In Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation, Charles Glass offers a rich portrait of the eccentric, original and disparate group of Americans who remained in Paris throughout the war. Many—though not all—engage in remarkable acts of courage and heroism while navigating the treacherous waters of Vichy. Their voices—opinionated, outrageous, arrogant, and impossibly witty—are a particular treat, as is the reminder of the complexities of a forgotten time when most Frenchmen honored Petain and reviled De Gaulle. Whether preserving Paris, helping the resistance, or reaping war profits, these remarkable expats sparkle in this fascinating book written by a renowned author and journalist who for many years covered the Middle East.
LZ: What attracted you to the topic of Americans in Paris during WWII? Is there any link to your previous work as a US correspondant in the Middle East.
CG: The draw was personal. Living in Paris and studying the occupation, I asked the inevitable question: what would I have done? I studied what other Americans who lived here did, and I thought their stories would make a good book.
LZ: How did you choose your subjects?
CG: Not easy, because there were so many interesting people here then. I studied the lives of all those I could track down and settled on a mix of men and women, collaborators and resistants, socialites and bohemians. Most had been to Ivy League colleges, because traveling to and living in mso-ansi-language: then was expensive and fairly unusual.
LZ: You show us astonishing heroes as well as people with divided loyalties but no outright villains. Why?
CG: Among the Americans in Paris I did not find any. There may have been a few, but their names do not appear in the records. Remember, most people who came to from America then were escaping conformity, racism and sexism: they were not likely to welcome the Nazis, who incarnated all three.
CG: Most were in letters and diaries that I found in archives in the US and France. Some came from memoirs written by the principals,
especially Sylvia Beach.
LZ: The Chambrun family is a study in divided loyalites. Was this ambiguity common among the Franco-American elites, or do the Chambruns
represent an extreme exception?
CG: The latter. Because of the marriage of Aldebert and Clara's son, Rene de Chambrun, to the daughter of Pierre Laval, they were closer to the Vichy hierarchy than almost every other American. They did their duty as they saw it, keeping open the American Library and the American Hospital. They did not conspire with the Germans, despite their family relationship with Laval.
LZ: The Chambruns place their hopes in Pétain and loath De Gaulle. Was this a common attitude?
CG: 1940, it was the only attitude. Only a few Frenchmen had heard of de Gaulle, and Petain was a Marechal of France with a reputation from World War I. Even the majority of French servicemen who had
escaped to England from Dunkirk in June 1940 elected to return to France and live under Petain than to fight on the side of de Gaulle. Vichy convicted de Gaulle of treason, and most of the French office corps approved. As time went on and Germany began to lose the war, attitudes changed.
For the complete interview with Charles Glass see Paris Writers News.
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