September 4, 2004


On Sunday La Vanguardia published an interview with Carles Fontserè (Iberian Notes)

On Sunday La Vanguardia published an interview with Carles Fontserè, an old Spanish leftist (now 88) from Civil War days who designed propaganda posters. He fled to France after the war was over, where he complains about being mistreated by the French, who weren't sure what to do with the horde of leftist refugees (some of them very dangerous people) and so locked them up in camps. That's where we start, in France in 1939 before the outbreak of World War II. I quote:

"INTERVIEWER: [...] Did you make it to Paris?

CF: Yes, with no money or papers. At the beginning, I was hungry, but when I got some pencils and paintbrushes I earned a good living drawing for various publications.

INT: Was there a cultural life in Nazi-occupied Paris?

CF: A great deal. Jean-Paul Sartre began to be known during those years, and Albert Camus expressly left Algeria for that Paris in order to present his works successfully. There was a lot of intellectual, artistic, and cultural life in Paris under the occupation!

INT: Clandestine?

CF: No! The Nazis organized free concerts in the streets of Paris. I came from a lousy concentration camp and I found music in the streets: marvelous!

INT: But they were Nazis!

CF: Look, the German soldiers entered Paris hand in hand with the French soldiers, and they loved Paris, and they protected it. The economic activity in France didn't change: there was electricity, telephones, everything. The head of the German General Staff in Paris, Hans Speidel, met with French artists and intellectuals like Cocteau, Guitry, Gallimard...In the streets, the German officers stepped off the sidewalks to let you pass. In the five years I was in Paris I never saw an armed German soldier in the streets. They didn't need to (carry arms)! They gave chocolate to the people in the streets.

INT: Wasn't there any resistance?

CF: Of course not. That's a myth, invented later by Gaullists and Communists. There was agreement, there was collaboration. According to what I saw, there were 40 million Petainist Frenchmen! The Germans respected the French army, and Petain, with that agreement, saved Paris and the French from destruction. It was intelligent and sensible.

The one good thing about the EU? The French and Germans deserve each other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 4, 2004 8:08 AM

Much as collaboration with the Germans was rampant in French society, they lived under conditions which were far from ideal. The Germans stole everything, looting the country of its mineral wealth, agricultural produce, and manufacturing to supply the Reich. Tens of thousands of French workers were interned in forced-labor camps in Germany, to free up Germans to fight in the war.

I'm sure that the metrosexual Parisian elite loved the Germans with their really butch black leather uniforms and their brutality against Jews and Slavs. The SS, many if not most of whom were 'light in the jackboots', loved the effeminate Parisians right back. However, once you get away from the boites of the Rive Gauche and into the real France and talk to people who lived through the period, you get a very different picture.

While those folks have absolute indifference to the fate of the Jews and other minorities, they were keenly aware of the rapacious behavior of the Third Reich and its Vichy supporters. When I was in Alsace doing a year of high school in Obernai, one of my friends was a Christian Alsatian whose grandparents had been ruled by the Germans before WWI and they most emphatically said that when the Nazis came they weren't really worried because things weren't so bad before WWI and they really didn't give a damn about the Jews( a rather chilling comment to make to a 15 year old Jewish kid who they knew had paternal grandparents born a few blocks away from them, but it was made as a statement of fact not out of rancor.) but it turned out that 'these Germans really weren't the same Germans.' There is enormous on-the-ground resentment of the Germans across France, even if the neo-Vichyites like Chirac can't crawl up Schroeder's sphincter fast enough.

Posted by: Bart at September 4, 2004 12:08 PM

C'mon now. Countries like France, Sweden and a few others I could name stand firmly for universal democratic rights and liberties. They just prefer that others fight for them.

Posted by: Peter B at September 4, 2004 2:45 PM

I don't think I'd rely much on an old Spanish leftist's estimate of how many rightists there were in France.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 4, 2004 2:46 PM

Of course not, you'd listen to French and American Leftists.

Posted by: oj at September 4, 2004 5:50 PM

I had to read that interview twice to be sure I really was reading what I thought I was reading. Did I really, truly see a Spanish Republican veteran of the Civil War, a committed leftist, praising the German occupiers of France and the Vichy regime?

There are only two explanations I can think of:
1) He's senile.
2) He's telling the truth about what some of the European left-elite _really_ thought about the Nazis.

Posted by: Joe at September 4, 2004 6:35 PM

DeGaulle was a leftist?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 5, 2004 6:06 PM

Yes, as was Churchill.

Posted by: oj at September 5, 2004 7:43 PM

DeGaulle proves the stupidity of left-right models for politics. DeGaulle was a Catholic Fascist. His great contribution was that he reconciled Catholic extremists to the reality of the French Revolution. However, he did nationalize the banks and other industries, to this day over 50% of French GDP is government-owned. He also was not reticent about using secret police to make his political enemies, particularly Commnuists, disappear. He was also the French leader, who in order to demonstrate French superiority to the 'Anglo-Saxons', played footsie with the Soviets and Communist China during the Cultural Revolution, and backslid on deals with Israel. He also famously supported the North Vietnamese, the Quebec separtist terrorists and the Black Panthers in the US. The worst thing he did was the betrayal of the million or so ethnic French in Algeria along with its 250,000 Jews both of whom who were forcibly expelled and deprived of their property by the Algerian Arab government.

OJ, what did Churchill do to be called a leftist? He was considered clueless by the working class on domestic policy which is why he was dumped for the remarkably vile Attlee in 1945.

Posted by: Bart at September 6, 2004 7:09 AM

They were both paternal statists at a time whern the cradle to grave welfare system could have been stopped or slowed.

Posted by: oj at September 6, 2004 7:14 AM

When Churchill was re-elevated to office(and since his only other time as PM was during the War must be when you mean) in the 50s, British consensus included much of the welfare state ideology. He had limited freedom of movement, many of his own party were 'Tory wets' like Mauldling, MacLeod and Butler, who wanted to buy off the enormous British working class by being only slightly less profligate than Labour.

You cannot compare him with DeGaulle who didn't have anything even resembling those kinds of pressures on him. DeGaulle was an autocrat, probably stronger in France than Franco was in Spain, and way stronger than Peron ever was in Argentina. DeGaulle could have chosen what the French call the 'Anglo-Saxon' model, there was a solid section of the electorate who believed in that, but he chose not to.

Posted by: Bart at September 6, 2004 5:07 PM

Well, if religion fails, the state does have to step in, no?

And religion failed in France and Britain, didn't it?

However, as regards the number of rightists in France, I was referring to DeGaulle's claim -- repeatedly many times in his autobiography -- that toward the end of the war, 20% of Eisenhower's troops were French.

That might be generous to the French, but we may compare it to the number of Germans who crossed over, namely, 0.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 6, 2004 6:44 PM



Posted by: oj at September 6, 2004 6:58 PM