Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Exploring French society operating under the restrictions of occupation, Vinen refrains from overgeneralization and draws sympathy, especially for those women with liaisons to Germans, who were denounced after liberation as collaborators." Booklist
"[A]n important contribution to a full understanding of World War II France." Library Journal
"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
"Based mainly on his synthesis of both the vast secondary literature and the ever-proliferating memoirs and diaries that have been published since the 1980s, this exceptionally well-written book looks at the lives of ordinary people throughout France during that low, dishonest half decade....Vinen's piercing chronicle not only captures the squalid physical and moral atmosphere of France's dark years; it also unnervingly reveals the moral ambiguity that's the stuff of humanity and its history." Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
The swift and unexpected defeat of the French Army in 1940 shocked the nation. 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 Petain, life was quite tolerable for most French citizens.
About the Author
Richard Vinen is on the faculty of the Department of History, Kings College, University of London.