attendance of museums and cinemas. Cultural life was a refuge and a distraction and highlighted a desire to escape the hardships of everyday life.

 The early 1940s form part of the ‘golden age’ of French cinema. French studios produced 225 films and 400 documentaries during the ‘dark years’. Established cinema directors like Carné and Grémillon were joined by talented youngsters such as Henri Decoin, Robert Bresson and Henri-Georges Clouzot. Some of the films made during the period are considered as classics for example Decoin’s Les inconnus dans la maison, Clouzot’s Le Corbeau and Carné’s Les visiteurs du soir. Cinema audiences grew from 220 million in 1938 to over 300 million in 1943.  

The cinema benefited from the elimination of some traditional competitors. For diplomatic reasons, American cinema was no longer distributed in France. German cinema initially tried to fill the void but their films were not very good and as has already been mentioned were too crude. This left the market open to French film makers. French films represented a third of film production for France in the pre-war period. Now 60% of films shown were French. Most of these films avoided open reference to the present. Indeed only 10 of the films made explicitly referred to the war or the period of occupation. This allowed the cinema to be a way of getting away from the hardships of everyday life.

 The theatre had never been as popular as during these occupation years. In the years 1940-44 over 400 plays were produced in Paris. This was the period in which the first plays of Sartre and Monterlant were performed. There were also new plays by Cocteau and Anouilh.

 New plays by Jean-Paul Sartre (Les Mouches, Huis Clos), Henri de Montherlant (La Reine Morte) and Jean Anouilh were the sign of theatrical vitality. The big hit of 1943 was Jean-Louis Barrault’s adaptation of Paul Claudel’s Le soulier de satin. In the provinces, touring theatre companies such as La Roulotte (‘the caravan’) flourished.

 Like the cinema, the theatre benefited from the fact that its buildings were heated. Given the shortage of fuel and firewood this meant that many people would prefer to go to heated public places rather than waste their limited supplies heating their homes.

 New novelists were emerging such as Albert Camus, (L’étranger and Le Mythe de Sisyphe, both 1942) and Marguerite Duras (Les imprudents).

 Nostalgic songs by singers such as Tino Rossi or Charles Trenet mirrored a longing for better days.

 There was an increase in the number of visitors to Museums.

 Culture was popular because it offered an outlet for escape. It provided warm spaces in which people could get away from the problems of fuel shortages. The cultural sphere offered entertainment and diversion.


 Much of the cultural output of the time offered simple escapism, a chance to forget for a brief moment the difficulties of occupied life. 

In order to satisfy this need for escapism most authors avoided engaging in propaganda.

 Few films or plays are set in the context of the period. Indeed costume dramas become increasingly popular.  

Options available to cultural figures: silence

 Although much of the public were attending cultural events as a means of escapism it was still often difficult for those engaging in cultural activity to avoid compromise.  

Silence, or withdrawing from the cultural domain into the private sphere, was a way of not compromising oneself. In reality this was much more an option for intellectuals and artists who were independently wealthy than for the mass of cultural figures who had to produce in order to feed themselves. Moving to another profession was difficult in 1940 because of unemployment and in any event assumed that the cultural figure was qualified to do something else. But if you chose to express yourself it was difficult not to take sides. It was difficult to avoid compromises if your performance or production was published.

 Few cultural figures opted for silence. One who did so was the poet Rene Char who chose to join a maquis group and only to publish once Liberation was achieved.  

There was a tradition of intellectuals engaging themselves in public affairs. This was a legacy of the Enlightenment period of the 18th Century when intellectuals had been an important factor in paving the way for the French Revolution. Given this tradition some authors, intellectuals or artists chose in the Vichy/occupation context to take sides for or against Vichy and for or against the Nazi occupier. Some chose collaboration, some chose Resistance and some were more ambiguous.


Types of cultural collaboration: 

Collaboration- cultural exchanges and visits

Intellectuals and artists were invited to German organised events, such as gallery openings and cultural receptions. This raised a question of personal responsibility. Did simple attendance at such events not imply complicity or at the very least acceptance of the Germans, their presence and their policies? The communist Claude Morgan wrote in 1945 that the writer Henri Montherlant had given his consent to Auschwitz simply by attending receptions at the German institute.

 Beyond events organised by the Germans to which the French were invited there were also examples of joint cultural events.

 In August 1942 the French pianist Alfred Cortot gave a joint recital with the German soloist Wilhelm Kempf. This piano recital accompanied the opening in the Orangerie Museum in the Tuileries in Paris of an exhibition by the German sculptor Arno Breker- one of Hitler’s favourite artists. The most famous French sculptor of the day, Arisitide Maillol, made a special trip to Paris for the occasion to praise Breker’s sculptors of naked Aryan males. Breker returned the compliment by praising Maillol’s statues of naked females.

 The French and German governments subsidised many Franco-German cultural events. There were cultural exchanges as German artists and entertainers were welcomed in France and their French counterparts engaged in good will tours of Germany. Some singers and filmstars agreed to make cultural tours of Germany.

 Famous singers such as Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet and Maurice Chevalier made trips to Germany to play concerts. Those who participated in such tours justified their actions as simple curiosity, by a desire to keep the banner of French culture flying and the promise of getting POWs released. But undoubtedly their acceptance of these tours lent credibility to the Nazis. The Germans used all such cultural exchanges as massive publicity stunts, including footage of them in their newsreels.

 Propaganda photos of film stars such as Junie Astor, Albert Préjean, Suzy Delair, Viviane Romance and Danielle Darrieux leaving for goodwill tours of Germany in March 1942 were not well received by public opinion.  

Forms of Collaboration:

 Intellectual engagement

Some intellectuals viewed Berlin as the new Athens, in other words as the source of intellectual inspiration. Many of those intellectuals and artists with leanings to the extreme right before the war followed this logically into intellectual collaboration during the occupation. It was mainly in the Literary sphere that intellectuals engaged in openly pro-German positions. The common thread between these collaborating intellectuals is that they were attracted to fascist ideals. They were generally anti-Semitic and attached to the ‘virile’ aspirations of Nazism. They were convinced that France was threatened by communism and decadence. Most of them saw Vichy as too tame in its promotion of collaboration.

Some writers favourable to Collaboration

Lucien Rebatet  (1903-1972)

Rebatet began his career as a journalist with the newspaper Action Française in 1929. This was the newspaper of Charles Maurras’ Action Française political grouping which was an extreme-right organisation bringing together mainly was veterans around nationalist themes such a return to France’s traditional rural values and anti-Semitism. The Action Française grouping was extremely anti-Republican putting its faith instead in return to a Monarchy.

 During the occupation went to Vichy and try to secure a post within Vichy’s propraganda ministry. But he was rejected and so left for Paris to be with other like-minded collaborationists. He became a major contributor to the collaborationist newspaper Je Suis Partout writing both on the arts and on political questions. He also contributed towards other collaborationist newspapers such as Le Cri du people and Le Petit Parisien. 

In July 1942 Rebatet published one of the best selling books of the occupation, Les décombres (‘rubble’, ‘debris’). This was a personal memoir coupled with a wide-reaching critique of the current state of France. In it he underlined his desire to see a German victory in the war and presented a denunciation of Republican decadence, especially that of the Popular Front. He felt that this decadence had caused France to lose its virility. Rebatet was of the view that French art had been undermined by Jewish influence.

 Rebatet’s ideology was virulently anti-Semitic and he even criticised Maurras for lack of racism. He was also strongly opposed to democracy claiming not to have a ‘single democratic blood cell in his veins’. He became increasingly fascinated with Nazism.

 Rebatet was sentenced to death in November 1946 but pardoned and released in 1952. After his release from prison he returned to film criticism.

 Louis Ferdinand Céline, (1894-1961)

Céline was the nom de plume of Louis Ferdinand Destouches

 He was injured during the fighting of 1914 and awarded a military medal for bravery.  After the war Céline returned to his studies and trained as a Doctor.

It was from 1932 that he began to be acclaimed as a writer. That year his text Voyage au bout de la nuit came out and this is still recognised as a classic today. The novel is an extremely pessimistic account relating the effects of the experience of the First World War on his hero.  The novel was particularly noted for its styles which broke with the tradition of using highly formal language and included popular slang language.  

Up until 1936 Céline was a writer associated with the left. But after a trip to the Soviet Union that year he broke off relations with the left and began a shift to the far right. On his return from Moscow he wrote an anti-Communist pamphlet entitled Mea Culpa. At this point he gave up his position as a Doctor in the town of Clichy and launched into virulent attacks on the literary world. These attacks were tainted with blatant anti-Semitism as manifested in his Bagatelles pour un Massacre of 1937. He was increasingly mixing in anti-Semitic circles and anti-Semitism reared its head again in L’Ecole des Cadavres in 1938. Indeed anti-Semitism became a staple of his writing during the occupation as in Les Beaux Draps of 1941. In 1941 Céline was reported to have asked what the Germans were waiting for to carry out a programme of Jewish extermination.  

At the Liberation of France he took refuge in Copenhagen in 1945 but returned to France in 1951 after benefiting from an amnesty.

Pierre Drieu la Rochelle 

Drieu was obsessed by the idea of French decadence. From the 1930’s he became attracted to fascism, joining Jacques Doriot’s Parti Populaire Francais (PPF) briefly. He then became head of the French Hitler youth movement. For Drieu fascism was synonymous with energy, youth and virility. He became an advocate of a Nazi style revolution to allow France to be able to play a role in Hitler’s Europe. He was never very sympathetic to Vichy seeing it as too tame.

 Drieu became the editor of the Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF)- a literary monthly review founded in 1908 started by a group of intellectuals gravitating around Andre Gide. Before the occupation this review had tried to preserve an apolitical image. Although it was closed down by the Germans in September 1940 it restarted under pressure from German ambassador Otto Abetz who saw it as a key to intellectual collaboration. It was then that Drieu was made editor.

 The NRF’s increasingly collaborationist line alienated much of its pre-war readership. It now included pro-fascist and anti-Semitic texts. The failure to preserve the NRF’s reputation and Germany’s defeat in the war caused Drieu to make three suicide attempts. The last of these in 1945 was successful.

 Robert Brasillach 

Brasillach was drawn from the ranks of the Maurrasian intellectuals, supporters of Action Française.  In the 1930’s Brasillach worried that France was drifting and denounced the country’s decadence. He became editor of the pro-fascist and anti-Semitic newspaper Je suis partout in 1937. 

Once France fell in 1940 Brassilach was keen that the country should play a role in Hitler’s new order and he sought to mobilise European intellectuals in an anti-Bolshevik struggle. He was increasingly critical of the reactionary nature of Vichy’s Révolution Nationale. 

Brasillach had solid credentials as a writer having published Les Sept Couleurs in 1939 and Notre Avant Garde in 1941 allowing him to become a prominent voice of French fascism.  

Brasillach was executed for ‘intelligence with the enemy’ in February 1945 after a highly publicised trial.


Resistance: Why did cultural figures Resist? 

Beyond those reasons for Resistance which were common to all the population, many cultural figures also felt strongly attached to notions of freedom. They resented interference in their domain.  

Some intellectuals were pushed towards Resistance by the Vichy or Nazi regimes. For instance, André Gide was initially favourable to the Vichy regime. But many of those close to the regime viewed him with suspicion partly because he was protestant. He was also homosexual and the extreme right had portrayed him as a corruptor of youth. Vilified by the regime he became a Resistance writer.


Forms of Resistance: The exile of cultural figures

 A considerable number of cultural figures decided that the best course of action was to opt for foreign exile. Exile was a way of publicly refusing to compromise oneself to the constraints of operating in under Vichy or Nazi restrictions. By continuing their cultural output from abroad they highlight that Vichy could not claim to speak for the whole of French culture.  

This is the case for example for the surrealist writer André Breton who set off for the United States. America was also the destination for the artist Marc Chagall had initially been reluctant to leave because he felt that French nationality would protect him from anti-Semitism. It was not until he was convinced of the contrary in March 1941 that he decided to leave.  

Intellectuals and artists had advantages in escaping Nazi occupied Europe- they could often take advantage of contacts to use as sponsors in a host country in order to obtain visas. A special organisation called the Emergency Rescue Committee, privately funded from New York, was set up in Marseilles to attempt to organise the departure of leading intellectuals and cultural figures threatened by the Nazis. The leader of this committee was the journalist Varian Fry who managed to help around 1500 people to escape including a number of Nobel prize winners and important cultural figures. 

But not everyone viewed exile in a favourable light. There was a very real dilemma for the intellectual or entertainer. Was not exile a form of desertion? Did it not amount to abandoning the cultural field to the Germans? For some staying in France was in itself an act of courage. The Spanish painter Pablo Picasso spent the occupation in Paris. He was suspect in the eyes of the Nazis because one of his most famous paintings was ‘Guernica’ which depicted the bombing of this Spanish town in April 1937 by German planes serving the nationalist cause of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War.  He was no longer able to exhibit his works publicly and his premises were frequently raided by the German police. He managed to survive the occupation peacefully.  

Not all of the exiles accepted Gaullism as a viable alternative to Vichy. Saint-John Perse refused to follow de Gaulle considering him too faithful to the pre-war Prime Minister Reynaud. André Maurois continued to profess an admiration for Pétain, because he remembered that his own entry to the Académie Française had been facilitated by Pétain. However, some exiled cultural figures did declare their loyalty to de Gaulle- for example Henri Focillon, Jacques Maritain or Georges Bernanos. Claude Dauphin and Pierre Dac wrote for the BBC. The actor Jean Gabin joined the Free French Navy to fight an active military role in the war.


Resistance Literature : Poetry 

One form of Literature was particularly adapted to the Resistance and that was poetry. Poems tended to be short which meant that they didn’t use as much paper, an important consideration during a time of shortage. This also made them easier to distribute. The RAF would drop copies of poems into France during their bombing raids. Using poetic rhythm and rhyming made poems particularly easy to remember thereby facilitating their transmission by word of mouth.  

Poets were also particularly used to making a pittance because this was a literary genre where earnings were traditionally poor. This adapted the poets themselves to the needs of a clandestine lifestyle. The poets most associated with Resistance are Paul Eluard and Louis Aragon.  

Some Resistance poetry was published officially but contained coded messages. Poetry as a style had traditionally expressed things ambiguously, an ambiguity necessary if it was going to get passed the censor. In his poem ‘art poétique’ published in 1942 Louis Aragon, a poet with communist sympathies, made reference to ‘nos amis morts en mai’. The Vichy censor passed the poem because the line could refer to those who died in the battle of France in 1940. However, it was actually a reference to some communist intellectuals executed in May 1942. Aragon stopped publishing legally in March 1943 and thereafter produced only clandestine poems.

 Vercors- Le Silence de la Mer

Le silence de la mer was the first Resistance short story and was written by Jean Bruller under the pseudonym of Vercors. It was published in 1942 by a new clandestine publishing house, Les Editions de Minuit which was to bring out more than 20 books during the occupation.  

Vercors tells the story of a man and his niece who have a German officer billeted on their home. The German officer, Werner von Ebrennac, is noble and portrayed in sympathetic terms. He wants to reach out to his two French hosts. He hopes to be accepted by them. He speaks at length of his love of French culture. The uncle and niece do not speak to him and try to ignore his presence. But it is obvious that the niece is harbouring a fascination for him, that she is attracted to him. The music of the German composer Beethoven lies open on the piano and she appears moved by Werner’s cultured speech. But von Ebrennac’s idealism founders when he makes a trip to Paris and speaks with other soldiers from the German army. They mock him for his naïve belief that France and Germany can coexist and let him know that their only intention in France is to destroy the country utterly. When Von Ebrennac returns to the house he is totally disillusioned. He informs the uncle and niece of his experience and tells them that he has volunteered to be transferred to the Russian front, an act which at the time was seen as suicidal.

Some Resisters criticised the book at the time for portraying the German so sympathetically but there was good reason to do so. When the Germans first arrived in France, German soldiery tried to behave in a civilised manner. For the French who had been raised on tales of German savagery in the First World War this was a surprise. In the initial period, the expression ‘ils sont très corrects’ was frequently heard coming from French lips. This was beginning to change in the summer of 1941 when Vercors wrote his book and the author was trying to remind his readers that you shouldn’t be taken in by a civilised appearance- we are led to believe that ultimately such appearances are deceptive. The couple of French people maintain their dignity by not speaking to von Ebrennac despite his sympathetic appearance. Only when he leaves does a word pass the niece’s lips and that is the word ‘adieu’. The message is simple: whatever attractions the Germans may hold the French should not succumb.

 As a resistance message it met with mixed reactions from resisters. The Gaullists praised it because it was the symbol of maintaining French dignity in spite of the German presence. The communists criticised it, seeing it as a form of ‘attentisme’. They felt that maintaining resistance on this passive level lacked dynamism and was unlikely to force the Germans to leave.


Youthful counter-culture: 

Engaging in outlawed types of cultural entertainment 

Before the war dance evenings had been a popular entertainment amongst young people. These were now banned by both the Germans and Vichy. The Germans were worried that such gatherings might cause unrest. Vichy had more moralistic concerns. Such pleasure-seeking activities were a symbol of the Republican regime they spurned. It was considered obscene to allow such activities while so many Frenchmen were absent as Prisoners-of-War. Moreover it was feared that they might promote promiscuity and even fraternisation with German soldiers. By 1942 Vichy’s restriction on dance evenings was being increasingly flouted. Clandestine dances were organised in remote houses and isolated barns. It would obviously be going too far to describe such activity as Resistance but it was certainly a form of youthful counter-culture to the moralistic preaching of Vichy.

 One particular category of clandestine dancer became famous during the occupation period. These were a group of middle class rebels known as the Zazous. They danced to Jazz and Swing music, had long hair in the style which had been made popular by Oxford University students, they carried umbrellas which had been popularised in France by Neville Chamberlain in the 1930s and developed their own slang incorporating English terms. Again the Zazous weren’t actually Resisters but rather simple pleasure seekers but their anglophile associations and their behaviour considered as decadent by moralists caused them to be hunted down by collaborationist youth groups who would beat them up and cut their hair off.

 Ambiguity in Culture under Vichy 

The existence of censorship placed constraints on those engaged in culture. Authorised cultural output could only express opposition to the occupiers or the Vichy regime in a coded form. It had to be ambiguous.  Indeed culture in an occupied country is often very ambiguous. Ambiguous in both its meaning and its very existence.

The existence of cultural events in a time of occupation is open to divergent interpretations. Should it be seen as a bold assertion of the continuance of a French tradition of entertainment in spite German presence? Or should the organisation of cultural events such as music hall shows or Paris night club soirées be interpreted as laying on entertainment for enemy troops, since many German officers attended such shows?

People could read the same cultural events in diametrically opposed ways. Nowhere was this more the case than in the diverse interpretations given to the cult of Joan of Arc during the occupation. Joan of Arc was a peasant girl in the 15th century who had led an army against the British which managed to lift the siege of the town of Orleans during the Hundred Years War. Both Vichy and the Resistance claimed her heritage. Vichy stressed the virtuousness of this pious virgin and underlined that she was fighting the British, the enemy of Vichy’s ally the Germans. For the Resistance on the other hand what was important in the story of Joan of Arc was that she had been fighting the invader and that when she had been captured by this invader it was because of a collaborator. It was inevitable therefore that when any cultural work used the image of Joan it would be interpreted in divergent ways. This was the case of Claude Vermorel’s play Jeanne avec nous. Slightly before writing the play in 1938, Vermorel had been pressing for a Franco-German youth theatre to improve cultural relations between the two countries. When his play was finally staged in 1942, it received favourable reviews from the collaborationist press, Lucien Rebatet viewing his character of Joan as a ‘patroness of French fascism’. But in fact after the war the play was interpreted very much as a Resistance play.

Maurice Chevalier’s 1941 song ‘Notre Espoir’ was initially taken as a Pétainist message but later sung in expectation of the Liberation. Films like Jean Gremillon’s ‘Le ciel est a vous’ was also open to diverse interpretations. Similarly Marcel Carne’s ‘Les visiteurs du soir’. The same was true of plays like Jean Anouilh’s Antigone or Henry de Montherlant’s ‘La Reine Morte’. Novels like Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s ‘Pilote de Guerre was received well by both Vichy and the Resistance.  

Authors claimed to have included covert messages in their texts.

  The post-Liberation Purge of intellectuals and artists

 The purge of intellectuals was particularly severe. Intellectuals in France were held in high regard. But this prestige brought with special responsibilities. The French liked their intellectuals to become engaged but they would also be very hostile to them if they engaged on the wrong side.  

Many of the most engaged writers were purged and in some cases shot. The most famous of these being the execution of Robet Brasillach.  Indeed the purge of writers was much more severe than that suffered by, say, industry leaders. They had publicly engaged themselves whereas industry leaders could claim that they were compelled into collaboration and that they were simply trying to keep the French economy buoyant and French people in jobs. Also the industry leaders were felt more essential to post-war rebuilding than a bunch of right wing intellectuals.

Other personalities in the cultural sphere also saw their careers ruined by choices they had made during the occupation. The actress Arletty’s reputation in France was ruined by her love affair with a German officer and her presence in various gala events organized by the German embassy. Following her arrest at the Liberation she dismissed the idea that her sexual choices undermined her patriotism. As she declared at the time: Mon cœur est français mais mon cul est international’. She was effectively an outcast from the French cinema after the war. Nevertheless Arletty starred in the American film ‘The Longest Day’ which documents the D-Day landings of June 1944, ironically playing the role of a member of the Resistance.  

The cultural legacy of  the Vichy period 

From 1944 there was an important purge of writers of the right or the extreme right who were seemed to have compromised themselves during the occupation period.  

Intellectual engagement had always been much more obvious on the left than the right but it had existed on the right. In the years immediately following Vichy the wartime engagement of people like Drieu la Rochelle discredited right wing engagement. It was also to have more immediate effects on many of the intellectuals of this political persuasion. 

Many of them were purged and in some cases shot. Indeed the purge of writers was much more severe than that suffered by, say, industry leaders. They had publicly engaged themselves whereas industry leaders could claim that they were compelled into collaboration and that they were simply trying to keep the French economy buoyant and French people in jobs. Also the industry leaders were felt more essential to post-war rebuilding than a bunch of right wing intellectuals.

The other great legacy of the Vichy years was on the left wing intellectuals. Those who had participated actively in the Resistance furthered the myth of the duty of engagement of left-wing intellectuals. Indeed this notion was central to the philosophy of existentialism which gained ground after the Second World War. At the heart of this philosophy was the idea that one is judged by one’s actions and this is how one liberates oneself. It is easy to see the link between this and the attempts of the Resistance during the war to get people to actively fight the occupier. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who became the chief spokesperson of this philosophy. This must be seen as somewhat ironic because it is difficult to argue that he really put this concept into practice during the war. His Resistance consisted largely of supposedly coded messages within his works which were so obscure as to be only picked up on by the initiated.


These introductory notes are taken mainly from:  

S.Added, Le théâtre dans les années Vichy, 1940-44, Paris, 1992.

Jean-Pierre Azéma, & Olivier Wieviorka, Vichy 1940-44, Paris, Perrin, 1997

Jean-Pierre Azéma, et al, Collaboration and Resistance: Images of Life in Vichy France, 1940-1944, Harry N. Abrams, 2000

J-P Bertin-Maghit, Le cinéma sous l’occupation, Paris, 1989.

L.Bertrand-Dorléac, L’art de la défaite, 1940-44, Paris, 1993.

J.Cocteau, Journal, 1942-45, Paris, 1989.

Jean-Paul & Michèle Cointet, (eds), Dictionnaire historique de la France sous l'Occupation, Paris, Tallandier, 2000.

M.Cone, Artists under Vichy : A case of prejudice and persecution, Princeton, 1992.

E.Ehrlich, Cinema of paradox : French filmmaking under the German occupation, New York, 1985.

P.Fouché, L’édition française sous l’occupation, 1940-44, Paris, 1987.

F.Garçon, De Blum à Pétain, Cinéma et société française, 1936-1944, Paris, 1984.

G.Hirschfield and P. Marsh (eds), Collaboration in France: Politics and Culture during the Nazi Occupation, Oxford, 1989.

J.Jackson, France, the dark years, Oxford, OUP, 2001

G.Ragache and J-R Ragache, La vie quotidienne des écrivains et des artistes sous l’occupation, Paris, 1988.

Jean-Pierre Rioux (ed), La vie culturelle sous Vichy, Paris, 1990.

G. Shapiro, La guerre des écrivains, 1940-1953, Paris, 1999.

J.Siclier, La France de Pétain et son cinéma, Paris, 1981.

D. Veillon, Vivre et survivre en France, 1939-1947, Paris, Payot, 1995, p 137.


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Michel Winock on French writers and the origins of a culture of anti-semitism

extract from Michel Winock, Parlez-moi de la France, Seuil, Paris, 1995, pp 144-145

La grande vague de l'antisémitisme moderne en France date des années 1880. A cette époque de régime républicain mal assuré et de dépression économique- ces années mêmes qui ont vu naître les courants populistes dans notre pays- Edouard Drumont, sans donner vraiment le signal de départ de l'antisémitisme, en a fait un des thèmes majeurs de ce qui allait s'appeler le nationalisme. Sa France juive, où il dépeignait la patrie en proie à 'l'invasion juive', connut un franc succès, et ses livres suivants permirent à Drumont de passer pour une sorte de prophète, défendant tout à la fois l'Eglise catholique persécutée et le prolétariat exploité. Une bonne partie des écrivains français ont été plus ou moins contaminés par la judéophobie. Ce fut le cas de Barrès, de Maurras, et plus tard de Céline, Drieu la Rochelle, Brasillach.... L'un des plus grands écrivains, Céline, a été frappé de malédiction à cause de ses pamphlets antisémites, dont ses Bagatelles pour un massacre restent, si l'on peut dire, un modèle du genre. Et que dire d'écrivains délicats, intimistes, peu versés dans la politique, comme un Marcel Jouhandeau, qui se prend à publier, en 1937, un livre sur le Péril Juif? Je ne crois pas que les Français, pris dans leur ensemble, aient été plus antisémites que d'autres, mais des écrivains français parmi les plus talentueux y sont tombés, parfois avec une rage qui confond.


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Below you will find a broad bibliography of questions related to this topic, drawn from texts regularly cited with regard to this subject. It is by no means exhaustive. But it is hoped that those who access this page will co-operate in building on this information. If you know of any other works on subjects related to these themes, please let me know at, so that I can update the list. Similarly if you notice any errors in the list below, please let me know.  When addressing titles to me it would be easier if you respected the format adopted here (ie Author's family name/ Author's Christian name/Title (in italics)/ Name of publisher/ Place of publication/Date of publication). Thanks for any help you can give.


ADDED (Serge), Le théâtre dans les années Vichy, Ramsay, Paris, 1992 

ATACK, (Margaret), Literature and the French Resistance: Cultural Politics and Narrative Forms 1940-1950, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1989.

BERTIN-MAGHT (Jean-Pierre), Le cinéma sous l'occupation, Olivier Orban, Paris, 1989 

BERTRAND DORLEAC, (Laurence), L'art de la défaite, Seuil, Paris, 1993 

CONE, (Michèle), Artists under Vichy, Princeton UP, Princeton, USA, 1992. 

CORNICK, M., 'Resister and Knight of the Round Table: Jean Paulhan at the Liberation', chapter in H. R. Kedward and Nancy Wood (eds.), The Liberation of France: image and event (Berg, 1995), 183-196.

DOMPNIER, (N), Vichy à travers chants: pour une analyse politique du sens et de l'usage des hymnes sous Vichy, Nathan, Paris, 1996 

GUIRAUD, (Jean-Michel),  La vie intellectuelle et artistique à Marseille (1940-1944), Laffitte, Marseille, 1999

HIGGINS (Ian), Anthology of Second World War French Poetry, Methuen, London, 1982 

KEDWARD (H R) & AUSTIN (R), Vichy France & the Resistance: Culture & Ideology, Croom Helm, 1995 

RIOUX (J-P) (ed), La vie culturelle sous Vichy, Complexe, Brussels, 1990 

SHORT (KRM), Film & Propaganda in World War Two, Croom Helm, London, 1983

SICLIER (Jacques), La France de Pétain et son cinéma, Henri Veyrier, Paris, 1990 

SIMONIN (Anne), Les éditions de minuit, 1942-1955, IMEC Editions, 1994 

VEILLON (Dominique), La mode sous l'occupation, Payot, Paris, 1990

VERCORS, Le silence de la mer, Albin Michel, Paris, 1951 

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Artists & Intellectuals associated with the French resistance

Louis Aragon

Josephine Baker Biography

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett..

Biography: Samuel Beckett

Beckett Timeline

Samuel Beckett

Georges Bernanos (1888-1948) Novelist and essayist

Albert Camus. A page with links to people interested in and information about Albert Camus. Contains a bibliography, links to other Camus pages, and a list of people looking for Camus-related information

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

Albert Camus - Biography

Albert Camus.

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

André Malraux: A Biography by Curtis Cate.

Thelonious Monk - An appreciation of the great jazz pianist and composer.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980).
A short discussion on the life and work of Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre

Simone Weil


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